We have deer that pass through the property from time to time. On Wednesday, the sad day we sat together in the dining area, one came within 10 feet of the large panel of windows. We had never had one come so close, ever. The deer’s body stayed parallel to the house but her sweet face turned and peered in. She stared at me. John, there is a deer, right behind you, I exclaimed in a whisper. He turned in his seat and looked. She did not move with his movement. She stared through the window and into his face.
We were both at the large family table, John with his back to the yard. A light rain fell. Our beloved failing dog Ginger was at our feet and often throughout the morning we took turns on the floor next to her, patting her and loving her. She was very quiet. I slid the large windows shut, it was so chilly. I had just sat down again. And then the deer visited.
Beautiful brown deer. Gentle. Strong and wiry. Her calm presence took over for the ten seconds she stayed. Ten seconds sounds short but if you count one-one- thousand; two-one-thousand all the way up until ten and stare into the eyes of a beautiful animal it seems just right.
Whatever you believe is fine with me but I lean toward believing in a spirit of divine love everywhere, which unites us all and waits for us all to find it, no matter who we are or where we are. I believe this divine Energy, no matter what you call it? Holy Father or Holy Mother or Holy Spirit or God or maybe a thousand other names- is the essence of what every religion is trying to reflect. And so in my Spiritual world this creature of nature had perhaps wandered close, guided by the source of all~ sent to visit and provide comfort.
We needed comforting. I was nervous and apprehensive as we waited for the vet to come and help us set Ginger free from her body, which she could no longer trust to move under her own command. I am sure there are many words that could describe my husband’s sadness but I cannot begin to find them. His love for his companion is deep, and this decision and loss of her is a major life event. His heart was on his face. I was scared a little, and I was watching the clock, for 1 o’clock was the time.
And while we waited with grief the deer came.
She looked in on us.
I googled the meaning of a deer visit. What did it mean to the Indians who walked the America’s, what did it mean to anyone, as an animal totem or an animal guide? For we truly felt visited. My voice cracked as I read out loud some things a woman named Elena Harris wrote.
When you have the deer as a spirit animal, you are able to bring gentleness and grace in every aspect of your life, even in the most challenging moments… you can tackle difficult situations smoothly…. And because the deer’s antlers can grow back once they fall off, the animal is revered in many traditions as a symbol of life regeneration…. The deer invites you to find rest and peace in silence.
The vet came.
And Ginger left this world we know.
The vet left.
We hugged and cried. It had stopped raining. John went out to dig in the earth for a place to put her, while I prepared her and wrapped her in a blue blanket. I watched John through the window while I waited with her body. Suddenly John cried out. Melissa.
I walked out across the property, and crossed the creek, and stood next to him. He pointed into the grass, under a green hosta, in an area that has trees and ferns all around. There, just five or six feet from the pretty spot he had chosen for Ginger; was a little something he had not seen for almost 20 minutes. In the peace and silence of nature hid a tiny new comforting thing.
John's view from Ginger's spot. The little one is well hidden.
Together we got Ginger settled in her new spot, and
the whole while our dear little deer slept.
I held a man’s head in my hands for 20 minutes last week, in a town I meant to stop in for just a minute. I hovered close to his ear and talked to him quietly. This man was a stranger, a man named Jay, who had been hit by a car seconds earlier.
I was exiting off a highway in NY and as I got to the end of the ramp there was a man in the opposite lane, lying awkwardly on the road. A woman was just getting out of her car, a car with a severe dent on the front. A man was approaching with a phone in his hand.
I stopped my car right in the ramp lane. There was no one behind or in front of me. I left my car running and the door ajar as I strode over to the pale man lying there. The man with the phone was calling for help a few feet away. The woman was talking loudly, “I didn’t see him, I hit him, and I didn’t see him. Don’t move! Don’t move!“ She stood a few feet away. Someone needed to go close.
It was cloudy and it had been raining steadily. Jay was lying on his left side, awake, holding his head off the pavement as if he was standing up. He was pale. He was grimacing. His breathing was a little heavy. He was saying his back hurt. His left arm was extended out. His watch was on his left wrist but the strap was broken. His arm looked a little awkward and he tried to move it a bit but then did not or could not.
