Yesterday I attended FACES OF AUSTIN–a short film exhibition showcasing the work of Austin filmmakers. The final film, of twelve, was called “Helmets for Heath”; it documented the story of a 16 year old boy who died following a skateboarding accident which resulted in a traumatic head injury. It also spoke of his family who has made it their mission to promote the use of helmets in skateboard safety. And, most importantly, it told a beautiful story about the amazing gifts of life he gave to others through the donation of his organs.
Five lives were saved because of Heath. We were allowed to witness the meeting of his mother with the recipient of Heath’s heart. I was immobile. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more beautiful than the sight of his mother placing her ear against the chest of the woman who now carried her son’s heart. She could hear it beating steadily and could even feel it against her cheek! A part of him had literally continued to live while also saving the life of another.
So many things were going through my head. It was such a tragic loss yet in the gift of donating Heath’s organs she also received gifts in return– not only knowing that parts of her son were very much alive yet but that they also brought life back to five people who desperately needed it. I found myself wishing for that chance– to have tangible proof of your physical existence. I have no videos showing you alive and moving; I only have still photographs and inanimate things you once held. But to have the opportunity to hear the beating of your heart again would have been such an amazing gift.
You were a registered organ donor, but your organs could not be donated. It reminded me once again that I didn’t get to see you for myself. You had been dead for a week when you were found and I’m told had decomposed to such a degree that you were unrecognizable and to have been allowed to see you for myself would have resulted in significant trauma. Well, it has been nearly 2-1/2 years and I still struggle often with the thought of which, for me, would have been more traumatic– the memory of having seen you in that condition or the pain I suffer so often because there is that small part of my brain that has failed me miserably and can’t quite seem to grasp the reality of your death because I never had something tangible to prove your death to me?
I was told in person by the funeral directors (who also happen to be very close family friends) that they were not in support of me being allowed to see you. I am fully aware that they had my best interest at heart and I will always love them for that. Although seeing how resistant I was to accept their advice they did, however, discuss an alternative solution for me should I decide in time that I really need that physical proof. They advised me that they could take a few photographs. If I ever decided I absolutely needed them to find some closure, the pictures would be there. Just to be able to see even your hand, to know it was really you.
I know there are plenty of people who will find this upsetting, gruesome or macabre. But when I started writing you these letters, and subsequently decided to share them with the world, I told myself I wouldn’t filter my thoughts to make them easier to tolerate… grief is going to do what grief is going to do. And I have made a promise to myself to always honor that grief within me regardless of how it makes me appear to others.
I haven’t ruled out viewing a picture of your hand… or your tattoo… or even your face. I do know that I’m not yet at a place where I feel it is my only option, though. But for me, having the choice right now means everything.
Thanks for listening, dude.