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Life can turn on a dime. It can go from the mundane to the macabre in the blink of eye. One minute you’re making macaroni salad and the next you’re visualizing your own painful, gory death. It doesn’t take much. A close call with the edge of a carpet, or a dozy driver who’s crossed the centre line will do.
In my case it was a slim white envelope and, voila, funeral plans were in the works.
One night last week, my husband came home from work and, as per his routine, he handed me the mail. While Mark absorbed the disappointment of the unmistakable aroma of tuna in the air, I absorbed the shock of opening the envelope and gazing upon my drivers’ licence photograph. As is so frequently the case with camera readiness for official documentation, I was not at my best the day I realized my licence was about to expire.
Included with my new licence was a Trillium Gift of Life Organ Donor Consent Form. Hadn’t I done this before? Apparently the boxes needed to be checked-off again—to confirm that I’m still OK with my organs being scattered to the four winds should I breathe my last in such a way as to make harvesting them feasible.
And if thinking of one’s insides as a crop to be harvested isn’t bad enough, the form reminded me that dying peacefully and non-violently—as I hope to do—is actually quite selfish. These gifts of life will only be given if tragedy strikes—leaving me with one foot in this world and one in the next. Do I need any more reasons than I already have to indulge in morbid thoughts about being mangled in a car accident? Isn’t driving Highway 401 on a regular basis enough?
Anyway, I took a deep breath and filled out the form:
Liver... check. Kidneys... no problem, why not take two. Pancreas... I don’t even know what it does, but consider it yours. Heart... take it if you can get it, it’s a good one. Eyes... eyes.... going once, going twice...
This is when I got squeamish. Try as I might, I couldn’t check this box. I drew an organ sharing line in the sand, along with, as I learned this week, 10% of other donors to the Trillium Gift of Life Network who have also excluded their eyes.
“You are to spare no expense!” This is the funeral edict I’ve given my husband, should I be the first one to leave the stage. Go ahead, call me selfish—call it a waste of money—I don’t care. I got married in style and I want to be buried in style.
I want people to mourn me on a broad emotional spectrum—crying one minute and laughing the next—while comfortably-seated on down-filled sofas, eating crustless sandwiches and Nanaimo squares. I want them to talk for days afterward, saying, “Was that casket mahogany or walnut?” and “Didn’t she look good” even though I’ll be dead, and “Wasn’t the Bishop’s sermon moving,” and “What a nuisance it was to find parking near the cathedral!”
Mark also knows that, if I’m in good shape, I want an open casket. I’ve taken comfort in funeral rites, including viewings, and I want my family to have that same comfort. But what about this eyelessness business? I can’t imagine removing them will help me look my best. A bad drivers’ licence photo is one thing, my final public appearance is quite another.
As I ate dinner with my family, trying to feign interest in that evening’s small talk, a roaring freight train of thought had derailed inside my head. All the while I was wondering what—should I choose to donate them—might be stuffed into my face to give my eyes a nice, rounded shape when I’m dead. Will it be cotton balls or jawbreakers?
The windows to my soul, or at least their corneas, could give a fellow traveler on this earth the gift of sight, but I was busy scanning the kitchen for foreign objects that might make good socket-fillers. I may never look at hard-boiled eggs or melon balls the same way again.
Given all the ghastly “What if’s?” running through my mind, after dinner I ran straight for the Internet. Surely, I thought, I’m not the first person to fret about post-mortem prettiness. Thankfully, the Eye Bank Association of America addresses this very dilemma on its website, promising that “Great care is taken to preserve the donor’s appearance...funeral arrangements, including a viewing, if desired, may proceed as scheduled.”
I still don’t know all the gory details, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to. This assurance, however, was good enough for me—my big-ticket funeral was back on and that’s what really mattered.
I went back to the consent form and dealt with the last remaining box: Eyes... big, brown, people say they’re nice... check!
To register, or to confirm your status, with the Trillium Gift of Life Network visit www.BeADonor.ca.