I never answered no
Can you imagine being in this situation? What would you say? Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
Russia invaded Ukraine overnight; you’ll find links to that in the “7 other things section” below.
First, however, here’s a scheduled guest post I’ve been looking forward to sharing. If one of the goals of this newsletter is to help us all imagine what life is like for other people, I think this essay will hit the mark. It’s edited for space, but otherwise I’m just going to get out of Lisa Gerard Braun’s way, and let her tell her story. (Find out more about her here.)
Also, I’ll be saying more about this in the days to come, but I like sharing other people’s voices, especially our readers’. If you’ve written something personal or poignant that we might consider featuring in Understandably, feel free to let me know. For now, just reply to this email with “guest post idea” in the subject line.
To set expectations, as Kate and Tom will attest, I tend to reject about 99% of our great ideas every day. Sometimes, I can’t even tell you why; it’s just a gut feeling. But I do appreciate it if you take the time to submit something, and I’ll try to respond to every reader who does.
With that, here’s Lisa:
I never answered no
It’s one liver and two kidneys, right?
Do we need two? Can I give away one if I don’t need it?
What the hell is going on?
Thank God she can’t see my face through the phone.
I had only met her once in person before, briefly, for dinner. She lived in Nevada, and my brother and I had gone to Las Vegas that year with our spouses for the Country Music Awards.
She was small in stature, and looked nothing like how I had imagined her for over 40 years.
She was my biological mother.
In 1963, she and her “shotgun wedding” husband had placed my newborn brother for adoption. The next year, she gave birth to me. The agency contacted my biological brother’s new parents to see if they wanted to keep us together.
Yes, they said, of course. Thus, I was raised with my brother by the people who were our loving parents, my Mom and Dad.
Our parents told us everything they knew, but we lived in New Jersey, and adoption records were sealed. We searched now and then, out of curiosity. But when I was in my 40s, one of my children became sick. Knowing our medical history became a necessity.
Finally, through the Children’s Home Society of New Jersey, we achieved the required two-party consent to contact each other.
Initial heart-exploding and brain-spinning introductions were made, over the phone and online. Medical info was exchanged.
Then, the initial fervor settled. Regulated breathing resumed.
For 10 years, our main contact and common ground was our love of online puzzles. We played Words with Friends daily, and she would send me an invite to Qwerty or whatever new, word-oriented game piqued her interest.
Her fourth husband had passed away the same year I found her. Her financial obligations, fixed income, and declining health kept her from moving closer to people she knew.
She was lonely. She was alone.
Then came our Vegas trip. It was an hour out of our lives. We arranged to meet in the lobby of the MGM Grand Hotel. We sat politely. We talked politely. We had surface-level conversation. I had no tug of, Oh my God, my mom!
I could sense her fear of us, her sensitivities and sorrows. She needed reassurances, and I gave all I had. I watched her physical guard loosen as she settled into acceptance.
I once again thanked her for having had the bravery to make a painful decision in our best interest. But… did I love her? Feeling her energy that day may have caused me to overstate things.
I loved and admired her strength and conviction. Her courage allowed my brother and me the chance to be raised in a happy, healthy, stable home.
We certainly held no animosity, let alone angst.
My heart is big enough for more, I explained, and as one who emotes with bells and whistles, I confirmed that I loved both women for different reasons:
She gave me life.
My mom gave me my life. A good life, too.
With that, we went back to our lives, and our routine of online word puzzles. We were both cutthroat and competitive. The puzzles were our bond. (Genetics? Possibly.)
Beyond that, maybe a phone call once a year.
A few years passed. My landscape changed dramatically.
Divorced, raising my grandson, working part-time and trying to figure out our lives: it was a bit much. I could handle it, barely.
So, when she called, I assumed it was our annual phone conversation.
I hadn’t know she was in stage 5 kidney failure, that she was on dialysis, that her body was breaking down.
Still alone, still in Nevada, now desperate for help.
Her words bubbled randomly, breaking through the surface.
“There is no need to make you come here. The surgeons are better in Florida, and I’ll see if my medical insurance covers me there. With your grandson only being a year old, it would be an inconvenience for you to drag him here.”
Um, yeah. It would.
“I can stay with you while we both recover. My back requires firmness to sleep so I can easily stay on your floor. You don’t need another bed for me.”
