Long before I knew I’d eventually have one myself, I watched my friends with transplants celebrate their annual “transplantiversary”. These are birthdays for donated organs, so to speak, a means of recognising how long the recipients have had them, and an opportunity to celebrate another year of life that in many cases would not have been possible otherwise.
Once I started waiting for mine, I wondered on a few occasions what date it would be, and I naturally assumed that as it came around each year, I would do the same thing my friends had done. It seemed so normal that when I eventually got the call, I actually remember thinking, and even telling people “Turns out October 8th is a pretty good day to have a kidney transplant!”
Just over a month ago, the first October 8th arrived. I had officially passed the 12-month mark, and had my kidney transplant for a year. To my surprise, I didn’t feel the way I expected to.
While I was certainly not unhappy or ungrateful, I felt sadder than I anticipated. Strangely, I was glad the vague plans I’d had to go away with friends that weekend had ended up being canceled for an unrelated reason, I didn’t want to go anyway.
Due to having received a letter from my donor’s family a couple of weeks before, I was all too aware that there were people other than me who were impacted. It was impossible to forget that the first anniversary of my transplant was also the first anniversary of my donor’s death. I had lived twelve months with my new kidney, they had lived twelve months without their loved one.
Because of this strange balancing act, celebrating didn’t feel right for me. It’s difficult to explain, not least as someone who has happily named her transplanted kidney Billy the Kid (a whole story in itself!), but it’s almost as if I was afraid that being “too happy” might be somehow disrespectful.
Perhaps it’s the simple fact that all the “firsts”, both good and bad, are now behind me, but after some consideration, I do now feel ok about celebrating. Strangely, while hearing from my donor’s family made things harder in many ways, it also helped me. I now know for a fact that my donor actively registered to donate, and that his family was proud of his choice, and pleased that I am doing well. Nothing I do or don’t do will stop them grieving for who they have lost, but over the next twelve months, before my next “transplantiversary”, I hope that I can find a way to acknowledge how awesome it is that I’ve had another year of healthy life, while also recognising the reason why I have it. When I celebrate my life, I want to celebrate his too.
Organ donation is an intersection of grief and joy if ever there was one.