The Last Gift

Dec 01, 2009

Intro by Molly Jackson

Just six weeks after Lucy choked on a small piece of apple, we received word that a boy who lived just an hour away from us, died from an eerily similar incident with a pretzel. At the time we heard the news, we had no idea that we actually knew the family. As more information came in, we realized we had met this wonderful couple years earlier through a mutual friend and had spent a fun evening together playing games as newlyweds. We attended the viewing and waited until they were ready to talk.

We now have a bond and an unspoken understanding that runs deep. Very deep. We love them and ache for them just as they do for us.

 

The Last Gift

I've hand-written my fair share of letters in my life.  On this particular occasion, I was sitting by a window that overlooked the Salt Lake Valley at Primary Children's Hospital while the sun set over the distant mountains.  I was writing three letters to individuals and families that I'd never seen, never met, and quite possibly never would. 

Just two days earlier I'd been wrestling with my oldest boy Mason and his twin brother before they headed out the door.  It was our 8th wedding anniversary and my wife was dropping them off at my sister's house for the night.  They were nearly 19 months old and had quickly become the light of my life.  Lincoln was all laughs and Mason was all smiles.   It's hard to imagine two brothers who were happier and got along better than the two of them.  Ten minutes after my wife walked out the door, I received a frantic call from her.  They'd been eating pretzels in their car seats when my wife looked back and saw that Mason was struggling on one of them.  His eyes were wide open but he couldn't make a sound.  She pulled over immediately and began administering life saving techniques that she'd learned through her medical training and had used before.  The closest hospital was less than a mile and a half away and the ambulance arrived after several minutes followed by the life flight helicopter. 

By the time I arrived at the accident scene he was inside the ambulance with paramedics working on him.  For nearly a day we hoped for the best. However, things worsened instead and eventually we learned that our little boy Mason would soon be dying.

The next evening we sat down with a neurologist and she explained to us how our little boy would eventually pass away.  Either via starvation/dehydration, asphyxiation, or there was a very slim possibility that he'd pass away naturally by brain death.  It’s strange to find yourself in a position where you're praying to God for your son to die in a specific way.  We couldn't imagine watching our son whither away slowly.  Additionally, brain death would be what would allow him to donate the most organs, namely his heart, kidneys, and liver. 

While we didn't get the miracle that we hoped for most, we did get that one.  The next afternoon he was pronounced dead while still warm, hydrated, and attached to numerous medical devices.  That evening our families came to the hospital to say their last goodbyes to him and we had a few sacred hours with him after that. 

I frantically hoped that our tragedy could somehow prevent others from having to experience similar pain and grief that we were experiencing.  I wanted to work closely with our transplant coordinator and be the first to know when there was a match for each organ.  He first told us that a little girl named Jonelle needed his liver.  She'd receive it on her very first birthday.  Later we found that his heart would be going to a precious little girl named AnnaSophia who was just seven months old.  Last, we found out that his kidneys were received by a 47-year-old woman named Carmen.  It was these families who would be the recipients of the letters that I was writing that evening.  One letter read:

"Our little boy loved to share.  He shared his favorite blanket, his favorite books, and his favorite toys with others.  He gave gladly and he gave freely.  We will miss him so, so much but are glad that he's able to share one last thing....the most important thing with a little girl who needed a heart.  We'll pray for your little girl and will pray for a successful transplant and recovery.  He was a big boy with a big heart.  I hope and pray that his heart beats on in your little girl for as long as she needs it.  I hope that you receive this letter and his heart with nothing but feelings of hope and joy.  We hope and pray for the best for your little girl and your family.  - Dad"

Just after midnight we wheeled him down the hall, and gave him one last kiss at the entrance to the operating room.  A few hours later we watched from the top of the parking garage as an ambulance with it's sirens blazing and a private vehicle raced into the night.  A heart can only be outside of a body for about four hours.  Two private jets were waiting at the airport-- One for his heart, the other for his liver.  They were headed to Denver and Los Angeles respectively.  The only plane that would have a higher landing priority would be a plane carrying the President of the United States. 

There's nothing that removes or numbs the terrible pain, anguish, and grief that comes with losing a child.  We are so glad that Mason was able to be a little hero for three others.  It's given a bit of meaning to something that otherwise would have had none.  We've had the pleasure of corresponding with AnnaSophia's family extensively.  We're glad to know that Mason means something to these three other families and that they too will remember the day that they received a life-saving organ from our little boy.  We hope that there will be three other families celebrating his birthday and his life with us on December 16th.

A wise friend, Vicki Pond, who's been down the same path, told us:  "We are somehow to let go of our previous expectations, of what we had set our hearts on, of how our lives were going to be, but we don't let go of our loved ones.  We don't move on and forget - we move forward and remember."  We are grateful, as are countless others, for Mason's last gift. 

