The Night I got Scolded

By Shamus Posted Monday Aug 3, 2009

Filed under: Personal 103 comments

A true story. This happened last week. Names changed for privacy.

It’s Wednesday evening and Carl and Bob are playing a round of golf and talking about their lives and their health the way middle aged men do. Bob is suffering from some sort of disease, and his kidneys are failing. In fact, he’s sort of down to half a kidney now, and his quality of life is going to drop sharply when it fails. He’s on the transplant waiting list, but the list is long and there are many younger people with better bodies and worse kidneys in line ahead of him.

Carl gets back to his car and sees someone has been frantically calling his cell. His wife Alice has fallen ill. He rushes to the hospital. She’s been life-flighted from the local hospital to the bigger one in Pittsburgh.

Alice has been suffering for years with PBC, a disease that (eventually) destroys the liver. Her liver has been slowly degrading for over a decade now, and she’s known for a long time that she’d eventually need a transplant. Because of this she’s become something of an organ donor activist, encouraging people to become donors and raising awareness on the issue. Her advocacy is mild and friendly, and comes mostly in the form of bumper stickers, pins, and webpage badges.

But PBC isn’t her problem right now. She had a massive headache all day, and then collapsed. Apparently she’s had an aneurysm.

Her fortunes and her prognosis change a great deal overnight. She stops breathing for a moment and has to be resuscitated. Once they get her stable they see that it looks like a minor bleed and that she might wake up very soon. Then things look a little dicey and her vitals deteriorate. But she seems to be responding to stimulus and looks able to wake up on her own if she weren’t being sedated. Then she suffers complications. The loose blood in her head causes intense irritation. Her brain swells rapidly. She’s in the ICU under the care of a number of neurological experts, but there is nothing anyone can do to stop the process once it begins. Within the space of a couple of hours her brain is basically destroyed without hope of recovery. She’s gone.

When people die a more conventional cardiac death, the lack of circulation in the body usually destroys most of the organs shortly after the heart stops. Someone that drops dead of a heart attack or bleeds to death in a car accident won’t be able to donate much. Usually just the kidneys and the liver survive something like this. But Alice has died in such a way that she will be able to donate everything. She’s the ideal donor. This is a comfort to the family, to know that she will be able to take part in a cause that was so dear to her. Her passing will change the lives of perhaps a dozen people. Some of them will live because she died.

Her husband Carl is able to directly designate his golfing buddy as a kidney recipient, and by blind luck it turns out he’s compatible. The next day Bob goes in and receives one of Alice’s kidneys.

Alice was my mother in law, who passed away last weekend. Her birthday is this week. She would have turned 56.

Of all the things that can go suddenly wrong – heart attacks, infections, car crashes, falling pianos – I think aneurysms creep me out the most. My father had one at just 29 years old, and while he managed to survive it nevertheless took a massive toll on the remaining 30 years of his life. Aneurysms are just so dang random. You can eat right, exercise regularly, have fantastic family history, avoid all dangerous habits, practice safe driving in your Volvo while always remembering to wear your seatbelt, use lots of sunscreen, and then end up getting killed by a bad patch in any of the miles of blood vessels inside your skull. It’s completely unpredictable and unavoidable. It’s a game of Russian roulette that everyone is playing every moment they’re alive.

I say my goodbyes at her bedside on Friday afternoon. Her mind is gone by this point, but her heart is still beating. I stand there looking down at what was once a loving and exhaustively talkative woman, wishing I could do something for her. Or for someone else in the room. Anything, really. There’s never anything intelligent or useful to say at times like this. It just hurts until it stops, and everyone has their own way of dealing with that pain.

As I look at her slack face, stuffed full of cold medical apparatus, I am suddenly yanked back to a memory from seventeen years ago. My girlfriend Heather and I had been out on a date. We wanted to keep hanging out, but her curfew had arrived. I was twenty-one years old and more or less in charge of myself, but she was eighteen. She was recently graduated but still very much living under the rules of your average highschooler. So she went into the house, went downstairs, and let me in the basement door. There was a game room down there and we were going to play some Nintendo. Her mom would probably say no to this, so Heather just didn’t bother to mention it when she came through the house. Classic teenager logic. I knew this was unwise, but hey: Girlfriend and Nintendo?

Her mom sensed something fishy, and came down and found us before we could even get the thing turned on. We were made to endure a scolding at the hands of her mother for our subterfuge. She scowled at me, the no-good boyfriend of her daughter. She glowered at me with that puckered-mouth frown that only she could do.

