I’ve been watching The Gift of Life on Channel 5 and thinking about an old friend of mine, Cathy.
I met Cathy at uni and we hit it off immediately. It’s that funny old spark of friendship. You just know when you meet someone, if you’re destined to be friends (or not). Cathy and I spent hours chatting (she perched on the end of my Halls of Residence bed) about life and the universe and everything silly in-between. We loved ordering pizza from the shop at the end of the street, watching ER on Thursday nights and (later) talking about God.
I think I instinctively knew in some way that Cathy was sick. She was very thin and sometimes struggled to keep up, when we walked from the dining room to our Halls. Eventually she told me what I’d already guessed, that she had Cystic Fibrosis. But she was adamant she didn’t want sympathy or to be treated any differently. This was just a ‘thing’ in her life and it wasn’t going to beat her. I ended up on a crash course of learning about this terrible illness and Cathy’s regular routine; a cocktail of drugs, daily physio and the chance that a rogue cold or infection could finish her off for good.
Cathy never lost her sense of humour though. She often had us in stitches with some silly comment and was an incredibly talented artist (think Lowry’s stick figures). I had a (bizarre) penchant for Mr Men characters at that point, so she bought me several of the books, on my quest to collect them all, as well as a stuffed version of Mr Tickle, to represent all the daft laughs we had.
One morning I got up as usual to go to breakfast and I knocked on Cathy’s door. There was no answer, and later, after breakfast, feeling worried, I rang her dad; where was she?
Her dad told me she’d become quite sick in the middle of the night and had been admitted to hospital with a serious infection. She was already officially on the transplant list (she carried a bleeper) but they needed her to kick this infection and fast, so she’d be strong enough to get a transplant if one should come up.
Later that week I chatted to her on the phone. She was a bit breathless and teary from all the trauma of the last week, but in essence she was ok, feeling positive and ready for a new life, if and when lungs became available.
We were oddly aware that in order for her to live, someone else would have to die, but perhaps we shut the latter part out of our heads. We planned more pizza and ER nights and discussed sharing a house when we both moved out of Halls.
10 days later, lovely, funny Cathy passed away. In the end, the infection became too much and she got to go and hang out with Jesus.
Tonight I was watching the incredibly poignant #GiftofLife and thinking about the loss of a lovely friend. All these years later in my hallway cupboard, I still have two precious gifts – an incredible drawing of Liverpool by Cathy and a Mr Tickle (Christmas gift). I finished watching the programme and them dug them out. I wanted to remember.
Organ donation is an incredibly sensitive subject for many people – but here’s a simple truth, when you’re gone, you don’t need them.
I can’t back this view up theologically or offer any Biblical counsel, but I firmly, passionately believe that being on the donation register is something we should all do.
An organ may have saved Cathy’s life, it may not have done. But at least she might have had a chance to grow old. I absolutely know that 19 years since this happened, that she’s ok, she’s with Jesus, but there are plenty of others still sitting there, still waiting.
So if you haven’t yet done it, here’s another opportunity; Donation register