It was a Thursday night. I was getting ready for bed, under the assumption that I was going to get up at 5 am and head for work like any other day. Like I had that day. Then, Lynn called upstairs. "Rick! Get dressed and come down, now!"
A chill went through me. The first thing I thought of was; Emily. Something's happened to Emily.
We quickly decided to take two cars, in case one of us had to camp out while the other came home, for whatever reason. I prayed the whole ride, while keeping one eye on the rear view mirror, because the Blazer Lynn was driving has some issues and I didn't want to lose sight of her.
There are three stages, it would seem. There's the initial shock, when you're getting and absorbing all the information. Then there's The Long Slog, when you're waiting for the inevitable. Finally, there's The Long Slog 2.0, in which you get the past completed and start moving on.
Have you ever been in a room full of mourning teenagers? It would almost be amusing to observe if you weren't going through it with them. They don't know what to say, or what to do. Then again, they're never supposed to. Their friends aren't supposed to be lying there like that. What has happened is supposed to happen to their great grandparents. It's supposed to be expected. It's not supposed to be one of them.
When we went to Lisbon to pick up the car, I could see it all. The car was parked in a little lot up on a hill. Coming down the hill, I could see across the river at the town hall and fire station. She'd gone there to visit friends. She got the urge to go out on her long board and cruise around the parking lot.
Did you know that they ask you to write something down, that they can then read in the OR when they do the organ transfers? They actually read it out loud before they start. I don't know if anyone but Dartmouth/Hitchcock does that, but I think it's an incredibly generous thing to do. It keeps it from becoming just another job, where you disassemble a broken thing to repair other broken things. I don't remember exactly what Lynn wrote, but it was perfect and I had nothing to add to it.
We're both proud and humbled by the fact that, entirely on her own, Emily chose to check the 'organ donor' box on her driver's license. We both had done so ever since the option was available. So far, five people have benefitted from receiving both of her kidneys, her liver, her pancreas, and her heart.
I have seen the hand of God everywhere, throughout this whole agonizing process. I've felt it on my shoulder, and felt His warm embrace holding me up with I could not stand on my own. When we finally meet face to face, I plan to sit down and ask Him about this whole thing. I respect His opinions and decisions, most definitely, but I do have some questions. I believe that He is active in this world, but not necessarily that everything that happens is His doing. I also believe that He grants us free will.
I firmly believe that He knew what was coming. He saw it when she walked out her friend's door and grabbed her board. He knew what was going to happen when that man got into his pickup to drive home. He knew it when she was born, and when the man in the truck was born. I'm sure that during some battle between the Phoenicians and some warlord millennia ago, somewhere in the back of His mind, He was aware of how many days it would be before Emily Sharon Clogston would zig when she should zag.
But I don't know if He planned it; if, somehow, it was something He wanted. There might be a thousand reasons for Him to want that. I certainly hope the five people who received her organs are grateful to Him. Some people are talking about it as if He did it on a whim, like He wanted another soprano in the choir, or somebody to show Him a move on that board. Or, to spare her from something that would suck even worse than getting hit by a pickup. They take comfort in that, and I'm cool with that. Heck, it's a possibility. Just because He sees all of time and space doesn't mean He can't improvise.
The burning question in the back of my mind from that first moment has been; did she know the Lord? Oddly, I find that I have a peace with that. It was her decision, of course, but I've been getting lots of reminders that she used to come to church with us, insisted on taking communion, had favorite hymns, went to youth group. And the couple that ran that group are pretty sure that she sought a relationship with Jesus. It's a little scary, because the last couple of years she's been backing away from all that. But He would never back away from her. So, I think we'll meet again.
Now, those of you who aren't Christians may be privately rolling your eyes. That's your privilege, of course, but remember; you're betting your life that it doesn't matter.
The outpouring of support has been amazing. Her story made the front page of the Caledonia Record, and a really nice piece it was. I could go on and on about what an incredible person she was. I could also go on about how aggravating she could sometimes be, but it's all consistent with the fact that she worked very had to be as unique as she could be.
At one point, she was determined to become a veterinarian. She always loved animals. The cats in our house were all hers. A few of them would not have survived as long as they did without her. I can remember her diving into the shrubbery in front of the church, through all the stickers and cobwebs and everything, to fish out a scared and starving kitten. We named him Junie, after the juniper bushes she crawled through to get him.
When she was little, she wanted to be one of the mermaids at Weeki Watchee Springs in Florida. She couldn't have been more than 5 or 6 when we went down there to visit family, and she just thought that was the coolest thing ever. She loved swimming and just hanging out in the water. Lots of people have been sharing lots of Emily stories, and they always bring a smile. I suppose any time someone that young dies it affects a lot of people. When it's someone in their 80's or 90's, most of the people they know are already gone and it comes down to family. There are so many more people in your life when you're 18.
Even so, it's beginning to appear that Emily Clogston is leaving a big hole behind her in a lot of people's lives. And, happily, just about all of it's positive. If she ever pissed anyone off, it's because she inherited her grandfather's tendency for seeing everyone as equals. Like him, she could talk to the Governor the same way she'd talk to a bum on the street. If you're the bum, it's great. If you're the Governor, however . . . Yeah, she was never real big on people who are real big on themselves. In retrospect, Grampa Sonny was probably better at the tact thing.
