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Dear Parents of the Little Boy Whose Liver Saved My Mother's Life

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I have a boy. He’s growing bigger but still kind of a little guy. He doesn’t like to comb his hair; it sticks up in the front and in the back where the cowlicks are. He licks his fingers after he eats something he loves, like bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwiches. When he falls asleep at night, he hugs my hand to his chest, and underneath the baggy T-shirt that was a hand-me-down from his grandpa, I can feel his heart beating.

I love this boy with my whole soul. I know every freckle, every joke, and sometimes when he’s asleep, I step into the soft darkness of his room and listen for the steady rise and fall of his breathing, just to hear him and be at peace.

Once upon a time, exactly 30 years ago, you had a little boy, too. And you tried to get him to comb his hair and watched as he enjoyed his favorite supper you prepared. Was it pizza? When he fell asleep at night, did you sometimes stay by his bedside, re-telling his favorite story until his eyes gently closed and his breathing smoothed out and the soft snore of a boy who played hard that day touched your heart and made you smile quietly in the dark?

Maybe I cherish my child so much because when I was a kid, my own mother was often too ill to sit at my bedside… When I had a nightmare, Dad came to save me and rub my head until the monsters slunk away, back under the bed. The doctors never gave her long to live, and one year, we opened our Christmas presents in the Intensive Care Unit because she couldn’t stop bleeding. People came to the hospital in the night after they sang their Silent Nights at Christmas Mass. They came  to donate blood to Mom because our small hospital was all out, and she needed more to make it through the night. She raced away from us by ambulance on Christmas morning. Because of them, she made it.

Years later, at Parent Nights in high school, when all the players on the team lined up to thank their parents and everyone clapped, my friend’s parents always made sure one of them stood by me so I wasn’t alone. One time, just once, Mom came to a game. Dad wheeled her up to the sidelines in a borrowed chair, and she beamed at me with love and pride, and I don’t know how she did it because her back was broken and probably her ribs and collarbone were broken, too. She was so weak, dying, really. But she smiled at me and loved me from her broken shell of a body.

That’s when everything changed. That day, November 6.

Something horrible happened in your life that day — I’m so sorry that it did.

In one single heart-wrenching, terrible moment, an auto accident took your son away from you. As you sat in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit looking for your son, hoping to see the rise and fall of his little chest, praying to God for strength to bear the sunrise of a day without that boy, you made a choice. The light had gone from your son’s eyes, and you thought of others.

You made a choice that a part of your son would live on in the broken body of another human being.  You gave a stranger a second chance at life.

And all the way across the country, that’s exactly what happened. Thirty years ago, a team of doctors transplanted your son’s liver into my mother’s decrepit body. Thirty years ago! How does one say thank you for 30 years of life? It’s through your anonymous gift of your son’s liver that my mom lived to see her children grow up and graduate from high school. It’s your generosity in your sorrow that allowed my mom to be here for our graduations from college, our first real jobs, our engagements and our weddings. Mom was here for her 25th wedding anniversary. And her 40th. She was there when her granddaughter was born and named after her. She was there when her grandson was born and named after your son. She’s present today and dearly beloved in the lives of all 19 of her grandchildren.

After getting a second chance to live, she decided to choose joy. No matter what the circumstance of each day, she finds the love in it. She has a special gift for making others feel that joy and love, too.

I wonder about you, Little Boy’s Mom and Dad. I pray for you. Have you found peace? In your great loss, in your great generosity, have you found the spark of joy that lives on even when happiness seems gone? I think you have. I think you have because you are the kind of people who give others hope even when you have little of your own. That makes for a life that, even when it’s colored by pain, is filled with love.

I thank you for 30 years of life, given to us by you and your son. And I hope and pray that you, too, have somehow made it a life filled with love.

God bless you,

Another Boy’s Mom

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Originally published: November 14, 2014
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