Beyond the grief, a gesture of giving

Peter Jackson
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In Tuesday’s Telegram, Barb Sweet reported on the fact that 25 people in this province received life-

changing kidney or liver transplants, thanks to the generosity of families whose loved ones had died. That’s almost three times as many as in 2010.

There are many reasons for the success rate here, which, along with the rate in the rest of Atlantic Canada, routinely exceeds that in the rest of Canada.

The main one is education.

Families are encouraged to discuss their intentions among themselves, and the importance of organ donorship is driven home frequently in public awareness campaigns.

But health officials are still amazed how many families make the decision cold in their worst moment of grief.

Last year, some other organ recipients and I gave short talks at a tribute to donor families at the Health Sciences Centre. The others focused primarily how their lives had been changed through this selfless gift.

I received a kidney from a living donor — my wife — who is, of course, able to reap my undying gratitude in person. But families of deceased donors deserve a special nod for their courage in the face of sadness. It is to them I devoted my few minutes at the podium. I offer a pared-down version of those words below.

• • •

When I was a young man, I made a firm commitment not to donate any of my organs, nor to undergo a transplant even if it was a matter of life or death.

Many people make similar decisions, often for religious reasons: the body is a temple, not to be defiled or tampered with.

And people are just naturally squeamish about the thought of body parts being removed and installed elsewhere like rebuilt transmissions.

To me, transplantation conjured up the gothic horrors of a certain Mary Shelley novel that I shall leave unnamed. It seemed a ghoulish practice — like macabre science fiction — and I wanted no part of it.

Then, I grew up. I matured. I looked at it more rationally.

And I also finally read Mary Shelley’s book and realized most depictions of it completely miss the mark. It’s not really about mad scientists and lightning bolts, but about the dominance of the human spirit and the need for meaning in one’s life.

Dealing with various health problems over the past 10 years, I’ve come to realize that while we may exist in a temporal, imperfect world, we are all, at the core, spiritual beings. What we do in our physical lives only has meaning in the context of our spiritual lives. Whether we are offering a few dollars to charity or offering a kidney to a friend or loved one, the physical act is important only in what it represents: the desire to give someone a bite to eat, a place to lay their head — or, in the case of a transplant, a new chance for a normal, healthy life.

This is not specifically a religious message I’m talking about, though spiritual matters are certainly the domain of religion.

I’m talking about the spirit of the act, in part, because it’s important to realize that transplantation is not a perfect bet. We do not live in a perfect world. Yes, the majority of transplants are successful these days. The risks are greatly minimized. But whether a transplant is successful or not, the very act of donating an organ is an immense gesture in itself.

Blessings come in many forms, and sometimes it’s not where you think. You donate an organ because you want someone to be well. That is the goal.

Whether things work out or not — and chances are, they will — it is still the act of giving that is the key event. It is an expression of love, of charity, of a true spiritual bond. That is the true blessing.

And that may not be simply a close family bond, but a much broader bond. A bond of compassion for a fellow human being, even when the identity of a donor remains anonymous.

To all donors and donor families out there who didn’t have to think twice when the occasion called, I say thank you.

I’m sure the experience has been equally as enriching for you as it has been a lifesaver for those to whose rescue you came.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s

commentary editor. Email:

Organizations: Health Sciences Centre

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, Canada.The

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