Once the family has agreed to to the donation, the transplant team has to wait until the person is declared brain dead by a battery of doctors before they can proceed. Once that declaration has been made, they are just waiting around for you to go so that they can get to work. And it's up to you to decide when to leave.
In other words, there is no final moment when you hear some machine flatline and you feel better about taking off and grabbing a latte on your way home.
So, you're in kind of a medical stalemate. You don't want to leave your spouse because all of those beeps are telling you that he's still functioning. But the doctors can't do what they need to do until you take off. And, frankly, there's probably someone in that hospital who's waiting for a heart and thinking, "If that thing doesn't come within the hour, I'm sure as hell not tipping 20 percent."
"I can't leave. We can't just leave him, can we?" I asked my mother-in-law tearfully.
"I don't want to go either," she said. "He just looks like he's sleeping. We can't go."
"I'll stay with him," I heard behind me.
I turned around and there was Cindy, my mom's best friend from college, who had just gotten off the plane from Houston to be with us. A nurse who had answered dozens of calls from my mother throughout my childhood about what various rashes might be and what does it mean if I can't bend this or that. Cindy had been outside the room, talking to the ICU nurses and getting updates on what was going on.
"I'll stay with him when you feel like you can go so that he won't be alone. I'll stay through the whole procedure. I won't leave him alone. Just let me know when you're ready."
1. In the hospital, you offered to stay with Brad through the organ donation process so that Catherine could feel like she wasn’t leaving him alone. What was that moment like?
My decision or offer to stay with Brad through the organ donation process was a spontaneous decision. Watching Catherine deal with so many decisions and so much medical information was heart wrenching. I felt I could help by being with Brad and giving her the option of leaving, but not leaving him alone. I worried about intruding, but took the risk and offered.
2. You have been a nurse for many years. Do you feel like your training helped you to understand what was going on at the hospital (and prepared you for what needed to be done) or were you just trying to be there as a friend?
I left Texas to be with the Mouton/Tidd families in Colorado as a friend who felt the need to go and do whatever I could. When I arrived at the hospital, I put on my "nurse hat" and definitely felt that I could help interpret information. The Organ Alliance team was awesome and they were responsive to my presence and kept me informed as they prepared Brad for the organ retrieval procedures. It was a privilege to be with him during this period.
3. You did so many things to help Catherine’s family prepare for the funeral. Can you give any tips to someone who is trying to do the same for a friend?
Funeral preparations are very stressful, especially when the death is unexpected and sudden. When you offer your help to a friend, be willing to help with whatever they need. Listen to them. Take charge or assign someone to keep the house running. There may be errands, cleaning, grocery shopping, etc. The ordinary needs of the family still have to be dealt with. People start bringing food immediately and someone needs to keep a list of what and who brought it. Receptions usually need to be planned. Someone can field phone calls and answer the door. Shield the friend from all you can and encourage them to rest whenever possible. If your friend needs to cry, hold their hand. If your friend needs to talk, listen. And do not tell them you know how they feel. Sometimes, just listening and being there is the best and and only thin you can do.
4. How did you feel was the best way to support Catherine’s parents as they dealt with not only losing a son-in-law, but also as they tried to help Catherine and the kids navigate this new world?
A friend's grief can never be your own. Watching a close friend deal with such a traumatic loss puts you close to the emotions and gives you a glimpse of how hard it is. Supporting my friends during this time was a matter of paying attention and trying to listen and being available. We don't live close so the support was mainly long distance, by phone and mail. It was hard to not check "be there." But, you can "be there" in so many ways. Be respectful of someone's space, but check on them. Send a card and remember that humor is ok. Catherine said once that she wished someone would make funny sympathy cards! Some people might cringe, but it made me laugh. Take your cues from the friend. You can usually sense where they are that day and remember that every day is different.
5. You’ve known Catherine’s parents since college. Did your friendship change at all after Brad’s death?
We are so lucky to have a couple friendship. It is a special relationship between four people, not just the women. Our friendship does go back to college and we have seen each other through the ups and downs that life brings. When "life happens," I need to call Alice (Catherine's mother) and share. She is a world class listener. I think that our friendship only got stronger after Brad's death. We try very hard to visit each other and AT&T has always helped us to "reach out and touch" each other. Friendships require attention and care and I think we all know that and value what we have.
6. Were there times when you felt helpless while trying to support Catherine’s parents? How did you deal with that?
It is certainly a helpless feeling, watching anyone you care about being overwhelmed with grief. Grieving is a personal and lonely journey. You have to realize that you can't fix it. I probably talked to other friends about feeling helpless and I do remember reading some grief books that I have used throughout the years. It is always good to review the basics.
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Families Come in Many Shapes and Sizes