Bet you never guessed things would turn out like this, did you, Shamus?

I have no idea why I’m remembering the scolding here at her bedside in the hospital. Perhaps because it’s simply my oldest memory of her. Perhaps because a bad memory would hurt less than a joyful one, and I’m trying to ease into this. The game room and the Nintendo I never got to play both seem a thousand miles away and a million years ago from here in 2009.

In memory of Alice, I thought I might gently suggest that you consider organ donation. I hope you’ll forgive this brief dalliance with advocacy here on this site. I wanted to get this story out of my system.

I promise we’ll get back to the videogame stuff Real Soon Now.


From The Archives:

103 thoughts on “The Night I got Scolded

  1. Lupis42 says:

    There never seems to be anything useful to say at times like this. My condolences.

  2. OEP says:

    Indeed. My condolences.

  3. Debaser says:

    My deepest condolences.

  4. RKG says:

    My condolences – I am registered as an organ donor and give blood in my home country (Denmark)

  5. OddlucK says:

    I’m at a loss even what to say in a comment here from some random guy who reads your ‘blog. My sincerest condolences to you and your family.

  6. midget0nstilts says:

    My condolences to you, Heather and her family. Work/school/whatever keeps us all so busy and we assume that there’s going to be some free time and everything will be OK, and then something like this happens. I guess you just have to make the most of the time you have, since you never know what will happen to you and your loved ones….

    I, too, wish there was something I could do.

  7. Somebody Else says:

    My condolences. If it’s any comfort, just remember that something good came out of this – her kidney helped save another man’s life.

    Rest assured, when I no longer need them, my organs will be donated to those who do.

  8. Yamael says:

    My deepest condolences to you and your family. I’m sorry to hear she passed away so young (my own parents are almost that age). Forget about games for a bit and stay with your wife, she needs you now more than us.

  9. Randy Johnson says:

    Your tale was very touching; it was a special read. I just wanted to add my own little nod at Organ donation. It saves so many lives, I can’t think of a reason not to have the box checked.

  10. Helm says:

    Sorry to hear your loss

  11. JoeFF85/Skitzophrenik says:

    My condolences on your loss, Shamus.

    My father suffered an aneurysm sometime before I was born and spent a lot of time in rehabilitation having to relearn quite a few skills we all take for granted (such as reading. And doing math) and still tells me how frustrating it is that he can remember being able to read much faster than the fairly slow pace he reads at now.

    I occasionally think about how different my life would be if he’d never had the aneurysm, but I never think about the other possibility. Again I am terribly sorry for your loss.

  12. Samopsa says:

    My condolences, Shamus. A terrible way to lose someone close to you.

    Organ donation should use the opt-out system used in Belgium. You are a donor, unless you explicitly say no. Most people I talk to have no problems being a donor, but just don’t care/are too lazy to register as one.

  13. Risven says:

    I’m sorry to hear about your loss, Shamus. I hope you and your family are holding up well.

  14. HeadHunter says:

    It saddens me to hear of your loss, moreso because of the circumstances. Thank you for sharing the story with us.

    I worked for three years as a dialysis technician and it made me acutely aware of the need for transplant donors. Until that time, I had been reluctant to do so – I always imagined a scenario where I might be badly injured and doctors would have to decide between finding transplants to keep me alive, or using what good organs I had left for others. Ultimately, I realized that was kind of a silly reason not to be a donor, and I’ve since signed up.

    Working with kidney patients gave me a deeper appreciation of life and my own mortality. I realize my death has never been a matter of “if”, merely “when” – and when my time is up, if I can save other lives in this way, I kind of live on in others. And that’s a pretty noble thing.

    I agree with Samopsa – the opt-out system should be the standard. So many lives would be saved. I can’t think of a compelling reason not to donate, but if someone has one, they can feel free to check “NO”.

    My condolences to your family.

  15. Fenix says:

    I’m sorry for your and your family’s loss.

    Aneurysm’s are scary. I know three people who have had them, only one lived.

    Once again, my condolences.

  16. JFargo says:

    I’m sorry, Shamus.

  17. antsheaven says:

    My condolences, Shamus.

  18. RichVR says:

    Sorry for your loss. My deepest sympathy to you your wife and the family.

  19. Henebry says:

    What a story. Don’t apologize for sharing it.

  20. Benjamin Orchard says:

    My condolences.

