Mr. Loco was most excellent. He would do anything he could to help someone out. He wasn’t put out by it. It was just how he was. Kind. Helpful. Thoughtful. He was also a big fan of random acts of kindness. He loved to buy coffee for the people behind him in line or buy someone’s meal. It is no surprise that he was a registered organ donor. If you knew Mr. Loco, it would also be no surprise that he went above and beyond and completed as much information as he could for organ donation. We had talked about it, so we each new the others wishes. We were in agreement that we both wanted to help as many people as we could.
When the time came, it was not even something I had to think about. When the hospital staff came to me letting me know he was a registered organ donor and asking my wishes, I immediately said of course. They double and triple checked over the next few hours but there really was no decision. Of course, it was a yes. Mr. Loco would want to help as many people as he could as his last act of kindness. It felt like a random act of kindness. Here we were sending the chance for life to people we had never met, to people going through their own difficult journey.
Mr. Loco donated his organs to 5 people on February 24th, 2014. Donate Life Arizona was amazing. The team was kind, compassionate and caring. Their follow-up was also full of kindness and much appreciated. They remained in contact and supportive. I eventually felt pulled together enough to send a letter. I wanted them to know a little about Mr. Loco. I wanted them to know that not only did they receive a life saving act of kindness but that it came from an amazing person. My responses were I am sure sporadic due to parenting a toddler, working, and the heaviness of grief in general. I honestly cannot remember what I wrote or when. I just know that I reached out. I also sent Be Excellent cards. One family reached out via the Be Excellent Facebook page. I commented back and then sent a Facebook private message but didn’t hear back. I chalked it up to this being a weird thing. Organ donation is full of so many emotions. Maybe they Facebook stalked me and that was all they needed. The possibility of meeting someone you are connected to through death is also a weird thing. I was fine knowing Mr. Loco helped people and leaving it at that but I was also open to more.
Baby Loco and I were attending Ballet Under the Stars a few years later. As we sat on a blanket under the stars, we snacked while we waited for the performance to start. We were also waiting for friends to meet us so I was paying close attention to my phone so I could tell them where we were seated. I got a Facebook message and opened it. It was not who I was expecting. It was P, the wife of the recipient of Mr. Loco’s heart. She just got and opened the message I had sent 2 years before. They lived less than an hour away and wanted to meet. My brain bounced around to a thousand different places as I responded. I said yes and asked when they were thinking. In my head it was going to be some date in the future and I would somehow have time to pull it together. They said they were free that weekend so we set it up. I invited them to my house. Baby Loco watched the ballet and I pondered who I was about to meet.
My mind raced with so many thoughts.
- I thought about who I should have with me. I should have someone with me, right?My mom moved in with us about 2 1/2 years after Mr. Loco died. It has been a tremendous help. It just so happens that my mom was out-of-town visiting family during this time. Everyone I knew who I would be comfortable with either lived out-of-state or had little kids of their own or busy lives. It seemed like such a personal experience, I just decided to go for it on my own.
- Would we hear the dreaded “It was God’s plan” crap that made me want to throat punch people? Would they want to pray with us about their blessing? Would I have an ounce of a game face? Let’s face it, I have the worst game face. Would I be able to find semi-polite words to decline? Would they talk to my child about her daddy being in heaven watching her every move? Would I have to follow that up with an explanation of what they were talking about and do damage control with my very sensitive kid? I made my game plan to politely redirect the conversation if needed.
- What if they were nuttier than a fruitcake? I had invited strangers into my home. What the heck was I thinking? This was a poor choice. What was my exit strategy? Oh wait, it was my house. I needed to get them out. How would I wrap things up quickly and say thanks for coming? Would Baby Loco know to cry or pee her pants or do something spectacular to signal the end? Did we need a code word? What if they thought *I* was the nut? What if I could read it on their face as they made their silly excuse to have to leave? What if they ghosted us?