To some of her friends, she might well have been the only friend they had. Or the first. She hung out with a lot of people that any would consider misfits, and make them feel like they were worth something. Which, of course, they are. But her radar seemed to be tuned to find the one person in the room that had no friends. She understood that, often, those are the most interesting people.
Now, in saying all this nice stuff about Emily, I don't want her siblings to think that we loved her more than them. I have been very fortunate in the fact that all four of my children are incredible people, of whom I am very proud. I certainly can't take much credit for that. I second-guessed every decision I ever made regarding them. And yet, by some miracle, they're all smart, loving, talented, hell, they're even good looking! They get it all from their Moms, of course. Good job, Lynn and Tracey. And, sorry about the quirks they inherited from me.
When we first saw her that Thursday night in the hospital, she looked rough. Blood all over her face. Even when they cleaned her up and took her to Pediatric ICU, her face was all swollen. It took a couple of days for her to really look like herself again. The doctors made it clear from the beginning that there was little to no hope, and they weren't even considering surgery.
They did a profusion test on Friday, in which they injected her with a radioactive dye and gave her an MRI. It showed that there was a minimal flow of blood to her brain. Therefore, they could not officially declare her brain dead. That was an important point, because it presented some options. We could have asked right then that she be taken off life support. She'd have lain there until her heart stopped. The worst thing with going that way would mean some of her organs would not be usable for transplant.
We decided to wait another 48 hours and let them do another profusion. It meant two more days of agonized waiting for the inevitable. On the other hand, it gave us two more days with our daughter, and two more days for her friends and ours to come and pay their respects. And, it would also mean that, when officially declared brain dead, more of her could be used to help others. In the end, it was tough, but it was worth it.
There were times when I'd swear I could almost see her standing there in the room. It was clear that she wasn't too happy about this situation over which she had no control. After a while, I could no longer feel her in the room. Or, maybe she'd just settled down.
On Sunday, they did the second profusion and confirmed that there was now no blood flow to the brain. An operating room would be prepared, and they could harvest her organs. I find that a particularly ugly phrase; harvest her organs. I can only think of a big combine grinding its way through a field of Hammond B-3's. Or some guy in black robes with a scythe.
It turned out that they weren't going to be able to get her into the OR until after 11 pm. Around 9, things started to go awry. Her blood pressure was dropping dramatically, and sitting on the sidelines we could only watch while doctors and nurses hustled in, plugged in new equipment to supplement the regular ICU stuff. And try and make sense of what they were talking about.
At one point, one of them came and explained to me (the only layman in the room, as Lynn's an EMT) that it seemed her body was sick of waiting and was trying to leave before it was time. They did a bunch of stuff and watched a bunch of readouts, and things began to level off again. At one point during a lull in the action, I went around the bed and took her hand. I told her, "I haven't asked you for anything, but it would be a good thing if you would hang on just a little while longer."
I'd gone a few times over the four days and held her hand or brushed her brow. Spoke a few words, maybe. Lots of people that came held her hand, gave her a kiss, talked to her, and that's good that they did. But I knew that she most likely wasn't aware of anything, and there just didn't seem to be any point. I'd be pretending to do something.
After that, things straightened out and she rolled easily across the finish line at almost midnight. I'm certain it had everything to do with the doctors and nothing to do with me, but I just had to talk to her one last time. We watched as they wheeled her out to go to the operating room, and then we came home.
When her brothers were little they cornered me once and asked me point blank which one of them I loved more. As I recall, I laughed. I tried to explain to them that love isn't something I know how to measure. You just love. There's different kinds, in that I love their Mother differently than I love them, or my guitar, or pizza. But no amounts. You love. Actually, I can measure my love for pizza, depending on the toppings. And, I love my kids lots more than pizza. Surely a lot differently.
The service was absolutely one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I hope to never have another like it. My other three, Alex, Tyler, and Cathleen, are all under direct orders to outlive me. They have each promised to do their best. That goes for you, too, Uncle Paige, and all the rest of you cousins and nieces and nephews. And Autumn, and the rest of the extended family that Emily gathered around her. I never realized I had to make such a request, so I recommend your children get the message, and soon. And give them a big hug, too.
One of the interesting blessings in all this is that there's nobody to be mad at. Reports indicate that either she hit the pickup or swerved suddenly into its path. The driver wasn't drunk, just heading home from work. He was a senior NH State Policemen, with EMT training. It happened in front of two buildings full of potential first responders. And I'm certainly not mad at God, because I have a little glimmer of how much He loves Emily, too. Lots more than even I could. Probably about the same as he loves me. It's nice to not have anger gnawing at me. It was about as pure an accident as it could have been. We honestly feel bad for the poor fellow that hit her, and we pray for his comfort.
A number of people have been cornering me lately and asking why I stopped posting on my blog. I had no idea that so many many people were reading it. So, I'll start writing for it again, I suppose. And I'll begin with this. I also mentioned to a few in passing that I was writing this, although I had no idea of what to do with it. They insisted I share it. So, here it is.
Today is three weeks from that accident that took our youngest from us. I've not gone a day of that without thinking about her and crying a little. Liable to be a long time before I stop doing that. No hurry.