  21. Sesoron says:

    I’m glad she was able to fulfill a cause she cared so much about. That’s definitely a legacy to be proud of. *checks license* And I’m proud to say I’ve been a donor as long as I’ve been a driver.

  22. Thank you for sharing your story, Shamus.

    I hope that time eases your mourning quickly.


  23. Alleyoop says:

    Sincerest condolences to your family and genuine sympathy: I lost my dad three weeks ago to complications (pneumonia/infection) that arose from a lung transplant he received in November of last year.

    Mind you, the transplant was a success and gave him time he did not have otherwise, as well as quality of life he definitely did not have prior. But having your immune system depressed to prevent rejection…the risk is a constant companion.

    I’ve always been an organ donor (why would I need them?), but the reality of it never hit until the night of my dad’s transplant – we met a family whose daughter received a heart (she would not live out the week without it). They’d met the family whose loved one received a kidney. One tragedy resulted in gifts of time for who knows how many in desperate need?

    We had another Christmas, New Years, visits and conversations w/my dad we likely would not have without that generosity.

    I’m so sorry for your wife’s loss, and yours, and your children’s. Bless her soul.

  24. azrhey says:

    I am so sorry, my condolences for you , wife and family. The other poster up there was right, forget about the games for a while and spend more time with family.

    As other peopel say, organ donation should be opt out not opt in. I am also an organ donour in fact since birth. In my country of origin when you get your national ID card ( ohhh bad socialist countries… ) parents gt to check the box in case there is an accident and parents and children die so they can harvest the organs of the children as well. When we moved to Canada I turned organ donor the inute I turned 18. And I am glad it is on our privincial health card here and not on the driver’s license because…I aint got one!

    Once again, my condolences….

  25. My sympathies for your loss.

    The “perfect donor” situation must be an amazing piece of Karma…if my organ donor boxes weren’t already checked, your story would inspire me to check them.

    Thank you for sharing.

  26. RPharazon says:

    My deepest sympathies, Shamus. I thankfully haven’t felt the pain of losing a loved one yet, but I know all too well the importance of donating precious organs, tissues, and fluids.

    I was saved by a blood pack or two when I underwent surgery a few years ago. Apparently, my circulatory system didn’t like being interrupted, and it started hemorrhaging. I was saved by someone else, who I will never get to meet, because they spent an hour or two donating blood.

    Now, I had various traumatic experiences with needles before, and as such I have an acquired phobia of needles. I can’t watch most episodes of House without absolutely cringing, and I had to give up my dreams of working in the biomedical field because of my needle squeamishness.

    Even then, I went to donate blood a day after my 18th birthday, and I donate whenever possible as soon as my various blood cell counts are back up to normal levels again. Having O Negative blood makes me a universal donor, so at least I’m happy in the fact that everyone can use my blood.

    Sidetracked comment, I’m sorry. Again, my condolences and sympathies go out to your family.

  27. BarGamer says:

    My condolences to you and your’s.

  28. Mom says:

    cluck cluck. I never heard this story before. Consider yourself re-scolded by your OWN mother. Also, obit says MIL born in 51. This makes her 58 on the first.

  29. squishydish says:

    My condolences. Don’t worry about rushing to get back to blogging about videogaming; take the time you need to be with your family.

    Samopsa says, “Most people I talk to have no problems being a donor, but just don't care/are too lazy to register as one.”
    I just don’t get laziness as a reason (excuse). All you have to do is check the box!

    On the other hand, I once spent an hour discussing the issue with a then-boyfriend and trying to convince him to check the box, but he was just too squeamish. I never really got that either.

  30. Joshua McNeely says:

    My condolences for you and your family Shamus.

    Thank you for sharing the story as it’s always heartening to hear about good coming from the bad patches in life. I’ve been a donor since I started driving but if I wasn’t then this story would have made me re-think my position.

    I have to echo the other comments above: Take as much time as you need for your wife and family. They are infinitely more important than getting random comments on a blog.

  31. Chris says:

    I’ve been an organ donor for years, as burying good organs is a huge, pointless waste.

  32. Kajen says:

    My deepest condolences to you and your family. Let me chime in there: take your time. We’ll be here when you return with the gaming stuff.

    As regards to the question of donating organs: I’ve been carrying an organ donor card since my 18th birthday, figuring that the best thing I’ll be able to do with the shell I leave behind is giving others the chance to live. Since I do not believe in life after death, this is actually a very comforting thought.

  33. Ericc says:

    I agree with the Organ Donation. My late wife passed away due to a Pulmanary Embolism, and we donated her eyes (she died at home so the coroner couldn’t let her organs go due tests).

