My apologies.  I can’t believe, but WordPress doesn’t lie, that it’s been two months since my last posting.  I have enjoyed so much life and there has been so much to share, but each day seems busier than the last so I don’t get to comment here on those events despite thinking of doing that frequently.  So today, Thanksgiving day, I awoke committed to some sharing no matter what, and here it is, finally . . .

There seems to have been so many beautiful funerals this year, each with a dear friend’s passing and a celebration of that life by family and friends at the event we call “a funeral.”  I have attended each, and sat with tears, not so much at their death since I have long ago accepted that if we are alive, then we must each face death, but more at our loss in not having their physical company to share as our memories recall such moments.  Please allow me to memorialize some with this sharing of some very special lives that live on in my memory with love and affection as I pray they will for many years to come.

In memory of Ruth Miller

With love for this amazing woman who enjoyed a life extension with her heart transplant of seven years, the annual picnic was dedicated to her loving memory.  Ruth even went back to work when she was over 70+ years of age post transplant, outlasting many a younger worker with her strong work ethic and a smiling dedication to customer service.  Ruth was a friend to everyone, keeping us all in line with her outspoken directness when it was called for.  She and I traveled and prayed together as we participated in many Gift of Life Donor Program events of service or speaking on behalf of raising organ donor awareness.

We were so honored when Ruth’s sister graciously invited Pam and I to speak at Ruth’s amazing and spirited Baptist funeral.  It was the perfect celebration of Ruth’s life, dressed in her well known stylish clothes and her special huge hat.  We were so honored and shared Ruth from our heart in front of a church filled gathering of her family and many friends.  For the first time, I kept my remarks to a  short minute or two, opting to let Pam express in a very special heart felt sharing memories of our Ruth, an adopted member of our own family.

Oh how I wish you could have heard the wonderful choir singing those Baptist hymns and the testimony of her family and especially of her very close friend preacher who shared his Ruth with tears and such passion.  Baptists really know how to send off a friend in such services.  We attended from 5:30 til enjoying a shared dinner in a local diner we often frequented with her well into 11pm that night, and never felt the passage of time.  Now that’s a funeral to remember, so fitting for a ture friend we will never forget.

In memory of Sara Henke

From the time I first met Sarah as she awaited a life saving heart and lung transplant at Children’s hospital back in 1995 until her passing at much too young an age this year, Sarah was another of those very special transplant friends.  She survived the transplant process, thriving to finish college, working after that and falling in love, got married and attended the US Transplant Games from the mid-90’s til 2010.  It was at those Games that we typically caught up on our life stories.  It was in the Games of 1998 that the first photo (below) was captured, when she was asked to keep an eye on young Kendel, a heart transplant recipient who, at the age of 5, had been writing to Sarah (age 18) as she was waiting in Children’s hospital in Philadelphia for her gift of life.

Over the years, I lost track of young Kendel, and at the 2010 Games asked Sarah if she knew how he was doing these many years later.  Imagine my surprise when she pointed across the table to a young man now known as “John” – he didn’t like the name Kendel as he was now older, soon to graduate high school and go off to college.  This was a special opportunity to retake that 1998 photo now a dozen years later, the three of us, three hearts and a lung extending our lives these many years, a total of 45 years of life gifted via organ donation.

None of us will live forever and a transplant doesn’t defeat death, but it does offer the opportunity to live beyond a life threatening event as was the case for the three of us in those pictures.  Some will live longer than others, while some will pass on at what is much too young an age, as is the case with Sarah.  But we were given the opportunity to make a difference in this world with that life and Sarah will remain our inspiration for making that difference in so many ways with her life.  The Games will never be the same without her to take more pictures of these three partners in life.

In memory of Marlene Ford

"Biker babe" Marlene

Marlene was a close heart transplant friend that I met back in the early years of my own heart transplant life.  Drawn to her out of a large meeting crowd, I discovered she lived in the next town from me in suburban Pennsylvania (small world) and enjoyed a great conversation together.  We lost contact for many years only to have her reach out via e-mail from distant Florida a decade later.  From that outreach, we began an annual, much too brief, lunch visit together when she came up from her home in Florida each Summer for testing of that “new” heart.  She was two  years my senior in terms of that transplant and served as an inspiration to both myself and everyone who knew her with a spirit and love for life that endured even until her death from cancer early this year.  I long ago added this photo of her to my organ donor presentation and thus “saw” her each time that presentation was given, offering audiences far and wide the message that “transplantation works, say yes to being an organ donor” with her active and long life post transplant as supporting evidence for that message.

In this final year, Marlene battled cancer with her same smile and positive outlook even now in her seventies and 20+ years post heart transplant, with acceptance and loving family support there in Florida.    It was with sadness yet a blessing that her daughter reached out to notify me of her passing and the funeral that was to be held  in not too distant Phoenixville PA so I could attend and share some special memories of this wonderful lady and dear friend at her funeral.   At that luncheon there was a large montage of Marlene’s photos that opened up even more the picture of this amazing woman who lived beyond several husbands and enjoyed life to the fullest.  While I thought this image of her on the motorcycle, for which I referred to her as the “biker babe” was representative of her, it turned out to be only the tip of the iceberg of many modes of transportation she had enjoyed as shown in that montage of a very active and adventuresome life – trains, planes, bikes, etc.  Even in knowing her as I did, I didn’t know all of her and through her loving family I got to see Marlene as an even more amazing woman through this funeral event, and in seeing her through her children and grandchildren, living monuments to a very  fruitful and loving life, a life extended by 20 years through the anonymous gift of  a donated heart.  “Marlene, I will miss you and those annual HUP lunches.”  So, until we meet again . . .

