posted on December 19th 2017 in Blog /

My son Thomas died in August, one week before the start of his junior year at Purdue University. It was the end of summer, hot and dry, and normally a time of hope and anticipation for the start of a new school year. Ten years later, I still feel the stifling heat of August scorching lawns and threatening everyone’s temper. Because I work at a college, I remain tied to the perennial cycle of summer ending and school beginning. August heat, tragic loss and the parched sense of helplessness will always live together in my memory.

Eleven months after Thomas’ death, I saw August 13, the anniversary of his death, looming on the calendar. What should I do? How should I mark that day? How would I feel? To my surprise, I felt fearful, genuinely afraid of a day marking one trip around the sun without my Thomas. How could I conquer this irrational fear while I was still grieving?

The answers came when I received a call at my office from the Indiana Donor Network Aftercare Support team. After explaining the rules about direct contact between donor families and recipients, I was invited to a birthday party for the lady who received Thomas’ heart.

Of course, I accepted!

I traveled to Terre Haute one Saturday to meet Nancy and help her celebrate her 65th birthday with about 60 family and friends. Nancy had organized the party and dedicated it to Thomas. She was lively, upbeat and clearly enjoying every moment of life.

Thanks to Nancy and the miracle of organ donation, the heat of August now brings special memories of Thomas’ decision, a celebration of life and the beginning of a new friendship.

Written by: Lee Ann Shafer, donor mother

Read more on coping with milestone grief.