On Saturday the 6th of July, we got up really early to visit some friends of mine in Lindenhurst, NY. Lindenhurst is along the south shore of Long Island. We got on the Long Island Rail Road from Penn station. It took about an hour.
The first place we went was to my friends the Picciano family. When I was in 8th grade my best friend, who I remained close to even into adulthood, was Nina the eldest child of four. Her parents, Suzie and Dino, were a major support for me in my adolescence. They would have given me anything I needed and would have taken me in as one of their own forever if I had ever needed it. They moved away from my hometown at the beginning of our 9th grade year, but I still visited them in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The last time I had visited them was 8 years ago now, but like old friends that you love with all your heart we just walk in and feel at home.
Their home was damaged very badly but Super Storm Sandy. They were still lacking a kitchen, but we didn’t let that bother us. We cracked open early drinks and headed out in the boat on the water. They also had a jet ski too and we were off to go clamming. Off the South shore there are these shallow watered areas and they just hook their boats together with their friends then anchor in and they quickly hop off digging their toes in the sand looking for clams. I found one or two and John found a few more. Nina’s little brother Julian was there and took John and I out separately on the jet ski taking it to full speed. I have never been brave enough to try one. For some reason I trusted this kid, who I’ve known since he was about 6 or so, to take me out on the water. I had a blast and neither John nor myself have really let that one sink in and admit that I really did it.
I wasn’t there but for a few hours, but I could have stayed a year. With our skin we didn’t have any business being out there long, but we adore them and it was hard to leave. Being with the Picciano family is a comfort like no other to me. Luckily, we know they wont mind and we’ll be back to visit them with the kids. It’s all too wonderful and I adore them. Dino drove John and I back to the house on the jet ski. We were soaked and we had a blast, but I had some other business to attend to on this trip.
The next part of our day is honestly hard to write about. I’m afraid I will sum it up too short or go on too long. It’s a story worthy of a book and yet it’s supposed to fit here on my blog. So I will do the very best that I can to say it right and make it short. I promise to revisit this story, but for now it’s too emotional and I don’t have the time or energy to embrace it.
As many of you know, my sweet aunt Peggy passed away in November of 2010. She was 38, married with three boys. She wasn’t really an aunt she was more like a cousin since we were so close in age. She died very suddenly of a brain aneurysm spreading shock among the family. I traveled with my sister Summer to bring my mother four hours away to be by her baby sisters’ side. There were over ten family members there with her that day. We waited hours to hear if there was any brain activity and sadly there was not. I remember sitting with my grandmother who was sick with grief and hope. I distinctly remember holding her in the waiting room; my arms were wrapped around her, but not squeezing her tight. I had already lifted this day up to God, because I knew that it was out of all of our hands and that God would take care of my sweet aunt. All I could do for my grandmother in that moment was pray. That’s all I could do. I prayed for God to give her strength in what was ahead for her more than anyone to get through this. I said all of these prayers in my head and just held her. My grandmother turned to me a moment later and said, “Thank you for that.” I know she wasn’t talking about holding her… we both knew it.
Once we reached the 6 hour mark of no brain activity… I think it was six. They pulled us into a conference room. We were very quickly told that there was no activity showing up and we were greeted by an organ donation representative. They went over the details. We paced… we cried… we prayed and my uncle, her husband, basically did a vote. We were either all in or not in at all. We went around the biggest table I think I’ve ever been seated to… all sharing our thoughts and our vote. As we worked our way around the table my grandmother sealed the deal when she said, “We should do it. That’s what Peggy would have wanted.” So with the amazing leadership of my aunts grieving husband we went all in and upped the ante on someone else’s life.
So what in the world does this have to do with our vacation…. We chose, as a family, to do an open donation. This means that we have the willingness as a group to contact and be contacted by the persons who live on with the love and hope given by our precious Peggy. Shortly after the donations went through, we all received word of the donations and then my uncle was contacted by a man named Vito. Vito is the man that was so ill that without a new heart he could not go on living. He had about two days before his heart was expected to give out when hope rang in from his angel. God works in ways we will never understand and I try not to question it, because I often end up puzzled and answerless. Last year we met Vito. He and his wife Margaret came to us this exact week last year. So this year I was already going to the town of Lindenhurst to visit my fabulous friends the Piccianos and, as luck would have it, Vito and Margaret only live about 5 minutes of a drive away.
So after my time in the water getting soaking wet on a jet ski, I was picked up by Vito and taken to his home. I was greeted by an assortment of friends and extended family. We spent the evening together chatting, eating, joking to take the edge off, and some serious talk about how that day happened, my memories of my wonderful aunt, and our road towards healing. Meeting his daughter and grand daughters was probably the most moving moment for me. All you have to do is see it in their eyes…. just look in their eyes. They don’t have to say a thing.
It’s hard. I wont lie. I would give anything to have my aunt back, but that’s not going to happen and wasn’t whether or not we had upped the ante. Meeting his family and knowing him reminds me of what a wonderful person we lost and reminds me that if I question it I will come up empty answered.
May God continue to bless our two families in our friendship and bond that we now have for things we can’t answer and certainly can’t explain. As my grandmother said, “It’s what Peggy would have wanted.” May we continue to seek peace and healing through the hand we were dealt. May you put that heart symbol on your driver’s license and be ready and willing to up the ante when and if the time comes.