    Reading the letter from the organ donation group in my state about how her eyes restored sight to two people who had very little hope was incredible, and actually brought comfort to my family.

    Good luck with your family and I hope you and yours do well.

  34. Christian Groff says:

    I am not even going to repeat what everyone else said, but I want to extend the same. I know it’s hard, but God has his ways of doing things, and if he decided that it was time for your mother-in-law to pass on, even though it was a scary thing to do, then it happened. At least her death benefited so many people, especially your father’s friend. ^_^

  35. chabuhi says:

    So very sorry for your loss. I see so many stories like this (or, it seems that way) and I just can’t help but feel that from about the age of 25 we’re all basically dying. Pitiful outlook, I know, but sometimes I can’t help it.

  36. Jennifer says:

    I think it’s terrific that you remembered that great story about getting scolded. The important thing about people is never that they died, but that they *lived*.

    And, yes, sign up to donate your organs and tissues, everyone. Even better, join the Bone Marrow Donor Registry. You never know.

  37. Rutskarn says:

    While of course, her passing is tragic, it’s good to know that after she died she was able to able to help others just as she had done when she was alive. There’s a sort of symmetry to that just may give those who survive her an ounce of peace.

    Organ donation is an excellent cause to advocate. Not only does organ donation save thousands–millions–of lives, but many people don’t do it simply because it never occurs to them. It’s probable that your mother-in-law, in her advocacy, saved quite a few lives.

    My condolences on your loss.

  38. milw770 says:

    Let me say that I am sorry for your tragic loss. A loss made worse by the seeming randomness of it.

    In addition to organ donation, please encourage your readers to complete 2 very simple documents: A living will, and a durable power of attorney for health care.

    A living will outlines your wishes if you can not speak for yourself. Do you want every medical technology and device used to prolong your life, no matter how slim the chance? Or would you rather have your loved ones “pull the plug”? Families often make this decision during an emotional crisis with little or no idea of what your wishes would be.

    A durable power of attorney for health care is a document that names one person as your sole agent in health care decisions if you can’t speak for yourself. If they need to decide whether to prolong life or let you expire, do they listen to your dad, or your mom? Do they listen to your spouse or your children’s wishes? This document empowers the person you choose.

    Any hospital social work department will help you complete these two documents for free. An attorney may charge up to $400 or more.

    As an ICU nurse, I watch families struggle with life or death decisions without any guidance from the patient. They carry a tremendous responsibility, and perhaps years of guilt. Do yourself, and your family a favor and complete a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care. Use those documents to formalize your wishes for organ and tissue donation as well. That way your desires for donation as well as all other end of life decisions will be clearly and legally explained to those who love you.

  39. Burning says:

    My deepest sympathy for your loss.

  40. Maddy says:

    I just double-checked my driver’s license to make sure it says I’m a donor.

    I’m sorry for your loss, but grateful that you shared this story.

  41. Kameron says:

    I’ve been an organ and blood donor since I was legally able. Thank you for using your experience of loss to advocate for this issue. You can’t use ’em when you’re dead, so give someone who needs them a chance at live.

  42. RTBones says:

    Sometimes, words cannot express what you feel, regardless of how much you try. My deepest condolences to you and your family, Shamus. Thank you for sharing the story.

  43. Telas says:

    I’m sorry for your troubles, Shamus.

    When there’s nothing to say, just be there for the ones you love, and the ones in pain. That’s all you can do.

    And afterwards, don’t hold anything that anyone says or does at such a time against them. Stress makes us all a little crazy. Forgive, forget, move on.

  44. Kdansky says:

    My condolences to both of you. Even though I don’t actually know you (and you know me even less), it saddens me greatly to hear this.

  45. Allerun says:

    Condolences to you and your family.

  46. RedClyde says:

    Thank you for sharing, Shamus.

    My condolences.

  47. Nazgul says:

    Condolences from me as well. And thanks for sharing the personal stories.

    “We love you, man!”

  48. Nick Pitino says:


    I’m sorry Shamus.

    I don’t have a more intelligent way of articulating it, but I truly am sorry.

    As far as organ donation goes, I’ve been signed up for as long as I’ve had my drivers license. I cannot imagine it being any other way, once my brain goes the rest of me is just spare parts.

    Why do I need them?

  49. Chip says:

    I’m terribly sorry. Losing someone is always hard, and it’s worse when it’s unexpected.

