December 1, 2018: on that day two years ago I walked into an ICU room to see Danny after surgery. Later that same day I would walk into that ICU room to see Danny sitting in a chair breathing on his own. We were gifted a chance at life …. at that time we had no idea what that meant or the long battle it would take to become “healed”. Looking back I think they do try to warn you. Now that I think on it, the many hours of evaluation (of both of us), must have given some sort of indication that we could survive this experience. Transplant does not just change the organ recipient – it changes everything. It changed who Danny and I were as individuals and our marriage, it changed how we experienced life for a year and how we would come to know a new life in subsequent years. It made you so frustrated at so many points, you actually wondered what we had all gotten into. Of course we are grateful, but in the true honesty, it was the hardest thing we have ever walked through – even if it was the best thing we ever did.
This meant year 1 was a celebration of just getting through it. Until summer our world was a mess, our marriage was a mess, we were a mess…. but everyone put their head down and got through it. It was a lot of work, it was a lot of faith, and it was heavy weight on our lives. As I continue to work my way through our transplant story (for example this post and this post LINKS), I will share more on the specifics of our journey. But the fact that it has taken me two years to work through it on the blog alone is an indicator of how long it can take to process the areas of healing that had occured. Spoiler alert…. the hard stuff, the mud, the pain, the worry, the struggle – the EVERYTHING made me grateful for my husband, appreciative of this life, and showed me the incredible beauty that comes from sacrifice and suffering. We are now survivors and wear it like a badge of honor. All in all – year 1 we were just thrilled to get there and celebrate our arrival.
Year two has been a completely different experience. This year we learned what it was like to live “normal life” – even though I am starting to think normal isn’t really a thing. Danny has gone back to work and started to build a career. I have gotten a whole part of my life back that used to be pulled to care giving that is now available for exploring my own passions and learning about myself. We have made huge strides in our plans to grow our family and since this post will not end in either a pregnancy or adoption announcement – all I can say is that it has been brutally painful and so amazingly beautiful journey at the same time. That part of our story has given me the knowledge that Danny and I were put together like puzzle pieces and can face anything together (a lesson I thought we had learned but this part of our world has further cemented it). We have looked into moving, we have started our own side gig, and we have explored the possibility of adult things like home ownership and travel. All of these wishes we have are on the to do list or life plan of most people we know. For many, these things have already been accomplished, but for us they were never a possibility until we knew how the transplant would work out. Getting the first year behind us, we were able to start on this phase and I think we both sorta thought “catch up”. That is where we have been so very wrong.
Once a few of these areas of our life started to gain momentum we thought: “we are on our way”. Danny had only been in his new role a matter of weeks when the talk of progression popped up and then only a matter of months when an incredible opportunity came to fruition that would change our whole world. Well, we thought “there you go, Danny has not had the decade + of all our other contemporaries to work on his career and in six months he has caught up.” We started working very seriously with our doc and adoption agency and a few things “fell our way” and we thought we would be right in line with our friends raising families after years of planning. The opportunities to buy a house and plan a vacation came and we started our research. It was shocking – but somehow year 2 was shaping up to be the only thing we needed to “catch-up” and we thought come this Christmas our life would be evident of so many dreams we had coming true. Since June all the plans that had quickly come together have started to unravel one by one. Now it is December and we are coming off hospital life and trying to decide what plans to cancel as we wander through sickness (feels a little too familiar).
But really that is summing up this year since December 1, 2017 in 2 paragraphs – which is pretty impossible. The facts and figures of our life have not added up to what we had expected when I think of the Danny and Jackie in February 2018. The desires of our hearts and the way we look at the outside world seeking to be part of it are fuzzy and we can’t really find our footing back to those dreams. But it was in the spring when things were moving in a great direction just really fast that actually I got really scared. My anxiety was back, I had quite a few mental health days this year…. when things were actually on the up and up. My prayer life has tripled because I needed to find God in these plans to know they were right. And that is when I started to say to myself “you have lived through a transplant with your husband, you can do this”. Things that made me uneasy, often because of other people, I thought “how can I let people who have never faced the thing I faced intimidate me.” Or when I got down to it, this doesn’t even compare to saying good bye to your spouse, promising them it will all be OK and knowing you may never see them again. So what the heck am I so very afraid of. I have been called to, answered and survived a different life – I don’t need to be afraid of anything – especially different.
While I was finding that part of my bravery Danny was too. So much of his experience, healing, and reintroduction into life had him saying over and over again “why not us?” When we talked about his career options that sounded a little crazy for someone coming off transplant he said “someone has to do it….why not us”? When we started to work on our health and realize that to achieve our big audacious goals we would need to really consider a regimented life -and again Danny said “people do it, why not us”? When we walked through the home study process for adoption and it was painful and intensive and exhaustive he just kept saying “these kids need a home….why not us?” When we wondered about selling everything we have and staring over in a new city he said “we can stand on our own better now…. why not us?” This mantra took over Dan’s life and even though we could not make it ALL happen at once – we lived in the spirit of possibility. It ignited in us an excitement, a passion, a motivation that was unlike anything we had ever experienced or hoped for – it was amazing. It had a huge influence on how we lived our day to day, how we planned for our big goals, how we existed as partners, and the gift of life felt more real than any other times in this whole journey. Year two we realized the depth of the gift we have been given.
Right now many of the “why not us” or “what ifs” have been paused or put on hold. Danny is not feeling good and we still don’t have answers. Our world is returning to reliance on doctor appointments and meds. It is both very scary and very overwhelming. But writing this post, reflecting on this year, I know the disappointment of these last few weeks pale in comparison to the strength we felt when it seemed the possibilities were endless. Year 2 will still be marked by gaining the knowledge of the power this gift of life holds…. and if everyone is still standing it is far from over. In fact having to learn to fight the feeling of catching up to the rest of our peers isn’t the worst trade off, if we are given the ability to see and experience different blessings. In fact, we may be learning it isn’t about catching up at all…. it is about paving our own path and having gratitude for the joy it brings – even if it is only found in a life beyond the thorns of struggle.
Thank you so much for reading and remember to make it a great day!