Today marks the two year anniversary of Payton’s accident.  It marks the day that ushered in 5 days of hell for my family as we desperately prayed for a miracle and waited as doctors ran tests and tried to reduce the swelling in his brain.  Today I’m remembering the feelings–emotional and physical–I experienced from the moment I woke up in Cape Town to an in box full of “CALL HOME NOW!” e-mails to the time I made it home and was met at the hospital entrance by my parents and told Payton would be taken off life support in the morning.

Today I’m remembering the tragedy and grief my family has experienced but also remembering the joy that Payton brought.  His life, although so short, was vibrant and full.  Below I have reposted something I wrote last September. Please do remember my family this week–hold us in your prayers and send us peace, love, and joyful memories of our little man.

Gratitude, Grief, and Things That go Ba-bump.

My cousin, Allie, is an actuary.  I once asked her if she could figure out my chances of dying.  She smiled and told me not to worry about it (as it turns out there’s a 100% chance).  There are so many ways to die– disease, violence, and accidents– it seems like a miracle that any of us make it as far as we do.

From one cell we grow into these super complex beings. Each with the same basic anatomy but with completely different characteristics and personalities. I’m not even going to pretend to know how it all works but what I do know is that it is pretty miraculous that it all keeps doing its thing with little help from me.  I used to like to go under water in the bathtub and listen to my heart beat—it amazed me (still does) that this thing inside of me just kept ba-bumpin’ away to keep me alive.  I love to feel my heart beating faster while I’m running.  I also like to lie very still and see just how slow I can get it to go.  It’s really quite incredible.

rock star athlete, inspiring artist, compassionate friend to animals and people alike…yet never took himself too seriously.

Fifteen months ago today, my 4-year-old nephew’s body stopped working.  His creativity and joy for life got him into a situation that turned out to be deadly.  For the next 5 days his body was kept alive by machines while we desperately waited for a miracle to happen and the swelling in his brain to go down. On the fifth day, after accepting that his body would never be able to work on its own again, he would never wake up from his sleep, his parent’s did what no parents should ever have to do, and took him off life support.

When it was time to say goodbye, my brother and Tera held him for the last time while Payton let go. My very loving and very large extended family sat in the waiting room with our eyes down.  Every time the door opened our heads flew up.  Finally, after what seemed an eternity (only 22 minutes) a nurse came to tell us Payton was gone.  We sat crying and holding each other while chimes rang over the intercom, announcing the birth of a baby—a new life with a heart that went ba-bump, lungs that filled with air, and 8 other working systems, came in to the world just as Payton was going out.

Payton’s parents were so courageous and had decided to donate Payton’s young, healthy organs to give others a second chance. We stayed in the waiting room as the organ donor team operated on Payton.  A while later a team of 4 doctors came and told us how amazing Payton had done and how many gifts he had given. It seems as though Payton new exactly what to do—because he let go so quickly, more of his organs were able to be saved.   Through our extreme pain and gratitude, we each came forward and hugged and thanked the doctors (who were also crying) for giving us hope by turning our greatest loss into others’ second chance at life.

In the days, weeks, and months to follow I often thought about the recipients of Payton’s organs. I prayed for them, that their bodies wouldn’t reject the new parts and that they would live full lives. I wondered if they had a level of gratitude proportionate to the level of our pain.  I wanted to know if they ever thought about the grief that we live with.  I feared that they wouldn’t live lives worthy of Payton’s sacrifice.

Then it struck me, it’s not my concern whether they were grateful for their gifts—my own gratitude is where I should be.  It’s of no use to me to wonder if they think about our pain—I should be focused on loving myself and my family through the pain that we share.  It’s not my place to judge the quality of their lives—I should only concern myself with the quality of mine.

Steve Prefontaine, a running icon who also happened to die tragically at quite a young age, is famously quoted for saying, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”  Most of us will never be Olympic athletes.  You may not feel like you are incredibly “gifted” at anything.  But if you are reading this now, it means you have an INCREDIBLE gift—you’re alive.  All of those systems are working together to keep you alive.  Your heart continues to go ba-bump in your chest and that, my friends, is a gift worthy of your gratitude.