    As some of the others have said, I’m already a donor but would certainly check the box if I hadn’t already done so.

  50. Zetal says:

    I’m sorry about your mother-in-law.

    My great-grandmother died presumably of an aneurysm – she’d had it since before my grandparents were married, and lived to see many great-grandchildren. Which is a large part of why aneurysms are so damn scary – even if you know you have one, that doesn’t always help because there’s often nothing you can do about it until it decides to burst.

    I’ve advocated organ donation by being obnoxious in high school, and as soon as I was old enough I checked the little box. I’ve also made sure my parents and brother are aware that yes, I really do want anything usable to be given away.

  51. matriarch918 says:

    You posting that reminded me that I need to remark myself as an organ donor on my new ID. Your mother-in-law would be happy for that, I guess. I think we all need to know that even our death was useful. Her was visibly so. I hope mine can be to. God bless and comfort your family right now.

  52. Joe Cool says:

    I will pray for you, your family, and especially your mother-in-law, Shamus.

    Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord,
    and let perpetual light shine upon her.

    May she rest in peace.

  53. xbolt says:

    My sincerest condolences to you and your family, Shamus.

  54. Arnold says:

    Thanks for sharing, Shamus. Life does take us by surprise at times. Especially when it is with things that we can’t do anything about. Such as the death of a loved one.

    There is a German saying which is written on my great-great-grandfather’s grave, which says: “Wer in den Herzen fortlebt, der ist nicht gestorben.” ([He] who continues to live in the heart[s], [he] has not died.)

    Basically, death is not an end, but merely stepping from one state of existence to the next. There is a bright future ahead. So keep your chin up.



    P.S. Organ donor here…

  55. Steve Ferkau says:

    I’m sorry about your loss, Shamus… And I’m in awe of Alice’s family – that they would choose organ donation at a devastating moment like this… I know it’s the right thing to do – and I know that Alice’s family knew it was the right thing to do, particularly because Alice herself was waiting and in need. In their darkness – they’ve lit a flame for several other families – they’ve given them another chance at life.

    And I understand what you mean about the randomness of aneurysms. I know a beautiful 17-year-old girl in Iowa. She was a volleyball star. She was very intelligent. She told her family how strongly she felt about organ donation. Twice. The day before her junior prom, she felt a little under the weather – she had been running with a friend only a day earlier – she took a nap because she didn’t want a headache or cold getting in the way of her prom. She woke up confused and speaking incoherantly and collapsed in her kitchen – her family did everything possible, rushing her to their urgent care center who immediately sent her 50 miles away to a larger medical center. She’d had an intercranial bleed, and there was nothing to be done. Like Alice’s family – her family chose donation. At the darkest time in their lives – they chose to help others. Her name was Kari – her smile is on my mind always. I breathe with Kari’s lungs.

    The most beautiful thing I’ve ever read about her was writting by a chick in a blog titled “donorcycle” – her post is titled Legacy…

    Thank you for telling us about “Alice”, Shamus – thank you for remembering your experience with her, to let us see a little bit of her, and what she meant to you. Alice and her family are heroes in my eyes, and in so many eyes.

    And thank you for reminding people about the importance of organ donation – we never know when we, or someone we love may need a kidney, heart, liver, lungs, corneas or so many gifts. And if we every hope to receive them from someone else – we need to consider committing to give them when we leave this beautiful planet. Thanks for helping spread the word.

    Love, Steve

    Steve Ferkau
    Chicago, IL

  56. David V.S. says:

    May God be with you and your family.

    I’ll echo what milw770 wrote. In most U.S. states, simply having your driver’s license say “organ donor” is NOT enough. Family members legally can (and often do) override this.

    So everyone should have a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care. These are freely available at hospitals and easy to fill out.

    Once you (everyone) have one, photocopy it and ask the hospital to keep the copy in your file. If heaven forbid, something happens to you, you cannot expect your relatives to bother going through your safe or file cabinet during the medical crisis.

    One idea is for those who attend a church, social club, or gaming group to pick up a stack of them from the hospital and ask the group to schedule a time for everyone to fill them out at the same time. In my city many churches have an annual “get your paperwork in order” afternoon.

  57. Mari says:

    My deepest sympathies on your family’s loss.

    I’m not an organ donor in the traditional sense. Instead I’ve already made arrangements with the nearby med school to receive my entire body upon my death for medical training purposes. In that way I hope to impact just as many lives as traditional organ donors. An aspiring doctor who will go on to heal thousands upon thousands of people will rely in part on what he or she learned while studying my corpse.

