This is how a heart breaks

The beating of a heart

I sit next to the man in whose chest my daughter’s heart beats

What is a heart?

Is it a symbol of love, the place where our deepest feelings lay, the source of our humanity? And what makes a heart break?

The heart is a muscle pulsing with life. It is, along with the brain, an important part of what makes us intrinsically human. In the hospital, it is the state of the heart and the brain that determines if we are considered truly alive … or not.

Ava’s heart… The heart of my dearest darling daughter continued to beat after – long after – her brain had shut down. Her beautiful, strong, and loving heart beat continuously and determinedly, and was placed in the chest of a sweet man whose own heart had failed him: Jerry Finzer.

Ava’s heart… Ava’s youthful, strong heart allowed this fine man to see the country with his loving wife Laurie. It allowed him to enjoy years of love, laughter, travel, and companionship. And Jerry, in turn, loved his heart. He loved the young lady he had never met, yet who had so generously given of herself. He carried her picture with him everywhere he went and shared her story with everyone he met. He literally took Ava’s heart to places she’d never been. And she gave him days, months, and years he would not otherwise have had.

I lay my ear against Jerry’s chest and heard the strong, steady beat of my Ava’s heart. We laughed, and we cried together – Jerry, Laurie, and I. And Ava too… she was with us, declaring life and love with every beat.

Ava’s heart… Her heart never faltered. But Jerry’s body had other struggles. He fought them valiantly, determined to live and love on – for his beloved Laurie, and for Ava, whom he knew was fighting for his life with every beat of “their” heart.

Ava’s heart was a lion’s heart: powerful, willing, strong, and full of love. Ava’s heart, and Jerry’s life, came to an end recently. That loving beat is no more… and that loving man has joined her spirit in the wider universe.

And now, my heart breaks… yet again.


PabloI have, to this point, had a very full life.

I have enjoyed wonderful high points, and have suffered irreparable losses.

I’ve been blessed to have a loving family, incredible parents who became my best friends, a terrific brother, a beautiful and brilliant daughter who was the shining star of my adulthood, and people around me who love me deeply.

I have reinvented myself many times. I have been a waitress and a restaurant manager, sold and serviced microelectronics, and managed test vehicles for a major manufacturer. I have been a homemaker, bookkeeper, newspaper editor, and now I am a technical writer. I have never made a lot of money, but over the years I’ve managed to carve out a comfortable life.

I have been dropped – or have leapt – from some incredible heights. Yet somehow, I’ve always managed to land, albeit bruised and shaken, on my feet.

I was wounded by the loss of both of my parents, and then my beautiful daughter. I lost a husband to drugs. I lost many others to life’s uncertainties.

Since I was a young girl, all I really wanted was a loving husband and family. Though I strove, I was not able to achieve these things as a younger woman. Heartbreak after heartbreak, the final blow was the death of my daughter. I thought I was through.

But I am not through.

I have managed, through both determination and fortune, to patch together a new family. I now have three wonderful daughters and another one coming soon, through the blessing that is adoption. I have finally found – actually, he found me – the love of my life. He is my best friend and partner, and joining with me to knit this family tighter. Sometimes the patchwork quilt is stronger than the original cloth….

Some have said I like chaos. They couldn’t be more wrong. I enjoy an orderly life and require a tidy home. While it is true that occasionally I bite off more than is comfortable to chew, I always manage to get it down.

Life is short. I knew this at 18 when I said that I intended to pack my brief 80 or so years (if I’m lucky enough to live that long) as full as possible. And I do. I pack each day as full as I can. Perhaps that is what some people mistake as a love of chaos. No, my friends, it is merely a love of life – there’s just too much out there I want to do, and not enough time in my short years on this planet to get it all done. Busy, yes. Chaos, absolutely not.

From this full, tumultuous life, I have grown exponentially. I am deeply grateful for my family and friends; those people who have continued to believe in me and remain my friends throughout my evolutions.

And the journey continues….

Grief leaves a mark

My daughter Ava at 16

My daughter Ava at 16

Life continues. Time moves forward inexorably. We age. Grief ages too.