- Mason's Dad, Dave Hibbert

 

 

*Editor's note: Dave's wife, Charlotte, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl one year after Mason's passing. Her name is Abbey Sophia.

 


Comments

eden on 12/01/2009
lovely...

Shara on 12/02/2009
Wow. What an inspiration. Thank you for sharing your story. What a brave and beautiful family!

Cheryl on 12/02/2009
Thank you Thank you for your courageous and selfless gift of life! My brother-in-law received a heart transplant in September and he has a 2nd chance at a great life. I can't tell his donor thank you, but I can tell you thank you. In your time of grief you thought of others and that means so much to those who receive (and their families)

Jamee on 12/03/2009
What a beautiful post. I cried as I read just knowing the heart ache you felt, and cried knowing the joy and gratitude each of those families felt as they received the news of a second chance for their loved ones. What a beautiful, giving son you have...you should be so proud. My thoughts and love are with you and your family during this holiday season.

Miggy on 12/03/2009
That was beautiful and heart wrenching. Thank you for sharing.

Allison on 12/07/2009
Heart breaking and beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I have twins and for some reason have always had a fear that I got two because one was meant to be taken away. Of course I hope it is just an irrational fear never to come to fruition. He is beautiful!

Joy on 12/07/2009
Thank you for sharing your story. How difficult to have a day of celebration also remembered as a day of mourning. I am so amazed and so touched by people like you who so willing give that gift of life to others.

Diana B. on 12/08/2009
Dave-This was beautiful. You and Char are a wonderful inspiration to our family. I was reading this and my daughter says, "Look, there's Mason!" She was excited to see him. We love and miss your little guy, especially right now with his birthday coming up. You know, it is interesting that even as family, we sometimes don't quite understand what each other is going through, even 18 months later. Thank you for sharing this. We Love you so much! And, we love little Mason.

James B. on 12/08/2009
Thank you so much. We love you guys, and our prayers and thoughts are always with you.

Claire on 01/23/2010
I can't help but pass along this blog site of a family waiting to receive kidney and liver transplants for their 2 small children. The youngest child just received hers and it's been neat reading their story and hearing how truly grateful they are to be receivers of organ donation. http://givehopetobensonandclaire.blogspot.com/2010/01/jan-17-1000-pm.html

Michelle on 01/29/2010
I can't help but let the tears fall as I read these heart wrenching and intimate stories. My tears fall for those parents. I too belong to the "broken Heart" club and lost my little MASON 9 years ago. I have found a way to take the grief and move forward but not a day goes by that I don't think about my son. I love hearing how his final gift...what a blessing for you and those reciepents. I wish I could tell you that "Time heals all wounds"...I wish it were that simple. It takes an active work of faith, prayer and understanding to heal. Thanks for sharing your story.

Amy Saville on 01/23/2011
Molly told me I could probably ask you "David & Charlotte" my questions about contact with the reciepient family. My son Gabriel passed away july 2010 and his heart was transplanted into a 6 month old baby boy in California. We have exchanged one letter each with the recipient family. I feel like I'd liek to have further contact with them if they are open to that and I'm just wondering if that is a good idea or not. I'd love you to contact me and give your opionion of experience. Thank you so much for sharing your beaufiful story. Amy Gabriel' Mom da.savillefamily.org amy@savillefamily.org