    As another upside to this route, the loved ones I leave behind will incur none of the usual costs associated with burial or cremation.

  58. Mark says:

    At we believe that every American should control their end of life decisions. You don't have to wait for Washington to act. There are several excellent resources available to you today.

    For an Advance Healthcare Directive appropriate to your state of residence, we recommend Caring Connections.

    Don't let your family to be left wondering what your intentions might be. Save them the pain and grief of organ harvesting consent by making your intentions crystal clear today. Imagine their feelings of betrayal as you lie in a coma and they are asked if the organ harvesting process can start when you are declared brain dead or your heart stops.

    If you've decided you want to be an organ donor, you can do that at Donate Life America.

    If you have questions about organ donation or live in a state that has adopted the 2006 Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, visit to learn more about your rights and options under the law. Remember, in a state that has adopted the 2006 Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, leaving your donor preferences blank on your driver's license means the decision to harvest your organs will default to your family. is the only donor registry in America that allows you to legally say “no” to organ donation.

  59. OEP says:

    To “Mark”.

    Wow, I am speechless. To respond to a heartfelt story about death and organ donation with a anti-donation website that preys on the fear and paranoia of the ignorant.

    That is classy. Really classy :P

  60. Steve Ferkau says:

    I’m in agreement with you, OEP… Life is so very fragile – a cold or flu virus “mishandled” by your body can infect heart tissue, leading to cardiomyopathy, leading to death without a heart transplant – a child can get into some cleaning fluids or medications, leading to kidney, or worse, liver failure. I knew a man who ran into a burning building to save a loved one and seared his lungs, he would have gradually suffocated without new lungs. People have drastic reactions to foods or medications causing liver or kidney failure. And that’s just organs – it’s estimated that one in eight people will need tissue of some sort, skin for burns, corneas to see, bone, vessels, tendons, ligaments, that come from generous people and families.

    There are 102,000 people waiting for organ in the U.S. right now, and countless more waiting for and receiving tissue. One can only hope that Mark, or someone he loves, his children or grandchildren, never comes across a need like this in their lifetime. But, if they do – one can hope that there are people out in the world who are far more giving and caring than he is.

    Organ donation is a selfless act – it is an act of pure goodness, as was obvious in Shamus’ story about his mother-in-law and their family. Mark’s comments and stance goes beyond selfishness. They’re unconscionable.

  61. rofltehcat says:

    My condolences.
    I’m sure she’d be happy to know that her organs helped many other people.

  62. Corsair says:

    Looks like a bot to me. Beautiful.

    I’m sorry to hear about your loss, Shamus,

  63. Al Shiney says:

    Mark (or bot, whatever) … bite it. :(
    Shamus, condolences to your wife, children, and you … and thank you for sharing the story.

  64. HeadHunter says:

    I don’t believe we need to put down Mark for expressing a contrary opinion. Unless it has been edited, the post appears to be respectful, non-confrontational and informative.

    While I agree strongly that organ donation is a wonderful thing to do, I respect other people’s right to decide not to for whatever reason – whether it’s religious, philosophical or what-have-you.

    Those who disagree with Mark – would you override a loved one’s DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order, or would you respect their wishes regarding their life and let them decide?

    I knew a wonderfully nice little old lady named Essie – she was clever, funny and sweet. She was in her 80s and suffering from Stage 5 ESRD (total kidney failure). As her disease progressed, she began to suffer from calciphylaxis, where calcium collects in joints and tissues. She began to lose her sight. An infection claimed one of her legs. Then dementia set in. The bright, pleasant woman I knew was gone, all she knew now was pain and agony. But her granddaughter was too selfish to let her pass with dignity, and refused to place her grandmother in hospice care. So we were forced to put Essie through the ordeal of four-hour dialysis treatments, three times a week.

    She passed on a week after I quit my job as a dialysis technician – but her last months were robbed of the peace and dignity she deserved because someone else felt that their belief of what was “right” gave them the right to decide for another.

    I’m all for the opt-out system but people do deserve to be informed as to the alternatives and are entitled to make their own decisions.

  65. Auke says:

    My deepest condolences to you and your family, Shamus, and don't feel guilty for being with them rather than with us for a while…

    In addition to what Milw770 said: registering for donation is good. So is writing a will. Another good thing is just to talk about it with friends or family. Not only to make sure that they know what you want (and that they won't override your wishes in an emotional situation), but also that you know what they want, just in case you have to make the decision for them someday…

  66. Ian says:

    My deepest condolences to you, Heather, and your family.