I squatted down and then got on my knees and said, Sir; I am going to support your head for you.
I placed my 2 hands under his head, my right hand supporting his jaw and cheek, my left hand supporting his head where hair would have been had he not been bald. I told him he could relax his head into my hands. I rested my elbows on my thighs so I could hold him steady and in the same position he had held himself in. I was close and leaned over him so that the hood of my own rain jacket protected his head from the rain, too. It took a minute or two but he slowly trusted me with taking over the weight of his head.
I talked to him in a low voice. I told him my name and asked his. I just tried to reassure him: Jay, a man called 911…when they get here they will know just how to move you... see if you can breathe a little deeper, a little slower… that is better…. your face has better color in it now… it does not look like you are bleeding anywhere…. The woman who says she hit you is right near her car; she is waiting for the police…
His eyes would close and he would be quiet and I would say, Are you still with me, Jay? And he would say Yes, I am here. He said it with his eyes closed. So we had a few minutes of rest together. Rain soaked into the knees of my jeans and landed on his pants and shirt but our heads were dry under the hood of my jacket. His breathing was slow and steady.
The professionals came and the story goes on but that is the essence I wanted to share, so that we are reminded. You can come across a fellow human that needs you and you can be there for them. You will leave your car running and door open with wallet on the seat and you do not even think about being vulnerable to theft until the police ask Whose white car is that. You can physically reach out and touch someone and be within inches of his or her face for 20 minutes having never met him or her before. It will feel so meaningful. It will feel so important. It will warm you up. You will drive extra hours because this delay will put you into commuting traffic in Waterbury Ct, and then Hartford Ct, and then the Mass Pike. This 40 min delay will make the trip almost 3 hours longer. You will feel it is worthwhile because you were able to be the best comfort for another. You will drive with the faint scent of whatever Jay used on his face that morning on your hands and you won’t care, it smells nice, your hands don't feel dirty. You will think about him and wonder how he made out and hope his daughter who is a nurse was at work and was right there by his side when he arrived and hope that his wife was calm when someone called her.
We are all so very connected and we are all so much more the same than we are different. And it does not take much at all for us to reach out and love things in our world. And when we do it; for a person, for an animal, or for the earthworm that is wiggling on the sidewalk when the suns rays hit… we add an energy to the world and ourselves that is one of the best feelings we can feel. Try it any time you get the chance.
The next time there is rain, sleet, snow or hail, know that Transplant teams are still working to save lives.
A hurricane was expected to roar into Pennsylvania. As a Transplant Coordinator I was called out first thing in the morning. We travel to hospitals many miles away when there is someone who might be able to be an organ donor, no matter what the weather. People always bond during storms and hospital staff everywhere were on alert, mandated to work through the storm in case new staff were unable to get in. Extra people were ready to carry the workload for whatever might come. I got permission to get boxes of coffee and donuts to take with me, in a spirit of camaraderie. Wind was picking up and rain was spitting as I drove in.
The morning passed quickly and by mid afternoon a family I was working with completed paperwork for organ donation to take place. They left the hospital and we started our testing process, so that we could report to the surgeons the data about all the potential gifts. In the evening we printed lists of possible recipients. Always the storm was in the background. Cots were placed in certain areas so nurses could sleep overnight and resume work in the morning, relieving the night shift. But a transplant coordinator works for 24 hours before they call someone to relieve them. We are considered stewards of these precious and rare gifts and there are many threads of information we weave together so we work as long as possible on behalf of the family we spoke with.
We tried to work quickly as the storm raged outside. It was soundless through the thick hospital walls unless you stood right next to the windows. Below on the streets when I got a chance to look I could see metal street signs vibrating dangerously in the wind and driving rain. No people, no cars.
We sent the donor information out electronically and talked directly to multiple surgeons. Some surgeons declined due to the distance and the storm. Some would have had to fly in and this was impossible, so there were electronically logged in refusals. Others would call their patients and see if they could come in for an estimated OR (operating room) time.