Kelly Ann Griffith on 10/31/2012
July 23, 2011, was one of the worst days my family has had to endure. It was the day I had to wake my mother up to tell her the police were at our front door wanting to see her. They were there to tell her that her only son, her baby, at the age of 33 had died. He had just come home for good for only 6 weeks after being in Iraq for the last 2 1/2 years supporting the Army at Camp Stryker. I heard the most heart wrenching, animalistic whimpering scream come from my mother's lips and I saw the life drain from her in her eyes all in the matter of a instant. I hear that scream every day of my life in my head, the power and emotion of that all come back in a instant in the form of a knot in my throat and a waterfall of tears stream down my face. How are we ever going to survive this? Later we found out that his accident made it impossible to have a normal wake and funeral. He was so badly damaged from landing full force head first in the concrete bottom of Beardsley Canal when he was thrown off his ATC going about 14 mph at 2am. We considered it a blessing that he had died instantly. He laid there in the dark, in the desert, for 3 more hours until a good friend of his went looking for him and found him. Iraq had given him severe PTSD and he couldn't sleep so he decided to take a ride. His friend is still tormented by the vision of seeing his friend in that state. It has given him PTSD and some of the worst nightmares he has ever had. That day we all lost so much, a friend, a son, a brother, a uncle, the stability and security of the patriarch of our small family. He was our natural born leader. He always had a bear hug, advice, a smile and his crazy sense of humor to freely give to anyone. He couldn't stand to see a child in Iraq wear shoes that had holes in them so I would get a call from him to look for a delivery coming in the mail and to immediately ship it to him. It was imperative that the little Iraqi kid get his new shoes right away. He came to the aid of a fellow co-worker when his laptop died and he couldn't keep in contact with his wife and kids because he couldn't afford to buy another one. My brother ordered a new laptop from Dell for him. He couldn't stand the thought of his co-worker not being able to contact his family. He knew that contact with family in a war zone was essential to remain sane and hopeful. Scott was my hero then and after his death he became iconic to me. We were gutted by his death but we had to make a important unexpected decision within hours of his death. A decision that we had to make in a time when we could barely function through the anguish and tears. Our phone rang and it was the Donor Network of Arizona. Our mom answered the call and how she mustered up the strength and comprehension to even make sentences is still baffling to me. They wanted to let her know that Scott was eligible to donate organs and tissues if we would like for that to happen. Mom told them she would have to think about it and talk it over with me. She hung up and immediately told me what they said. I looked at her for a split second and said yes. It is what Scott would have wanted. His outlook on it was, if I can't use it or don't need it - then give it away to someone that can. So in his last gift to the mortal world he gave over 50 people part of him. There are people that will be able to see and there are people that will be able to continue on living and making memories with their families and make a difference in the world. Continue on doing Scott's work. As the family of the donor, we think of it as the only good thing to come out of our tragedy. It almost makes it bearable. So it is a gift to us as well in that way. The Donor Network of Arizona astounded me with their true caring and honest desire to help you through the death of your loved one and they constantly contact you to give you hope and acknowledgment on how they deem your loved one and their family as true heroes to the world. They had organ recipients meet us to let us know their side of the donor process. They all cried and couldn't thank us enough for the second chance at life they were given. I was amazed and honored that most organ recipients donate their time, year after year, to donor appreciation events so that they can tell their side of the story. Their words and look of health truly astounded me and I was so very proud of my brother even more and proud of the donor recipients for helping others in this rather unusual situation we all were put in. I loved seeing the lust for life in their eyes, it reminded me of my brother. I truly thank them from the bottom of my heart which would never be enough. The first year of his death we were cloaked in grief, numbness, denial, despair and terrible sadness. We would have desperate visions of him calling us or showing up at our door saying it was all a mistake, they misidentified him and he really was in Iraq. I went through serious bouts of movie like dreams and dramatic visions about him sneaking up to my room, sitting on my bed, leaning down to touch my hair to ease me out of my sleep. I would jump up and throw my arms around him and scream. I mean he did that before and he will do it again. At any moment it will happen, right? Heartbreaking revelations that would leave us devastated all over again. This second year we functioned and that is pretty much it. We are like eternally lost. We realized that life as we knew it was over and that we needed to live in a different way. We asked repeatedly why this happened to us. Why did this happen to Scott? I felt terrible survivors guilt. He had made way more of himself at 33 than I had at 40. He was doing so much good and I had done nothing. He lived everyday to the fullest with positivity and energy. I sat and watched the clock ticking, with no desire and a ample amount of negativity regarding everything. Why wasn't it me? I got angry at God for taking him instead. I got angry because I didn't know what I needed to do to fix everything and everyone. I was just angry. I felt that in order to move on and release my anger I had to accept that he was gone forever and I was not ready to accept that. So it continued to consume me. Added to it was sadness, numbness, aimlessness even more of a shell of a person than I was before. Truth is I couldn't fix anything or anyone, including myself. I got angry that he never got married and had kids. I had married, gotten divorced and had two kids. He considered my kids as his, he knew he was their only father figure and he just slid into that without skipping a beat without even being asked - with a smile and endless energy. But I still was angry that I would never be a Aunt. I would never get to tease him about getting his first gray hair. I got angry because he was going to teach my son how to play baseball, how to treat girls and how to give a car a oil change and now I had to do that and I had no idea how to teach a little boy about how to be a good man like he could. But in reality, we somehow needed to find a way to go on. The hard part was to go on with purpose and meaning. I had to do something to honor Scott to help save myself, to help heal, to be able to live life and not to just take up space. The direction I found myself going in was the wrong way, I did know that much. I struggled with what I should do. I was seven courses shy of a B.A. in Criminal Justice, but not being able to financially continue on with that shot down my dream of wanting to save the world from the bad guys. I didn't feel it was a good fit at this point in my life because of what had happened. I wasn't strong enough to take on the world anymore. So what else was there? 