As I pass through what would have been your 24th birthday, my dear departed daughter, I can only imagine who you might have been, and where your beautiful spirit and essence are now. And although the pain of my loss never leaves me, I have found a way to deal with it daily. I keep it in a beautifully carved and bejeweled box in the hole in my heart. I know it is there, and I gaze at it often. Rarely now, however, do I need to open the box and spill out the contents.

Sometimes the contents spills of its own accord, of course. The box is not locked, nor do I want it to be. Sometimes the missing piece that is you aches so badly…. The pain escapes, filling my heart and mind completely and shutting out everything else. The blind agony of grief still visits me, just not quite as often.

And life continues. As I promised my Ava after she left me, I am trying my best to be happy. And year by year, month by month, day by day I am keeping that promise.

I look in the mirror now, nearly five and a half years later, and see a much older woman. I see a face transformed from the one you last saw. I see the lines and wear that grief – and time – have wrought. In spite of my increasing capacity for joy, my grief is etched permanently in and around my eyes, in the set of my jaw, the tilt of my head. I’m different; I am changed by both time and loss.

The transformation is more than superficial, however. I am a deeper, more loving woman. I have broadened my home and heart to include three, soon to be four daughters, who through no fault of their own have lost their parents. These girls give my life renewed purpose, challenges – and laughter! I now have a future again, albeit vastly different than I ever imagined.

Life continues. My family grows. And through all these changes, I am learning how to truly love. Ava, you lead the way, and my heart follows.

Five years ago today

Arizona onyx headstoneFive years ago today…

Five years ago, at 7:30 a.m., I hugged my daughter and told her to drive safely.

“Ok Mom. See you at lunch time!”

Five years ago, at 11:00 a.m., two DPS officers came to my work with “something important to talk to me about, regarding my daughter.”

Five years ago, at 11:30 a.m., my friend was driving me the hour-plus drive to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix.

Five years ago, at 1 p.m., we arrived, but I wasn’t allowed to see my daughter immediately.

I had to wait….  I only knew she was in “extremely critical condition.”

Five years ago, after what seemed like an eternity, the doctor and two aides took me into a small room to tell me that my only child and the joy of my life had irreparable brain damage and a severed spine.

Five years ago today, life as I knew it ended.


Today, the pain is no less. I have simply learned how to live with it. Anniversaries make it harder, somehow. I relive that day to some extent every day, but on the anniversary of the accident, my heart breaks all over again. I miss her so.


I love you, baby….



Donate blood, donate life

The beating of a heart

I sit next to the man in whose chest my daughter’s heart beats

Donate blood lately?

I had the honor, if not pleasure, of donating blood recently when the Red Cross Bloodmobile visited our office complex. While there was a good, steady stream of donors, most people in our building did not participate.

Why? Well, of course there are many reasons people cannot donate, and the questionnaire for donating outlines many of them. People taking certain medications, those who have traveled out of the country to certain places, and people who have had certain illnesses may not donate. However, most healthy folks can – but don’t – donate.

Yes, they stick a needle in your arm. Yes, sometimes it can be a bit uncomfortable. Yes, you can feel a little woozy afterward. Sometimes there are other temporary side effects.

Big deal.

A person needs to weigh at least 110 to be able to donate. My weight is just above that “legal” limit. I have naturally low blood pressure, and with other minor complications, it often takes much longer for me to produce the needed amount of blood. While some donors take a matter of a few minutes, I’m usually there for half an hour or more. I faint easily, so have to be very careful for a couple of hours after I donate. I often feel light-headed and occasionally nauseated afterward. The needle site often bruises, regardless of how careful the phlebotomist is. Donating blood is not exactly a pleasant experience for me.

I donate every chance I get.  

We’ve all heard how giving blood saves lives. It does. If you are ever in need, you will wish you had donated. Daily, many people are in hospitals in need of blood. Some die without it. By donating, you really can save lives.

When my daughter lay dying in the hospital, it was donated blood products that kept her alive long enough so that she could donate in turn. She donated her heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, and pancreas to five people, enabling each of them to live a longer life. She died, but five people are alive today because of her – and because of the people who donated blood for her.

Donating blood is the least I can do. I do it several times each year… and one day I will donate my organs too, to possibly save even more lives.

No excuses. Donate life!