Surgeons whose patients are receiving a gift generally come to the hospital where the donor is, all at the same time, to do the organ recovery. The organ recovery can not take place until we know where each gift is going, whose life it will save. Then the organs are packaged on ice and travel back to be transplanted at each recipients transplant center. We would get timing set up and then a recipient patient would try to get to his own transplant hospital and find the roads un-passable. The surgeon would call us back and decline the organ because the patient was unable to get in. And so we would try to stick to the same OR time and move down the list. But the clock is ticking. It would be impossible to make the time work, so we would set a new time. And to be fair, we would have to re-approach the surgeons at the top of the list again, who had declined because their patient could not get in for the prior OR time… because maybe the patient would be able to get in with the new OR time…. We were doing this a 3rd time, it was so frustrating. Re-do it. Re-do it. Re-do it. Have to be fair. Have to document. Cannot make an error and have to call for each person, in order, for each organ. One patient tried 4 or 5 different routes to get in from home, finding downed trees and wires blocking their ability to pass. They had only one more route to try, and that one the roads did not have downed tree’s… so that organ became his gift. He made it in.
We also got pushback from the surgeons… I was yelled at by one who accused me of trying to kill him… he felt he was taking his life in his hands to drive in. Believe me, I wished I were home with my family, too. I was just doing my job. But what if someone got hurt? I felt such a responsibility. I did not think it made sense to risk a life to save a life. And yet people die on the waiting list for an organ transplant every day. The donor will only stay stable for so long… we always try to make the best decisions and sometimes they are not easy. Imagine the pressure a family feels to hear that in the middle of a hurricane a life saving gift is available if they can drive through wild winds and rain to get the transplant.
It was almost a relief to hear the state suddenly closed some major highways. A medical team that was coming out to recover some of the gifts for us was told they could not move by their hospital administration team. They had to wait for the highways to open again, so we all had to wait.
We were hours into the storm. About 3 AM I went out to my car to get some more supplies. This hospital had a parking garage. My car was next to a closed wall, not near a more open area. I stood in the garage hearing the wind whipping around, seeing and feeling the mist from the rain that was being blown violently. Seeing not a soul, surrounded by sound. A hum, a roar, a hiss.
A few hours later the highways re-opened and the teams began to move into position even though the storm was still wild and present. They arrived safely. We were the only active case that night in our area, but I am sure there were other cases in other states affected by the hurricane. The process exhausted my partner and me. Finally our 28 hours of work came to an end. Surgeon’s left with carefully packed gifts on ice to be transplanted, while we went home to sleep. By the time 4 people were transplanted, the sun was out.
It was days before I realized that the shingles scattered around the neighborhood were from my roof.
Once upon a time there was a touch of spring in the air. I was leaving the neighborhood in my car. A few moms were talking in a cluster while their kids played outside. A boy who looked to be 4 or 5 years old was coming up the sidewalk fast with a red helmet on, hands gripping the handlebars of his scooter. He had one small foot steady on the scooter base. The other foot was pushing off, pushing off; gathering the kind of speed you have for things in spring. As he got nearer to me our eyes met. Staring right at me, he flashed me this huge grin. While his right hand remained steady his left hand left its careful grip. He raised it to me in a five-finger-spread wave-wave-wave-wave-wave before he reached back in safety. Never saw him before. Delicious. He got my biggest grin and most enthusiastic wave back. First connection we ever had, he and I. It was deep, this moment of happiness we shared.
I had met a new family just the day before while working as a Transplant Coordinator. A man had suffered a non-recoverable injury to his head. It was a very sad time for his family. They were crying and sharing their best memories of him with me. As our conversation continued, they suddenly started to smile, then laugh. As a group they had started laughing when they heard their son/cousin/nephew/brother could be an organ donor. They laughed because he always said he wanted to be one. As sad as they were at his loss, they were happy that he could help others, the way he always talked about. They all knew one of his friends, a woman who needed a kidney transplant. They asked if it was possible to help her, as well as other people they did not know.