- What if they were serial killers and wanted to murder me and throw me in their trunk? Obviously, my mind was all over the place but I made a game plan. I told a friend that if I didn’t respond in a timely manner I was probably being murdered and she should notify the authorities that I was trying to be kind and it bit me in the ass. I sent her a picture of how I was feeling and their names and hoped I wasn’t going to become famous on some murder mystery show. This just goes to show you that I have watched far too many crime television shows in my lifetime. Instead of focusing on how emotional this was likely going to be, I focused on making jokes.
- What if they stood for everything we were not. What if they were made of the stuff of comments on the internet? Everyone knows you are supposed to stay away from those comments. It was easier to think about what if they were mean or bullies than it was to think about what if they were kind. What if they were good people? What if they were also delightful?
- What if they didn’t like us? I looked at this sign hanging on my fridge. “I’m the liberal, pro-choice, pro gay marriage, secular, outspoken, feminist you were warned you about.” and thought, YUP, that is me. It is going to have to be a take it or leave it on that front. I cannot bend who I am or who Mr. Loco was. If those are deal breakers, so be it. But really, what’s not to love? Who wouldn’t want to hang out with us? Right? Well, that is what I was going with. Don’t tell me if I was wrong.
- How do you juggle the thought that your loved one had to die so that they could live? While we were waiting to hear that Mr. Loco successfully came out of surgery, they were waiting to hear that someone died. They had to hope or pray for death in order to continue living. I don’t even have words. It is a huge thing to wrap your mind around. The thought that horrible things have to happen to some people in order for life saving things to happen to others. I feared the “Everything happens for a reason.” pat on the back.
- Would I be able to do Mr. Loco justice? Would I be able to find the words to express how wonderful he was? Would they appreciate this awesomeness?How would they feel knowing more about the heart in their possession? I pulled out our photo albums. Would I be able to get any words out? I looked around the house and figured there are little bits of Mr. Loco everywhere. There are photos and pieces of art that all have stories to go with them. Our house is full of Loco family love. I think you can see and feel it. It would come across.
- Would we listen to his heart? Would we feel it beating? Mr. Loco was a trained EMT. Baby Loco has played doctor with a lot of his stuff. Where was his stethoscope? I started tearing the house up looking for it. Then I had a moment of clarity. This is Mr. Loco we are talking about. What if he were doing his monthly volunteering with the roller derby and his stethoscope wasn’t working? He would have a backup because Mr. Loco was always prepared. I went to his EMT bag in the garage and started looking in pockets. Sure enough, there was a back up stethoscope. That’s my husband! Of course, once I stopped panicking, I found the other one as well. We were set. I could now hand out stethoscopes like Oprah Winfrey.
- How does one explain this meeting to a four-year-old? How do you prepare a four-year-old? How much do they understand? Is it something I should expect her to participate in? How do you explain to a four-year-old who has a limited understanding of death to begin with that they took her daddy in for surgery and took his heart out and sewed it into another person. Oh yeah, and that person is going to come over and we might listen to your dad’s heart but it is going to be in some other dude. A few intense but 4-year-old appropriate conversations later and after a bunch of Baby Loco follow-up questions, I thought we might be ready. I set out several activities for Baby Loco to work on while we chatted. That way she had something to focus on if she didn’t want to participate but she could still be close by.
With my mind busy with all of the “What If” thoughts, I didn’t do the greatest job with things like food to serve or drinks or having a mega-clean house or anything else that one does when having company for the first time. It didn’t matter because the day arrived anyway.
R & P arrived and at first it was surreal. How do you even have the conversation we were about to have? R had Mr. Loco’s heart beating inside him. He was right there. Mr. Loco’s heart was beating strong just a few feet away from me. I am thankful that P seemed to have prepared her own game plan and had things she wanted to share and wanted to say thank you. They were also prepared with a little gift for Baby Loco and treats baked by R. So while I had been busy googling how to get out of a locked trunk, they were busy baking. We chatted. All of the horrible things I thought “could” happen did not. Our visit was full of all of the good things that also made me nervous. We were navigating new territory. They won Baby Loco over in the course of our visit. Now, those if you who know Baby Loco know that this isn’t something to be overlooked. She can be a tough shell to crack. It is one of the things I appreciate greatly about her. She doesn’t just dive in. She is skeptical. She observes a situation and figures people out a bit first. She must deem you worthy. Try too hard and she shuts down. She gave big hugs at the end of our visit. BIG HUGS.