    Excellent job on the very touching write-up, by the way. It almost brought a tear to my eye.

  67. Julian says:

    You said it yourself: there’s nothing useful or intelligent to say at a time like this. My deepest condolences, and, for what little it’s worth, I’ve been on the fence about being an organ donor for a while now. Such a heartbreaking story, told in such an excellent way, made me change my mind. Thanks.

  68. Blake says:

    My condolences to you and your family.

    I believe everyone should be an organ donor.
    No real sense not being one.
    I signed up a few years ago.

  69. thegrinner says:

    My condolences to everyone effected by ‘Alice’s’ death.

    I’ve been an organ donor since I first got my learner’s permit (14 or 15 I believe – Kansas driving laws) and have never regretted that. It’s not something I think about often, but when it does come up it’s good to know that when I do die it might help someone else live. It’s a comforting, if morbid, thought.

  70. Chuk says:

    My condolences.

    Also, my four year old daughter got a kidney transplant from someone who had let his family know he wanted to donate. Got her off dialysis and made a *huge* difference in the quality of her life — she was immediately (like a day post-surgery) up and more active than we’d ever seen her, and 8 years later it’s still keeping her alive. I know it is probably only a small condolence but it is a huge huge big thing to any families with organ recipients.

  71. AGrey says:

    The state of Illinois automatically lists you as a donor when you get a driver’s license or state ID (basically: a form of ID with the same power as a license, but it doesn’t let you drive)

    when you get your ID or license, you are given a quick little blurb that basically amounts to “If you don’t want to be a donor, say so now. No objections? good.”

    note that if you are registered under this system (which started in 2006, I think, so there are still quite a few who aren’t) it is not subject to family consent.

  72. LanceWithAbee says:

    Heather and family,
    I’m very sorry to hear about your loss. Many people will never know the woman behind the donation, and that will be our loss. We only see the results of her final gift to the world. Be at peace.

    I have been a frequent blood donor for years. As the result of low key advocacy I have already signed up to be an organ donor when I am done with this body and registered for the bone marrow donor list. It was probably not your mother who led me to make those decisions, but it was someone like her. Someone who would never know it they had succeeded in their outreach, but did it anyway.

  73. Noble Bear says:

    my mom died a few years back from v-tach so i can appreciate and sympathize. cry when you need to, laugh when you can. Come back when you’re ready.

  74. Angie says:

    I’m so sorry. [hugz]


  75. JP says:

    Sorry for you and your wife’s loss, Shamus. Please, do what you need to do with your family. We’ll be around when your ready to come back.


  76. John Callaghan says:

    My sympathies.

  77. Tom says:

    My mother (57, prime of her life, etc) had an aneurysm just 2 months ago. It was a major bleed and the doctor said the best case scenario would be as though she had a major stroke. Two months later, through sheer luck, she is wide-awake, and has only weakness in her left side. She’s in rehab and slowly getting back to walking. She briefly forgot how to tell the time on analog clocks, but she seems to be 90% there, mentally. It was a massive shock, and her recovery is pretty much the other side of the random coin toss that your mother-in-law lost. I agree with you that this is one of the most mind-numbing, frighteningly random afflictions. All my condolences to you.

  78. Vanykrye says:

    So sorry for your family’s loss. Come back to the website when you get around to it and are ready to do so. We’ll still be here.

    1. Shamus says:

      Thanks so much everyone.

      Not to worry. We miss mom, but there have been many moments of small comfort and time with loved ones to take the edge off. We’re doing fine here.

      Steve Ferkau: Wow. Brilliant story. Thanks for telling us about Kari. Hope you get years more enjoyment out of those lungs.

  79. Halokon says:

    Condolences Shamus, and to the family.

    My uncle died of an aneurysm about 5 years ago. The worst of it is there’s no warning. It just happens and then they’re gone. Unfortunately when my uncle died, he left his newly born daughter and wife. He was a great man, humble and a hard worker, always willing to lend a hand to anyone who needed it and it’s the most painful way of losing someone. When it’s a protracted battle with cancer, it’s easier to deal with, but sudden deaths are the worst.

    I hope you and everyone else at Castle Shamus come to terms with the loss and know that at least someone else will enjoy a good life thanks to her. Perhaps many more will learn from her good example…

  80. Brendan says:

    Sorry to hear about your loss, Shamus.