The ability to donate organs is rare. People die waiting every day. The rules ensuring it is a fair process are carefully considered by many parties. “Directed donation” is a possibility for every family. "Directed donation is a request made by a donor or donor family to transplant a specific recipient,” it says in the actual ruling. If your family is making a decision about organ donation and your family knows someone who is in need of a life saving transplant, you can ask that this person you know be considered first for the gift. The recipient will already need to be listed at a transplant center. The recipient's medical team will be the ones to determine if the gift you are offering is a match for their patient. If they do not accept the gift on behalf of their patient, then the gift of the organ will be allocated according to the national list.
The family shared their story with me. Whenever this man saw his friend who was waiting for a kidney he would say, “If anything ever happens to me, I’ve got you covered, you can have one of mine.” Every time he saw her, they said. He never forgot her need. He was that kind of person.
Now blood types have to be the same, and cross matching needs to be done, and there cannot be too many unacceptable antigens, and the doctors have to decide whether medical histories are a match. The recipient must have had medical testing and it all needs to be up to date. They cannot be sick with a cold when the call comes. There are so many steps. Directed donation does not happen easily.
Did it happen in this case? What do you think?
Once upon a time I suddenly had an image appear in my head of our generous thoughtful donor, now in Heaven or whatever he believed was the next place. He was sending me a huge spiritual grin and a five-finger-spread wave-wave-wave-wave-wave. I could see him as clear as day.
It was deep, this moment of happiness we shared.
It gave me goosebumps.
Johnny K and I are still consolidating houses, and I am sitting with our Yellow Lab Ginger at the country house. Her heart is slowly giving out on her and yet her sweet personality and former strength are keeping it beating, even as her muscles waste away and she barely eats. She needs help to stand sometimes. I am able to give her home made dog biscuits, made by her Grandma Gina, and it is about the only thing she still looks at with anticipation. She is such a lovely girl.
Ginger was just able to eat 2 little biscuit cookies. As she crunched down on the second one I went looking for something in the Johnny K stocked pantry for me. Let's see... There was Paprika. And a lovely jar of cinnamon... Oh! Look, tucked way back and up high there is a jar of Nutella! All I need is a spoon! And it does not expire until October! Of 2003.
Exiting the pantry I see the remaining paper wrapped bread loaf from Sundays dinner, hiding behind the pot of garlic. It was an artisan bread loaf from the Giant grocery store. It is coated with sunflower seeds and flax seeds. It was yummy on Sunday, stale on Tuesday. Stale bread makes the best toast. I sliced some for the toaster. Got the butter out. Waited for the toaster bell to ding.
Three small oval slices later, I could have eaten a fourth! It was just so delicious! So where I thought I was lacking, and had nothing, I actually had something wonderful. I had gone to look for better things, not even seeing that a potential best thing was right on the counter.
Sometimes events make us look again at what we have, and appreciate it with new eyes. We have been appreciating each day with Ginger that way, too. I have been watching the depth of love my husband has for his dog, and how he takes care of her. She has been with him longer than I have known him. He is sad but still enjoying her smaller life as it winds down. He has wonderful memories of her bigger life when she was strong. He has told me she has counted on him and he cannot let her down. You can see why I married him.
I put the heel of the bread back in the paper bag and while I close it up I notice what it is called.
Simply Enjoy Multigrain Loaf. Delicious bread that comes with life advice.
Simply Enjoy. I have done that all morning. Sitting with Ginger, taking her briefly outside on this gorgeous day, reading, making toast. Nothing exciting and yet when I think about my morning it has been so enjoyable. Simply enjoy. I am happy to be reminded just how simple joy can be.
Once upon a time my 3 boys were suddenly old enough not to need constant attention. On this rainy day they were playing in the house. The proximity of my ears were enough supervision, rather than the eagle eyes I would need if they were outside. I always let them have friends over and so I remember they played happily.
They had invented a game that involved going up and down the basement stairs and all around the floor. The lights would be off and cushions of the sofa dragged about as obstacles in the pitch dark. It was a “find each other “game or a “make it to the safe base” game, however I was never told the rules or asked to play. I only know from overhearing snippets of rule clarifications. I created a few uproars when I turned the lights on suddenly with a bulletin to deliver; and I would be told through moans in different octaves depending on boy size that I ruined some hiding place or some crucial strategy.