During our visit we got to share a bit of our story. We got to talk about Mr. Loco. We shared lots of photos and stories. I think they got to hear how special he was. Baby Loco knows lots of stories about her daddy. I tried to share those great stories. They got to spend time with Baby Loco who is a lot like her daddy. We got to hear their story and hear about the long journey they were on before receiving Mr. Loco’s heart. We got to hear about their family and they got to hear about ours and we got to hear Mr. Loco’s heart beating strong. Just typing that instantly brings tears to my eyes.
They were kind and compassionate. They were caring and understanding. They had kids around the same age as Mr. Loco. They had grandkids around the age of Baby Loco. There are a lot of mental gymnastics when it comes to organ donation and meeting another family. You heard all of mine above. P & R had to do some of their own. I mean, here we are, a young family. Baby Loco had an amazing dad who was so happy to be our family. We were so in love. No one would wish that to be taken away. No one would want another family to have to go through what we went through. You wouldn’t wish grief, sadness and struggle on our happy little family. Yet, here we are anyway. Bad stuff happens. There is no reason. It just happens. It sucks. It sucks big time but Mr. Loco and I were both of the mindset that you find the happy, you focus on the helpers, you find the good in the world, you make the good and spread the kindness. That is an important mind shift. It doesn’t mean it sucks any less but I could be all consumed by the what if thoughts and by the statement THIS ISN’T FAIR. This applies to our current situation and the present day state of the world. I will find the happy. I will focus on the helpers. I will be helpful. I will see the good in the world. I will make the good and spread kindness, for Mr. Loco, for me, for Baby Loco. I see the good in R receiving Mr. Loco’s heart. I also see the good things to come for Baby Loco having this new connection.
After our meeting, my heart was happy. The sadness was definitely there and the tears flowed but there was a distinct happiness in meeting these new people. I thanked them for not putting me in their trunk. They got my humor. It was good. I wasn’t sure where things would go from here but that didn’t matter. In this moment, I smiled.
“Today was a special day. Today Baby Loco and I got to meet the recipient of Mr. Loco’s heart. We got the opportunity to hear Mr. Loco’s heart beating strong. Only about 5% of families choose to meet and Baby Loco and I are lucky to be in that small percentage. R received Mr. Loco’s heart after months in the hospital waiting. Organ donation is a double edged sword. In order to save one life, someone else has to die. There are so many mixed emotions with that concept. Those mixed emotions get cranked up to a new level when it is a person you love. Of course if I had my way, Mr. Loco and I would be living our happily ever after. Organ donation, grief, raising Baby Loco on my own would not even be in the realm of possibilities. Since that isn’t an option, we go with option B. In option B, you help someone else. In option B, you spread kindness. When thinking about who received Mr. Loco’s organs, I hoped that the person had a bit of the awesome that Mr. Loco had and I hoped they loved their family so much like Mr. Loco loved his. I hoped that the person was kind. I hoped that the transplant included just a little bit of Mr. Loco excellence. Baby Loco and I got to meet R today and he is all of those things. We got to meet his wife of 40 years, P and she is all of those things. My heart is full this evening. There are lots of emotions swirling around. Baby Loco and I often talk about how you can feel several things at the same time. I am proud of the gift Mr. Loco gave. I am missing Mr. Loco because he was the bee’s knees. I am happy that P still has R. I am sad that Baby Loco doesn’t have her daddy. There are so many emotions. There are so many tears.
Losing Mr. Loco was a tragedy that will affect our lives forever more. Out of that tragedy, Mr. Loco lives on. Mr. Loco’s excellence lives on. He lives on by giving R the gift of life. He lives on in Baby Loco. He lives on by inspiring people to help others on a daily basis. He lives on through my kindness. He lives on through your kindness.
Please sign up to be an organ donor. You could save a life. You could be a hero for a family.”
After that meeting, we have kept in touch. R made the cupcakes for Baby Loco’s 5th birthday. There is now a much higher expectation of cupcakes! It was amazing.