The draft of what I had to say to the Donor Family Gathering, Saturday 27 September 2003:
(At this point my left knee was shaking uncontrollably & I had already taken not just 3, but well over a dozen, deep breaths & they weren't working!) Breathe. I've got a really great counsellor who says breathing is good.
Gíday. Where I come from, that means hello. As youíve probably figured from my accent, Iím not from around these parts. Iím from Australia, specifically from Canberra, which is the national capital, our equivalent of your Washington DC. Quick show of hands, please, those of you who know where Washington DC is. And a quick show of hands, those of you who know where Canberra is. Hmm, fairly normal. Itís about half way between Sydney and Melbourne.
On a slightly different subject, quick show of hands,
please, for those of you who, about 2 to 3 months after you lost your loved one,
the people at work started to show from their body language, that they had
unconsciously decided that it was time for you to stop blubbering, snap out of
it, get over it, pull yourself together and get on with your life.
Yeah. And did anyone
actually say any of those things? No,
they probably didnít dare come out and say them out loud.
But you could tell thatís what they were thinking.
Itís a problem we have in our Western society. We donít know how to grieve, and consequently, we donít know how to help others to grieve. In some cultures, a death is followed by huge quantities of wailing, especially by the widow and close female relatives, followed by lots of sleep. In fact I have a theory, that in the same way that a pilot has to do his 50 hours of flying to qualify for whatever and 1000 hours for something else, we all have to do our mandatory 50 hours of crying in order to start healing. And we can choose to pack it all into the first 3, 6, 12 months or we can spread it out over a period of many years.
This is the first and the last opportunity that I will have to join this gathering. My family and I were only ever here in Seattle for a short period of time. Iím on a work assignment with Boeing, we arrived in March of this year and Iím going home at Christmas. In fact I fly into Canberra on Christmas Day. My wife Doris was not able to work here due to visa restrictions, and she took the time to really look after herself Ė ladies, youíd know the story, hair, skin, nails, diet, exercise. On 14 July, while she was exercising at home, she burst a blood vessel in her brain, collapsed on the floor, was taken to Intensive Care, and died early the next morning. And then of course, the subject of organ donation came up.
The actual decision to donate Dorisís organs was a no-brainer, if youíll please pardon the pun. It was what she wanted, and I know that, because we had discussed it. The actual signature on the form was relatively easy. The really hard part, and I know that Iím preaching to the converted here, was ticking the boxes. Actually having to think about which particular bits of the one you love, that youíre going to give away, was something that I really hadnít thought about, and suddenly it was right there in my face. I now make a point of telling people about that, when the subject comes up, so that they can have the opportunity to think about it in advance and not have to deal with it on the spot.
I have to say Iím impressed by the way that Americans manage to do things in a really big way. Big cities, big buildings, big freeways, interstate 4-lane highways right across the country. And you have the ability to get yourselves organised. As soon as I had agreed to an organ donation, there was a process in place and I knew it was going to lead to an inevitable conclusion, whatever that was. Iím sure youíve all been through that process and you all know what itís like.
Every time I look at any of the various organisations that make up the organ donation and transplant network here in the North West, the one thing that stands out for me is the involvement of volunteers. Doris was a manager of volunteers in a whole variety of work environments, over a period more than 20 years. One measure of her stature in the Canberra community was that over 300 people turned out to her memorial service, and nearly half of them had to stand out in the cold, with temperatures in the mid 40ís. So on her behalf, Iíd like to thank all of the volunteers, and the paid staff, of all of those organisations, for doing the work that you do.
You know, in all of my grief, I still have things to be grateful for. Iím grateful that my son was home at the time and wasnít off at the Scout camp where he could have been, because he called the ambulance, and that gave us the opportunity to spend 2 days with Doris before she was gone forever. The other major piece of ďgratefulĒ that I have is that at least some part of Doris lives on, literally. There are 2 very lucky men in their mid-40ís, somewhere here in Washington State, each with a new kidney, and I hope and pray that they have the courage to come forward and meet me before I leave. And I would like to thank all of the local organisations, and in particular Life Center North West, with whom I had the most contact, who enabled that process to happen.
I talked earlier about ticking the boxes and deciding
on the parts. Whatever decision you
make is, by definition, the correct one. My
step-son and I decided at the time on ďinternal organs onlyĒ, so my
apologies to the Eye Bank and the Tissue Centre, sorry guys, you missed out.
But Iíd like to make amends in some small part, by inviting Kara from the
Lions Eye Bank to come forward, please, and accept my wifeís
Thanks for listening.