A year ago today, somewhere in the UK, a man died. We don’t know who he was or who his family are but in his last hours they gave us a gift we could never repay. For that family the day would visit them with darkness and touch them each with grief, changing what they carry from then on. And their kindness in their sorrow kindled hope in each of us; a chance to take us through our own gathering darkness and on to brighter days.
Lucia walked down the corridor a year ago this afternoon from the Liver Intensive Therapy Unit (LITU) to the Liver Transplant Theatre with her head held high and her heart full of hope. Our words, our hugs and kisses were poor expressions of the depth of feeling of us all, but they had to carry us through. “See you next year,” Lucia said, with a smile that lights us still. “You’ll see me before then but I’ll still be asleep!”
After 14 hours in the theatre and the most demanding of transplant operations, the surgeon came to us in the waiting room. Two hours earlier the transplant coordinator had warned us that it wasn’t going well. “They are doing everything they possibly can so we are hoping and praying it can be enough and we’ll see how it goes.”
We don’t remember breathing after that until the surgeon came through the door. “Better,” he said. We grasped at the air his words brought. Not better as in “fixed, all OK”, but better than it could have been, better than they all expected, better enough to work with. Better enough to go back to theatre in a couple of hours for much more.
When Lucia received her transplant her donor gave to us…a chance to breathe.
It was a long and hard road that followed until almost five months later and still in LITU, Lucia closed her eyes for the last time and her light and life continue in ways we can’t hug. Those weeks, hours, moments are a mixture of the hardest of images tangled inseparably with the warmth, hope, quiet persistence, resilience and determination of a young woman who said she “couldn’t wait…to be up and about causing mayhem and making trouble”, who had, as she wrote in her last blog (March 2020), “so much more living to do”.
There was immense care around us all, skill given in kindness and commitment, support and encouragement from family and friends at home and around the world, including some of the youngest voices from Lucia’s teammates in the Games. And there was love enough to hold the four of us together. We worked our way through the intensity of feelings and were graced by Lucia’s smiles, conversation, holding hands, finding ways to hug a little through the ever-present lines and tubes.
We helped her with exercises, physio, and at its best, a routine in a bedside chair to an Alicia Keys track, helped her stand to a walking frame, even make a few steps across the room and back. As always, Lucia helped us more, with her gentleness, her courage, her gracious collaboration with the next things that needed to be done.
When Lucia received her transplant her donor gave to us…the chance to be together.
This was Lucia’s fourth transplant. When anyone asked during those 12 years since her first if the previous transplants had failed, Lucia said, “No. They all worked. They all kept me alive and brought me to today.” Even this last transplant worked. It was other complications that clouded the scene.
So, on this anniversary on which someone’s life ended and gave the chance of a lifetime to our daughter, sister, we are grateful to another donor and to his family. In those few months, even in the darkness, we made more memories together that will last a lifetime. The gracious generosity of Lucia’s last donor, and each one before, will remain in our hearts, treasured and honoured alongside her, with gratitude.