My brain spun out of control. As we neared the end of what was quite possibly the most one-sided conversation of my life, she added:
“Naturally, you’ll have to be tested for compatibility and learn what the recovery process looks like for the donor.”
Oh, Lord. What if I match?
“Do you think you can donate your kidney to me?”
I never said yes. I never answered no.
To this day, I have no idea what was expected from me, morally, biologically, or in God’s eyes.
We hung up. I cried. I watched my delayed-walker grandson as he crawled from place to place, trying to find where he could best pull himself upright.
I couldn’t digest her request.
How successful are these transplants?
What would I do about caring for my grandson during the surgery and recovery?
What if I die?
Am I supposed to give her my organs because she gave me life? How is it my responsibility to ensure that she lives dialysis-free?
Am I selfish? Does even asking these questions make me a lowlife, scum of the earth ignoramus?
How in God’s name does she think sleeping on my floor in Florida is an option?
I am an organ donor. I believe in giving anything that still works well, to whomever would benefit. I had a bone marrow donation card and had gone through that registration process, so I assumed this would be similar. But I didn’t know.
I don’t want her to die. But I don’t want to die, either.
The baby, who takes care of the baby?
Do I owe her this for giving me life? My kidney?
To say I felt emotional turmoil doesn’t come close to the reality. I was being ripped apart with conflicting emotions.
And then, a few months later, she died: alone, on her kitchen floor.
The emergency crew in Clark County, Nevada, found her after she missed her dialysis appointment.
I will never know what I would have done.
I never said yes. I never answered no.
Call for comments: What would you do? Also, do you have a story of your own (no PR pitches or agents, please) that I should work with you to highlight on Understandably? Let us know in the comments. You can also reply to this email as described above.
7 other things worth knowing today
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced early Thursday local time that military operations had begun in Ukraine, kicking off a long-feared attack. Explosions were reported near Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, and Russian tanks were seen crossing into Ukraine from Belarus, possibly accompanied by Belarusian troops. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia’s early morning attack is a “full-scale invasion” and asked the world to respond immediately. President Biden issued a statement saying calling the invasion “a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering.” (ABC, Twitter)
The FBI is warning consumers to be cautious any time they scan a QR code, and take steps to protect their information. This isn’t specifically because of the Coinbase “bouncing QR code” from the Super Bowl, but the warning is getting new attention as a result. (Inc.)
A National Labor Relations Board official ruled that Starbucks cannot slow down the pace of a union vote in upstate New York, because its lawyers filed their objection 8 minutes after the 12 noon deadline. Starbucks is expected to appeal. (HuffPost)
A Utah college student attempted to make rocket fuel in his dorm kitchen and ended up sending the entire building up in a fireball. “Please keep your experiments in the lab and supervised by trained professionals,” the Brigham Young University Police said. (Futurism)
The CEO of Delta Air Lines is pushing for a national no-fly list, as passenger behavior continues to spiral out of control. (TravelPulse)
A mother promised her son $1,800 if he stayed off social media until he was 18. He just collected, six years after taking the bet. (CNN)
This is just worth a little laugh: What happens when you’re a local TV reporter working in the market you grew up in, and your mom happens to drive by your live shoot? Shared in honor of parents who love their kids and enjoy embarrassing them, everywhere. (Twitter)💖 A mother's love! 💖 Our @MylesHarrisTV got a surprise visit from his mom while he was working 😂🤣 abc6onyourside.com/station/people…
Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Pixabay. Find out more about today’s guest author here. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.
I truly can't imagine having to make this decision, and I sincerely hope I never face anything as heartwrenching as this. I'm the type of person who will go out of my way to help anyone, often at my own expense (not just financially, but physically, emotionally, mentally) but never anything this extreme. I think it's good to keep a healthy perspective on things...even when I face difficulty or challenges, I try to remember there are others who have it much worse. From now on, when I face a tough decision, I will think of this woman and be grateful that (hopefully) it's certainly not anything of this magnitude. Virtual hugs to this woman for being brave enough to even consider such a donation instead of issuing an outright refusal, and for any feelings that she may live with in the aftermath.
Thanks to you for saying yes to the “never answered no” story. It was so well written and heart wrenching to read. Thank you.