    A really good friend of mine died of an aneurysm two days after giving birth to her son. She had been showing signs for months that something was wrong, but her doctor was an idiot.

    The (unfortunately) many experiences I’ve had like that have taught me that life is very, very fragile. Make the most of it – have fun and make the people around you happy.

    Thank you for creating a place where we can all come together and be entertained/be a community. Your Nintendo playing ways led you here…


  81. Sec says:

    That story motivated me to finally get and fill out an organ donor card. It now rests in my purse and hope it will do any good in case something happens to me.

    Aside from that, my condolences.

  82. PurpleKoopa says:

    Our condolences and prayers go out to you and your family.

  83. AndrewNZachsDad says:

    Thanks for sharing, Shamus. I, too, would like to pass my condolences on to you, your fair wife, and the rest of your family. Unless I completely missed the timing, it seems to me that everyone was fortunate enough to have Alice at the wedding a few weeks back.
    I have to say that one of the reasons I have enjoyed your blog (besides your wicked sense of humour) is that you have given us a glimpse into the life of a well-balanced nerd – that is, a man who embraces his nerdiness and still manages to have a beautiful family and solid friendships. Back when I first came across your campaign notes and DMotR I was impressed that your family and friends were so closely involved in your little project. To date, I still love to see comments from your wife, brother, and (per comment 28) your mom. Thanks for giving this far-flung tribe of nerds a place that almost feels like home. We are all with you in this time of sorrow.
    Heather, God bless. Please accept our prayers.

  84. Fusilier says:

    I’m donating everything, whether to those in need or Science I don’t care, as long as it’s to some beneficial use. It seems such a waste not to. My father is highly against it, which pretty much describes the kind of person he is.

    I’m incredibly sorry for your loss. I’m glad that she can now partake in something she felt so strongly for.

  85. ThaneofFife says:

    Shamus, very sorry for your loss. Best wishes to you and your family,

  86. Jason B. says:

    Shamus, never apologize for something like this. Thank you for sharing an important part of your life with us.
    Prayers to you and yours.

  87. Mike says:

    My condolences

  88. Kaeltik says:

    My condolences.

    I am an organ donor, from a family of organ donors, and married to an organ donor. Organ donation is an expression of love and hope. Simple as that.

    Your mother in law sounds like a wonderful woman. Thank you for her story and yours.

  89. mookers says:

    Shamus, thank you for sharing this story. This blog is so much more than just a place for gaming and geekery. You touch the lives of many people with your writing, and quite possibly make us all a little bit more thoughtful and wise in the process.

    Sympathies to you and your family. I think Alice has left a wonderful legacy.

  90. Johannes says:

    My condoleances, Shamus.

  91. Sandrinnad says:

    I am so, so sorry. My deepest condolences to you and your family.

  92. Dragonbane says:

    True miracles never happen the way you expect them to, or even really want them to sometimes.

  93. Cuthalion says:

    My condolences. God bless. I’ll pray for you all right now.

    And yes, I’ve been an organ donor since they asked me when I got my learner’s permit a few years back. After a long, protracted crawl toward actually getting a real license, I got mine a few months ago (aged 19), years older than most nowadays. It’s good to know that even if I never manage to save a life or (indirectly) a soul during my lifetime, I’ll hopefully be able to do so through my death if my organs are still any good by then.

    Thanks for the moving blog post. Your activism is forgiven.

  94. MightyDuXXX says:

    I never thought about that subject. But after reading this, I ordered 100 organ donor cards.

    The other 99 will be distributed to friends, family and colleagues, when the occasion arises.

    Thanks for the tip.

  95. Mrc says:

    I’m very sorry, Shamus.

    This reminds me of my father. He had cancer when I was about four years old. He still lives (thankgod!) but at the time everyone was sure he would die. My little brother and I didn’t know a thing, and as we visited him regularly with our self-drawn pictures we just thought he would come home very soon, that he was staying in this hospital because he had a cold or something. I’m so glad I was just four at the time, because if I had been older, I wouldn’t know what I would’ve done.
    I’m also very glad it wasn’t something as random as an aneurysm, because that just makes it so much more pointless, and frightening. To look at a beloved one and realise that that could happen to anyone alive.

  96. Mike says:

    I am also sorry,it is tough in general to lose someone close. It’s somehow better and worse to do so unexpectedly.
    My deepest sympathies.

  97. A Reader says:

    My condolences.

  98. Chris Arndt says:

    my condolences.

    hm. loss.

  99. Andrew says:

    Sorry for your loss.

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