Let’s face it, February is not the most pleasant month of the year. Twenty-eight or twenty-nine days of dark, cold weather does not lift the spirits and is capped off by the celebration of a holiday for lovers, leaving those who have no such significant other to feel lonely and depressed.
Personally speaking, February and I have a love/hate relationship. There is no other month that makes me feel as lonely, guilty or depressed as February does. Somehow it doesn’t seem to matter if I realise February is approaching or not. When it does arrive, I feel it, and once previously bright spirits seem to sink like a stone. However, there is also no other month that makes me more thankful for my friends and family, and for my life in general.
And it all revolves around Valentine’s Day.
February 13, 1988 is the stuff of family legend. Having finally arrived home after another hospital stay due to complications of liver failure, my family and I settled down to watch the opening ceremonies of the Calgary Olympics. Then the phone rang.
What follows is unclear, my sister remembers answering the phone but so does my mother. But whoever did answer the result was the same, they had a liver for me at last. I was five years old at the time, and in the final stages of liver failure. Without a liver transplant, doctors agreed I would not live to see my next birthday in November.
The rest of the story is equally fuzzy, my sister remembers our dad telling us they had found a liver and both of us crying. I don’t remember being told or dropping my sister off at a neighbours’ house for my grandparents to pick up. I seem to remember being in the car when we arrived in Toronto, and looking up into the sky to see a starry night. (Although who can see stars in downtown Toronto at night?)
My next memory is of being rushing into the operating room, but I’m told I walked calmly to the operating room with my transplant co-ordinator. I don’t even remember having to say good-bye to my parents before going to sugery.
When I tell it, the story is full of holes and made up memories because I was only five at the time, and not in the best of health. Still, the result is the same. After midnight on February 14th, 1988, I received a new liver and a renewed chance at life.
But that is only one of two stories important in this legend. The other is of a little boy who died unexpectedly, and of parents who decided to try to bring some good out of their disconsolate situation. I wish I knew that story in greater detail, because it forever connects me with incredible people I have never met.
And so, every February, I grieve and celebrate. I mourn for the loss of a little boy who never had the chance to grow up. I feel guilty that he died and I did not, even though I was the sick one. I wonder if he would approve of the the life I am living with his liver. And I feel lonely when I think I will never know this person who is such an intimate part of me.
My family and I refer to Valentine’s Day as my 2nd birthday, and celebrate it every year. This Valentines Day marks the 20th anniversary of my liver transplant, and my new liver (I suppose not so new anymore) is still going strong. For me, Valentines Day is not about whether I have a significant other or not, it is about thanking God for my donor and his family’s gift, and for celebrating the love of friends, family and life I would not have known without it.