10 years ago I created a company with my mom called, The Silk Worm Garden. She made silk flower arrangements and I handmade candles. We even dabbled in floral arrangement rental - for weddings, meeting, etc. Our company took off to the point where we were tossing the idea of quitting our jobs to open a store. We were within 4 months of that step when 9/11 happened. The attack on our country devastated not only our country but the business sector. People didn't want to spend their money as freely as before because we all thought we were going to be in a WW III scenario. For me, quite honestly I just didn't want to make anything creative anymore. You have to be in a good state of mind to really bring out the best in your creativity and 9/11 stifled that. So we made the decision to take a break from the business. This actually angered my brother to no end. He was obsessed with a vanilla coffeebean candle I would make him. He believed in us so much that he never understood why we did not want to pursue this endeavor anymore. His determination was so strong in himself that he never looked at the situation or environmental factors around him. If he wanted to do something he was not going to let anything stop him and he could not understand our decision. To him it was a sign of weakness when you give up on something you really want. He would call me from Iraq and almost beg me to start up making my candles again. He would demand that I take out money from his account and buy what I needed to do this. I couldn't imagine the thought of taking his money that he was risking his life for every second in Iraq to spend it on myself. He had earned every penny of his money more than anyone ever would in their lifetime and I couldn't do it. I never touched candles again - until his death. We were going to have a memorial service for him and I HAD to make him his Vanilla Coffeebean Candles and my mom HAD to make him a beautiful floral arrangement. We owed it to him. We went off to the store to buy the things we needed, even though being creative and making things were the last thing we wanted to do. We slowly started making them and before we knew it unexpectedly the creativity flowed, we felt a little better, it was a welcome detraction, and our desire to make Scotty the best pieces drove a desire I hadn't felt in years. We were doing this for our love of Scott and to honor him. We had to make these shining examples as a tribute, a reflection of his life, our respect, and honor for him as a person, and our love for him had to envelop all of it. For the first time since he died I had a brief glimmer of hope for the future. Making his candles made me feel peaceful, calm and worthy. It took me so long to make them because I had to make them perfect, I had to infuse them with love. For months after his death, I sputtered through each hour. Just getting through. I felt like I was dead. My mom and kids felt the same. We mistakenly celebrated Christmas on the wrong day. I mean how do kids forget what day Christmas is on?? Every holiday was torture and we found ourselves really downplaying everything. The 4th of July went down like this: "Good morning, Happy 4th of July, remember this time last year we were in a hotel with Scott because the A/C broke", then we would cry because of that memory, then we agree to have a cookout later that night, then we all go into our bedrooms and sleep (because you don't feel anything when you are asleep), then you wake up only to realize that it is now 10pm so the cookout is out of the question, so you eat something small and go back to bed. That is the holiday spirit we had with everything. A endless, "Could-a, Should-a, Would-a" fest. Then in April 2012, I talked to my mom about my destain in thinking this is how our lives will be forever. Possibly living decades in this eternal limbo of despair and disarray, which I had a hard time accepting. I told her that I needed to do something to make life bearable again and with meaning, but the stipulation was that I had to do something to honor Scott. After many hours, mom told me that maybe I should do what Scott wanted me to do up until his death. Make my candles. I pondered the thought and at first it didn't seem like enough. I thought long and hard over the next few days, then it hit me. I could make my candles, but I could also donate a portion of what I sell to charities that encompass his personality. I could make myself available for local, community and school fundraising. Scott would never let a child go without anything especially a chance at education to succeed in life. Pay it Forward. Keep the essence of Scott going and his desire to make a difference in the world. He wanted me to make my candles again and I wanted to keep his spirit and giving quality, alive. So I decided to grant his wish and mine at the same time. On July 23, 2012, the first year anniversary of his death, Scottland Ranch Candle Company opened their web store. It is a slow start but it is a start, not the ending I was headed to before, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to do what I love and help others. Our signature candle of course, is Scotty's Vanilla Coffeebean Candle. I will make them forever, just for him. I feel that one day the scent of his favorite candle will force him to come for a visit so I can steal a Scotty hug. So I always have two of them on the mantle next to his picture. My brother was a hero before his death but after he died he became a iconic hero. Real heroes are everyday people that do something good everyday for the good of someone else when they are alive. Real heroes are organ donors and their families for making such a decision in one of the worst times of their lives. It is such a selfless act for everyone. We donated Scotty's organs because they couldn't help him anymore but they could help someone else and that is the only positive we get out of his death. My brother, Scott is living on helping countless others. Not only that, but he saved my life as well. I mean if that doesn't make you a hero I do not know what will. Kelly Ann Griffith Founder of Scottland Ranch Candle Company email: kelly@scottlandranchcandles.com website: www.scottlandranchcandles.com


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