In memory of Sister Virginia McGarry

My aunt, Sister Virginia, died this year at the still active and entertaining life age of 103.  She was a Catholic nun who dedicated her life to God in that special vocation as a Sister of Mercy.  In retirement at Mount St. Mary’s in Watchung, NJ, Sister Virginia was a true “character” in a very positive sense of that term.  Every tiem spent with her was “an event” with Sister as the hostess, leading with vibrant stories of life and adventure.  Nobody would argue that there was never anyone quite like her and there never would be another like her again.  The image shared at her funeral was one of her dashing around the beautiful hill campus in her motorized wheelchair, with colorful parasol held high to protect from the sun, even at the age of 100+!

She was of my grandmother’s McGarry family, an aunt on my father’s side, the Gleason’s of New Brunswick, NJ.  A story teller with a memory that amazed me (and everyone) anytime we visited (much too infrequently), she offered insights into my own father’s childhood that came long after his passing many years ago.  “Delightful” would be one description of her, but as everyone saw yet again at her funeral, Sister Virginia was always famously “in charge.”  The funeral service was designed in absolute detail by her and respectfully followed by the nuns and priest friend who offered that mass of celebration of life.  True to style, she was laid out in a beautiful lavender dress, not the traditional black and while nun’s habit.  With a riveting sermon (when have you ever heard a sermon associated with that adjective?) on her life given by this priest of long time friendship, the stories were directed to her family in a most touching and personal way, recounting the many ways she uniquely helped the world and made a lasting difference with her network of powerful people who regularly responded to her calls for help, especially for young children in distress.  When Sister called, you weren’t asked to help, you were told how you were to help, and they did, every time.

Her uniqueness could be summed up in the final moments of her funeral when the pall bearers were told to wait before walking her casket up the beautiful small chapel aisle, until the choir finished the song she had selected.  At that moment, the silence and suspense was broken by the recorded Notre Dame music of some Sousa march band that caused everyone to break into laughter and a final applause as the casket then was drawn up that aisle, exactly the effect I am sure Sister Virgina wanted to leave everyone of her family and friends to remember her by, as we all surely will.  “Sister Virginia, we will never forget you, with love, admiration and a big smile as you gave each of us that final day.”

In memory of Herb Pincus

While not a personal friend directly, Herb Pincus is the father of a very dear friend, Susan Pincus, a kidney/pancreas transplant recipient.  We knew her father through her stories of admiration as he continued to work daily in the family business he founded even when he moved past the physically challenging age of 90+.

A beautiful Jewish funeral attested to his impact and generosity to community and his synagog by the huge attendance that filled the unique structure designed by Franklin Lloyd Wright, a fitting surrounding for this unique man’s life celebration.  We heard testimony of an amazing life, of a father who raised a loving family that serves as a lasting testimony to his impact on the world.  I was also impressed (more in surprise than by the importance of this fact) to hear that Herb Pincus was the inventor of the soda dispensing nozzle that we often see at a bar, the one that dispenses different sodas based on the button the bartender pushes – can you see it?

As the long funeral procession of family and friends’ cars finally led into the cemetery,no one was surprised to see his final resting place, a burial plot front row center, as he always had done in life, so he did too now.

In memory of Jerry Cohen

Fellow heart recipient, Jerry Cohen, was still working at the age of 79 as a judge in the Philadelphia judicial system.  Even last year, at age 78, Jerry attended the US Transplant Games as the oldest athlete, participating in badminton and winning a medal in his age bracket.  We all knew Jerry as the “Energizer Bunny” guy who just never stopped, supporting the local Second Chance heart transplant support group, attending meetings, supporting his huge family whenever called upon.

Jerry, still competing at age 78 in the 2010 US Transplant Games

When it came to Jerry’s funeral just this past week, a celebration of life in the Jewish tradition, again the very large room was packed with loving family and friends.  Again this event was unique in a way that Jerry would truly appreciate.  His thirteen grandchildren each went up to say a few loving words, often breaking down in emotional tears as they shared the special ways he made a difference in each of their lives.  We were treated to yet another amazing dimension of this man we all knew, but we didn’t know him in this family way.  One granddaughter was away in Israel, studying there in the university.  She attended virtually, via an iPad video message that was held up to the microphone for all to hear her loving testimony.  How unique.  How Jerry!  His sons and daughters each added their own memories of how Jerry never judged, never turned them away, opening up his home to any of them when needed, with loving kindness.  “Jerry, we will miss you so!”

And so we leave this Thanksgiving day with prayers of thanks for the blessing and memory each of these dear friends were in my life, one day to be reunited with them in another place.

“Thank you Ruth, Sarah, Marlene, Sister Virginia, Herb and Jerry for your sharing life with so many each in your own special way.”