I had a rule that no sofa cushions could be taken off the sofa upstairs as it would make my skin crawl; we all have our limits with certain things. But the rule was lifted when it came to the downstairs playroom; the old peach colored sofa and loveseat had removable seat cushions and back cushions and so there were 10 huge stuffed rectangles and 4 throw pillows to create with. I threw in some blankets, so tents of all types could be made. On a rainy day this provided hours of entertainment. The boys were easy going and really liked each other. This meant that after years of not reading much, I could once more dig in. I only had to break my concentration mid day to make and serve a double batch of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. In those days we thought it was nutritious.
So feeling content in this world that was all male, I made a cup of tea and pulled a throw onto my lap and leaned against pillows and I picked up this thick book club book called “The Red Tent.” I entered a different world. It is a fiction book about Old Testament times, and the women then. I had been feeling lukewarm about starting it. I was surprised to find I could not put it down. It seemed so true to me when I read it that I swear the author was one of the actual old testament women at one time, a woman who had lived “BC”. I thought she must be reincarnated and remembering the story as fiction now, it rang so true.
Women know that when women work together in community and close proximity their cycles align. They menstruate at the same time. We have so many helpful feminine products now, but historically things were not so easy. And so, at this “time of the month” the women would gather together in the red tent. It was filled with hay. They would sit and flow into the straw. Young girls and little boys, mothers and grandmothers would make and bring their meals to them. Men were not allowed near this tent.
When I imagine the red tent, I hear the whispers of wisdom from grandmothers to newly fertile granddaughters. I see new infants being passed from woman to woman to be snuggled. Little toddlers plunking down in a sisterhood that that had all the time in the world for story telling or finger games or blowing on tummies, or kissing piggies, or lullaby’s. I see women braiding each other’s hair, and flowers being woven in. I hear talk about the characteristics of men. I hear giggles and sudden laughter. I see tears of joy and tears of sorrow. I feel growth and greater awareness from shared life wisdom. Why, oh why did we ever let our red tent time go away!
May the red tent be symbolic for us all, men and women. May we all carve out some red tent time, or carry a red tent within. I carry my tent in my heart. I close my eyes and can see it and feel happy just at the thought. All are welcome, I am so glad you stopped by! In my tent I have pillows all around, and lanterns for when it gets dark, and good books in a stack over there, and puffy quilts, and oh look at the lilacs I picked that are in this bucket, can you believe how good they smell? Here are sketch pads and colored pens if you have dreams to write down, and oh my darlings I hope to make you feel my admiration for you, my highest love and respect, I want to hear you with my most powerfully focused listening ears. I see the real you here, please feel the warmth and depth of my affection as soon as you come through the tent flap. Come in and spend time, there is nowhere else you need to be. Look, here are two doggies for you to play with, and the laughter and games of children, and the sound of the oldest stories that were ever told. Right next to me is my Johnny K and space for his tent things; and I am not sure what he is bringing in but I cannot wait to see. And if he needs a tent annex to disappear into that has a manly project in it, I am thrilled about it. I have my annex. There is music and dancing in my annex!
What’s in your red tent?
Melissa Regan is a Storyteller who is honored to celebrate the life you live and the people you love. She partners with individuals at significant times of life and loss, supporting them by creating and presenting their loved ones story at a service or by planning an inspirational day of rememberance and reflection.
Melissa spent time as a critical care nurse before she became specialized in the field of organ donation. Melissa was well known for the care she gave grieving families and did this delicate work for 14 years. Her experience lead to her teaching heartfelt methods of communication to donation specialists around the world.
Inspired by everything these families taught her, she expanded her perspective on life by studying Positive Psychology, earning both a CiPP and a CAPP. She received training as an end of life doula through INELDA. She has a special grace all her own when it comes to supporting us at times of change and loss.
Melissa is a wife, mother, lifelong learner, and a lover of the wonder you can find in a single moment. She brings this wonder to her public speaking, connecting us to the grandness and depth always present in the day to day.
“Take a day to be thoughtful... the rest of your life is here.”