As you may know from prior posts [“About That Heart Transplant” 1/24/10, “My Heart Belonged to Andrew” 2/17/10, and “Another Letter to Andrew’s Parents” 3/9/10] Barbara and Byron (the mother and stepfather of Andrew, my 27 year old heart donor) and I have been working our way closer to one another for months. My last letter that Lifeline of Ohio forwarded to them contained my email address, but Jenny Hoover of Lifeline said that such identification needed to be omitted until both parties had signed waivers stating they wished to communicate directly. With that emendation, the above “Another Letter” was sent. But the letter identified me by name and mentioned the fact that I’m a retired OSU law professor, from which Barbara tracked me down via the internet and, to my surprise, sent me an email. I was particularly startled when she mentioned she had been reading my blog since it contains more about me than I usually share with strangers I am just meeting. Our subsequent email exchanges even led to a brief phone call, plus photo swapping of the three of us, etc. Everything I learned about them made me more eager for a meeting, and that feeling seemed to be reciprocated. Finally I invited them to dinner at the Refectory, an upscale restaurant here in Columbus, for the evening of Wednesday, April 28th, and they agreed to come.
Meantime things were moving along at Lifeline. Jenny Hoover had sent us waiver forms, which we dutifully signed and returned. That done, two weeks ago she sent us each emails suggesting we meet for lunch with her. By this time the only possible lunch on my schedule was the Tuesday before our restaurant date. Barbara sent me an email about Jenny’s request and asked what we should do. (We felt like little kids going behind our parents’ backs to accomplish something verboten.) I suggested that I’d draft up an explanatory email to Jenny, show it to Barbara for changes, and then send it off. My eventual email to Lifeline included a CC to Barbara and Byron, so Jenny would definitely know we were in cahoots. It said:
I'm not quite sure how to tell you this, but Barbara and Byron and I have been in communication with each other for a month (without yet meeting). One of my letters that you forwarded on to them mentioned my name and that I was a retired OSU professor, and with that information Barbara found her way to my blog and email address. We have even spoken on the phone, and agreed to meet for dinner on Wednesday, April 28th at the Refectory.
We've felt sort of guilty doing this without you knowing it, but what's done is done. So our question to you now is whether you still want to have lunch with us before then, or whether that's unnecessary? Lunch is particularly difficult for me because I have rehabilitation therapy (torture in the gym) Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at noon, not getting out until after 1 pm. That leaves Tuesdays and Fridays, but next Tuesday I will be in Ann Arbor all day giving a lecture on promissory notes to Legal Aid lawyers, and I already have lunch with a former student scheduled for that Friday. So that only leaves Tuesday, April 27, the day before our scheduled supper. Or we could have a late lunch on one of the days I workout, assuming you'll take me winded and sore.
We all much appreciate everything that you and Lifeline have done to bring us together. Barbara and Byron appear to be wonderful people, and since Barbara has read my blog and, amazingly, is still willing to meet, I suspect we'll get along splendidly. As I said to Barbara in an email, I know that our first conversation will be delicate, and probably filled with tears. That's to be expected. Another complication is that they are still dealing with a major tragedy, one that has given me new life, and that means that I particularly will have to phrase what I say very carefully, being forthcoming but not prying, sympathetic and helpful.
So thank you very much for bringing us together. Let us know how you think we should proceed.
Jenny’s reply was an observation that “You are right those things do happen in the world of the internet,” adding that we need not meet before our restaurant date. She did ask that we send her a photo of the meeting.
All my friends were anxious to see how the meeting would turn out, but the more I thought about it I began to worry I was pressuring Barbara and Byron into this (unless strictly watched, I can be something of a bully, which will surprise no one who knows me). I myself have an adult son, and if he died and donated his heart to someone, I’m not sure that I would have the desire or courage to arrange to meet that person. So on that Tuesday I sent an email to them confirming the reservation for the following evening, adding: “I'm looking forward to this, but I want to reiterate that I would certainly understand if you change your mind and don't want to meet. That wouldn't offend me in any way.” Barbara promptly replied that they’d see me tomorrow night.
Supper that Wednesday could not have gone off better. Barbara and Byron are an elegant couple, and when we met at the maître’d stand we recognized each other from the photo exchange, had an immediate hug, and then I spread my hands helplessly and managed, “Thank you for saving my life.” We proceeded to have a splendid time while eating delicious food.
Barbara and Byron are wonderful people, fun to talk to, with very interesting lives of their own—in short, people I would want as friends no matter how we met. There was much discussion of Andrew, of course, and of the other people in his life, and I was grateful to learn more about this amazing man. Before we got into a discussion of Andrew however, I volunteered I didn’t want to encroach on matters they wouldn’t care to discuss, and if something arose of that nature they should simply say so and we’d move on. The only time that happened was late in the evening when I asked if it was proper to know something about Andrew’s death. Barbara said it was a long story she’d rather not get into, and we quickly switched topics. I did learn that Andrew had also donated his liver, pancreas, and kidneys, and that Barbara and Byron had been in contact with the one individual who had received two of those organs, but had not heard from the final person. I also told them things about a transplanted heart: for example that since the nerves to the heart have been severed it doesn’t respond to stimuli. This means if I’m frightened, the heart doesn’t automatically beat faster, nor will it calm down just because I take a few deep breaths. Much of our conversation involved swapping stories having little to do with Andrew, and there was a great deal of laughter. At one point I invited them to a future Whaley Players playreading at my condo, and Byron said that was possible only if he could look at the script ahead of time, to which I immediately agreed. Just before we left a waiter was dragooned into taking the photo for Lifeline’s records; in it we are toasting Andrew.
As we left the restaurant I presented them with a small gift: a rose bush plant (they are both gardeners, particularly Byron), and told them it represented three hearts: Andrew’s heart now beating inside me, and both of theirs which in an hour of great distress found time to make other people’s lives possible. We all hugged and parted.
"About That Heart Transplant," January 24, 2010
"My Heart Belonged to Andrew," February 17, 2010
"Another Letter to Andrew's Parents," March 10, 2010
"Mama, Biopsies, and My iPad," May 19, 2010
"The First time I Nearly Died," August 3, 2010
"Rehabilitating Doug," June 12, 2010
"The Purring Heart," November 23, 2010
"1999-2001: A Dramatic Story, " December 15, 2010
"Naming My Heart," March 24, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013