Lighting candles and paying the price

“So, knowing everything you do now, if you could do it over again, would you still be a nurse?”

When my Dad asked me this, it wasn’t an idle question. I had lived with him and my Mom while doing the most difficult and most transcendent job of my entire career, working as a transplant coordinator in organ donation. He had seen some of the lowest and darkest moments in my professional life first hand.

“Yeah, I still would.”

“Really? Why?” (I think he was genuinely surprised!)

“Well, I lit a candle that was worth burning. It cost me a lot, but I would do it again.”

“Honey,” he said, “you didn’t just light a candle in the lives of all those people you helped save. You set off a rocket.”

My Dad is pretty great, huh?

But shining encouragement aside, I still think of myself as having lit a candle worth burning in my life as a nurse. I count myself privileged to have done the work that I did, because it was immensely valuable; but valuable things are expensive, and I paid the price of taking part in so many incredible moments.

A story:

Let’s call him Matt, since that wasn’t his name. Matt had done prison time for various things related to hard drug usage; you could tell by the tattoos he was covered with that had been inked using a paper clip.

He was out of prison now, living with his dad, holding down a job, had gotten clean and was staying clean. Until he got the idea, God knows from where, that he would take one last trip before committing to the straight and narrow forever. But Matt didn’t consider how long he’d been clean, so the same dose that used to just get him comfortably high instead caused a major overdose. He never woke up.

Matt was one year older than me.

I can’t share all of the details here, but the time came for his father–let’s call him Steve–to make the decision to terminally extubate his only child. He knew it was the right thing to do, and there was unanimous agreement from the medical team that Matt would not suffer. But, because of Steve’s own experiences in life, he could not bear the thought of watching him die. He didn’t want Matt to die alone, but he couldn’t be with him, either; so he asked me if I would stay to hold Matt’s hand while he passed away, and tell him how much he loved him.

Steve said goodbye to his son, and was helped away, weeping, by a close friend. And then the time came for Matt to end his journey on this side of eternity.

I did exactly what he asked me to do. Matt passed away quickly and absolutely without pain, and I held his hand the whole time. I told him how much his father loved him. I told him how proud he was of him. I told him how sorry I was that he had been in so much pain, that drugs had seemed like his best option. I told him how I wished we could have been friends.

When the attending physician determined that Matt’s heart had stopped and pronounced his time of death, I wept as I have wept very few times in my life. It is a great privilege to be assigned by God as the one present when a soul leaves this world; it is no less of a privilege to be assigned by a father to walk with his child as he goes.

Standing vigil as the sole mourner at the death of another person’s child has changed me in ways that even now I can’t fully articulate, years later. But I can tell you that while it cost me a great deal (for innocence is indeed a currency), it is a price I would gladly pay again to be present for that moment.

Valuable things are costly. Motherhood is one of the most valuable, and by far the most costly thing I have ever done. But just as I would choose to be with Matt again, I wouldn’t trade the last 7 months of my life for anything, because being Asher’s mother is absolutely worth every last thing I’ve sacrificed and suffered to be here. I have once again lit a candle that is well worth burning.

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3 Responses to Lighting candles and paying the price

  1. Sheila, I am so moved by this for so many reasons! First as a mom, but also because I am part of the transplant community as a living donor. I never knew you were a transplant coordinator, and have such respect for the work you did, difficult as it was. Thank you for sharing this – I’m going to share it with my transplant friends as well!

  2. Debora Lisle says:

    Wow, Sheila! Thanks for sharing this…. Aunt Deb (with tears running down her face….)

  3. John Auxier says:

    Thanks for opening up about both your difficult road and the unforgettable views you experienced on the journey. Asher and Dave are such great blessings in your life today!

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