James & I felt driven, compelled, eager to go to our Ashley's funeral. We knew she was LuLu's Angel. We went early, before anyone had arrived and planned to be voyeurs as this isn't the right venue for meeting a donors family. We felt privileged to be able to pay our respects to the beautiful girl who gave LuLu life and to hang on every word spoken about her short but full 12 years on Earth. We spent the most sacred 30 minutes of our lives alone with Ashley before the viewing was to begin. Never could anything be as humbling as standing before a lifeless body that breathed life into your own. LuLu was a NEW girl almost instantly (within days) of receiving her new, pink, clean, beautiful liver.
Grief meets Gratitude. I wanted so badly to change this, I wanted for her to be alive, awake, well. I wanted so badly to give her back to her Mum and Daddy. We would have continued on our unyielding path of living donation. But all our wishes don't come true, this one-so unfortunately never will. As we were about to leave the room we were greeted by the Bishop. He must have had his eye on us from the hall. He knew there was a connection to Ashley that we wouldn't easily give up. He first asked if we were family. "No," I said behind my tears. He asked if we were friends of her family. I couldn't lie to a Bishop so I again said "No, we are just here to pay our respects." He then asked where we were from, not recognizing us from Vernal, a small, rural Utah town. We said Salt Lake, Murray actually. He then said he use to live in Murray too. Right then I could see my old friend Rusty in his face and had a vague memory of his parents moving to Vernal after his high school graduation. My world gets smaller everyday. He then asked for a third time why we drove all this way to Ashley's funeral if we didn't know her.
James and I made eye contact, reading each others minds..."what do we do? what do we say?" I felt like I'd been caught red handed. I wanted to run into the chapel where we planned to sit quietly on the back row. But instead I softly whispered (though no one else was in the room) that we think our baby was a recipient of Ashley's liver. He started crying- a tender man he is, hugging both James and I. Thanking us for being there. It felt so unnatural to be thanked for anything, when we were the ones who took so our daughter could live. He excitedly asked if we had met her mother yet. "No...no...no. Not here. Not today." I started feeling panicked. He said we had to meet her, she would want to meet us.
Before I could say no again and tuck out of the viewing room undetected, I was being introduced to Ashley's aunt and uncle who too started crying when Bishop Bentley told them who we were. They hugged us and again thanked us for being there, for coming to Ashleys funeral. Not a minute later Ashley's Mum walked in, we were introduced and before I could passout, hyperventilate or throw-up...I was in her arms, being held up by her. Crying together now holding eachother up. She congratulated me, couldn't wait another second to know how MY baby was doing. My head was spinning, was this real life? We couldn't let go of each other, our conversation taking place softly in each others ear while we were hugging, still crying. We started to be surrounded by many people as we stood embracing a foot away from Ashley's beautiful body. Before long James and I had been introduced to the entire, BIG, wonderful family. This was unreal. I couldn't believe this was happening. It was like a dream. A strange dream you could never imagine IS actually your reality. Thought I had to wake up...any second now, but I didn't and this day was as idyllic as any child's funeral could be. Happy, upbeat, a celebration of her life. Rejoicing much in the gifts of life she gave to so many, our Lucky LULU being just one of them.
We could feel the same spirit in this room, this day as I did the preceding days in the hospital. Ashley walked the long walk by my side to take LuLu to the OR. She stayed with LuLu to watch over her while she was given a second chance at life. She dwelt with us in the waiting room, the mood made lighter because of her. She was there when we gave London hip-hip-hoorays after being told what a success the surgery was, how strong she had been. She cheered with us, I'm just sure of it. She was with LuLy when we were able to finally greet her 12 hours after surgery began. London was NEVER alone, I know it. Ashley continues to be everywhere. I see her in London's eyes.
....or dogs. Ashley loved horses, was passionate about horses. She dreamed of having her own one day. Now I'm sure she has many. Hopefully more than she knows what to do with.
