“I’m so freaked out, I need to tell you that I know who the donor is! It’s my neighbor!”
Melissa, the nurse, was on both ends of the spectrum that day in March, 1995. She had cared for baby Trent since he arrived in ICU; she woke Valerie to deliver the news that a heart was available; and she stayed throughout the surgery before finally going home…where she learned her neighbor’s baby had died the day before.
Melissa called me that afternoon to fill me in. I asked that she tell the family about us if it would help them, and let me know the funeral details. So, the same day my son’s life was saved by a stranger, I found out who that stranger was, and I prepared to attend his funeral. March 16th, 1995 was a day of emotional information overload for Melissa and me.
I shaved, showered and selected an appropriate suit and tie that Saturday morning. Appropriate in this case meant that I 1) looked good (rule number one), 2) paid respect and 3) remained unnoticed. I was preparing to attend a funeral for a baby boy who had saved my baby boy just days before, and running into the parents was the last thing I wanted. I was certain that it would not be positive for them and would very likely add pain to what was already the worst situation a parent can experience. I had struggled with deciding whether to attend, but eventually concluded that I should pay my respects and I would never have this same chance.
It was my first time in St. Ann's Catholic Church in Coppell, Texas and I approached the building like I was a shy, awkward teenager going to my first dance, concerned about my looks, wanting to be in the crowd, but not seen by it, and fearing someone would talk to me. I hoped no one would ask my connection to the family.
The entry hallway leading to the sanctuary was sizable, yet the space around me shrank as all I noticed was a small wooden casket no more than a few feet long. “It's him. He's in there,” I kept thinking. It was someone I had never met, never even seen, yet the pain of loss overwhelmed me and I hurt badly. My heart raced and eyes reddened, but I knew I had to control my emotions. I simply stood and stared for a couple minutes, not wanting to leave, but knowing I should move to a place less noticeable.
I made my way into the sanctuary and found a seat near the back and away from aisles where the family might walk. Waiting for the service to begin, and uncertain where to focus my eyes, I glanced over the printed program, which is when I realized the baby's name – David.
The funeral began with the family being escorted down the aisle. It was my first time to see them. Gary and Sarah Lindemann walked with each other as pain emanated from their faces and the more I watched, the more I felt their pain. They never looked my way, but I could not stop staring theirs. They were young, apparently close in age to Valerie and me, and totally innocent. They did nothing wrong to be put in such a position. The service played in my background and I couldn't recall details afterwards, but the despair in Sarah's face never left my memory. Now, over two decades later, I have no recollection of what was said or sung, but Sarah’s pain remains clear.
I eventually shuffled slowly out of the sanctuary with everyone else, making my way outside. I have never been one to enjoy standing in the sun (I don't have the skin for it) and being in it now, even with the fresh air, did nothing to help this day. Think about the greatest joy anyone can feel. Now think about the worst pain imaginable, as if it were one of your own children who passed away. Now combine the two and that is almost what I had been feeling since the morning of Trenton's life-saving surgery. I was still fresh with elation and awe from Trenton's transplant. How can anyone find words eloquent enough to say an appropriate thank you? Well, I couldn't. I was right there with him, David Lindemann and I a few feet from each other, and I couldn't say a thing because he was dead, lying on one side of the casket door while I stood on the other. I had paid my respects and shared in the family's pain, but it felt insufficient, so I walked away having swallowed a nauseating cocktail of elation, sorrow, sympathy and regret.
Making my way back to my car, I watched the ground as I walked, lost in thought as I stepped in front of a large, black limousine parked alongside the curb. I glanced up just in time to see Gary and Sarah stepping in. It was nearly the inappropriate situation I wished to avoid, but I put my head back down and hurried on, wondering if they saw me and whether we would ever meet. Again by chance, it turned out we would.
Our meeting with the Lindemanns, coming in my next post, was my first time to feel Still Thankful.
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