I can’t control how the recipients of Payton’s organs will choose to live their lives.  I can, however, control how I live mine. I can choose to care for my body.  I can push it to explore new boundaries.  I can give it my best so as not to sacrifice this gift.  I can be present each moment and choose to live with gratitude for this thing in my chest that keeps going ba-bump.

So, here’s to my precious little nephew, whose zest for life inspired many, and who probably would have gotten a time out for using the “H” word.  I’ll honor your short but beautifully lived life by giving a big“hell yeah” to living as fully as you did.

Miss you, Payton.


5 thoughts on “Remembering

  1. Julie Wiley

    Huge heartfelt love first off to Matt! He is still a little boy to me in my mind and it is unimaginable still for me thinking of him already experiencing such great loss in his life. No parent should outlive their child. Hugs and love to you, Kim and John. Your writing expressed the full spectrum of the pain, gratitude, loss and celebration that Payton brought with him in his little life.

  2. Shawn dickson

    Melissa, thank you for posting. It was such an incredibly painful week, but so important to remember our beautiful little Payton and support each other, especially at anniversaries such as today. I read your post a couple of hours ago. It was difficult to read through my tears. It is quite a stormy, breezy day here today, mostly wind with light showers. But, just as I finished reading I looked out the window and there was a major downpour. It looked liked the kind of sideways rain that we usually get in deepest, darkest January. I thought to myself, God feels our pain and is crying right along with us.

    The week two years ago was certainly the most emotional experience of my life. I have seared in my memory images in the hospital. One is of Tera sitting on the floor with her head on Janiece’s shoulder and Janiece’s head on top of Tera’s, providing comfort through the shared agony. I remember holding your Momma as she sobbed and then, of course, I remember her marching down to the office of the Hospital Administrator to let them know that our “large extended family” needed a private place to congregate when they tried to move us to the cafeteria. I remember walking through the cafeteria and screaming (in my head) at anyone wearing a white coat, wondering how they could sit and eat when they should be upstairs healing Payton. I remember wanting you to come home, yet wishing you did not have to and wanting to buffer you from the news you were going to receive at the hospital. And of course I remember beautiful little Payton, lying in his very big bed, looking beautiful with his perfect little body, his head certainly swollen, but still Payton, looking like he was napping.

    I remember Thursday night most vividly, however. Matt and Tera walked to a room next door to where we were waiting to meet with the transplant staff and begin the process of organ donation. My heart broke for them. They were amazingly courageous, but my brain was again screaming, such perfect young parents who loved their young son above all else, should not have to be doing this. I felt it on a personal level as well. I have always appreciated the family that donated their loved one’s organs to Tom. But, never until that moment, did I ever fully appreciate the agony they likely went through when they made the decision to donate the organs of their loved one. They gave me a husband for the past twelve years, a father for my daughters during their teenage years and beyond. What an unbelievable gift.

    And the transplant team was amazing. They came out together wearing orange Payton ribbons pinned to their scrubs. I still wonder where they got them. We gave a collective cheer when they first told us that Payton’s organs would be transplanted into other children. They then, ever so compassionately, explained in detail which organs would be going where. When they told us that his kidneys would be transplanted that evening in Seattle into two different children. I knew the call those parents would be receiving, the mad rush to the hospital, the adrenelin rush as they waited as all the necessary tests were performed to make sure it would be a successful match and the wait through surgery for the outcome. But, most of all I felt their hope. Their hope that this would be the chance for their child and I could feel Payton hoping right along with them.

    One day not too long after Tom’s transplant, I was sitting in church, silently giving thanks to Tom’s donor. I said to the donor, thank you for giving your life so that Tom might live. And then I felt a strong sense of deja vu. I have spent many a prayer being thankful that Christ died so that we might live. I believe that an individual who donates their organs becomes closer to Christ and more Christlike than others. And I also understand that parents and families that experience that sacrifice are allowing others to have life through their grief and loss. There is truly no greater gift. Payton was a gift to us during his short life. I would do anything to have him back among us, but he is now a gift to others- and that brings me some comfort, even as I still feel the loss and pain and that of Matt, Tera, your parents, Tera’s parents and our “large extended family”. I love you all.

    • mjorgey

      Shawn, Thank you for sharing your memories and thoughts. I’m grateful we have such a beautiful network of love to help carry the memories–none of us need to hold it all. We can share the burden…and the joy. Love you!

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