I said everything I needed and wanted to say to our Ashley. I am so lucky to have been afforded this rare opportunity. I placed a beautiful hand made paper flower in her casket. My sweet cousin Emmy gave me 2, just minutes after I left LuLu in the OR for her transplant. She was ray of sunshine in a dark moment for me. LuLu has the other flower, in safe keeping. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought how symbolic and special those two flowers made by a 12-year-old toe head would be.
James always knows what to do. Even though I've never needed or wanted privacy from him, he stood back for a bit as I stroked Ashley's long, thick hair. Thinking to myself this is what London's hair will be like one day. As I gently ran my finger from her forehead to the tip of her nose repeatedly, I thought about all the times I'll be able to touch LuLu's precious nose. I touched her cheeks, kissed them. Held her hand, lovingly squeezed her arm, alarmed by the coldness of her body. I wanted to warm her, that's the Mum in me. Actually I wanted to hold her in my arms, sing her our song and tell her that "Every little thing is going to be alright." But it's not because our world isn't quite as good as it was when this girl was in it. I touched her tummy many times where her liver would have been had in not been gifted to LuLu by her parents. They both knew it was what she would have wanted.
Double click on the above letter to really get a sense of who Ashley Maynard was or shall I say is, because she does live on in spirit and physiologically in LuLu and four others. So full of kindness, this girl. So much compassion in her 12-year-young body, it gives me chills just thinking about her and the first of many times I read this precious letter from a classmate. I feel proud London has a little (but vital) piece of Ashley in her.
Two proud Dads. Ashley was William's only child and his world to say the least. A sad day for both Papas but we won't even begin to think we have any idea of the grief mourning parents feel forever.
The first thing Will asked me in his awesome NYC accent was "how old is your baby?" I replied 1. He countered with "is she 14 months?" I accepted after thinking of what day and month and year we were in. "Yes, she is 14 months." Thought it odd...until he said that he was told Ashley's left lobe of her liver went to a 14 month old female in Utah. Little did we know that we were under the same roof for so many agonizing hours. His next question was "How is she doing? How is Ashley's liver working?" I told him beautifully.
Might be ONE of my favorite pictures of her. Reminds me of my childhood on all the neighbors tramps. Isn't she the most beautiful girl you have ever seen?
Ashley's maternal Grandpa, who lost his wife a few months ago and the dear mother of my LuLu's liver, Camille. If you enlarge the picture you can see the necklace I was able to give her. An "A" pendant with a heart charm. We both have one for Ashley and wear them everyday. I added it to my "L" and "J" that I've worn around my neck for exactly a year. I've never met such an incredible woman. I can see where Ashley gets it.
Ironically my Mum's two brothers owned a horse named COOKIE together for 20 some odd years until she passed away just a few years ago. I picture our family horse greeting Ashley into heaven standing next to God, Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Mum, just itching for her to get on for a ride. That is Heaven, whatever we need it to be.
LuLu sent her love and was there in my heart.
Our gifts were intended to be left behind with a letter but after meeting like we did- were able to give them personally.
Daddy, Auntie and Uncle. The same 3 who were pictured on her Tribune article about the families wishes to share Ashley's life with others.
I kept thinking of the confusion for Ashley's sisters, especially Abigail and Sammy (younger) I had my eyes on her through the whole graveside service.
James with his hospital wrist band on-the same color her parents wore for 8 days while at PCMC. Saying goodbye to Ashley, til we meet again.
I was lucky enough to have been gifted this button. Ashley's oldest cousin took it off his shirt and so lovingly gave it to me.
And this is what was waiting for us back in Salt Lake. Wow, we are rich beyond measure. I could write a book about this single day in my life and then a really BIG one about the last year of our life. Many details so dear to my heart, the feelings indescribable. I hung onto every word spoken that day, took notes as I sat on the front pew, upon her MuM's insistance-never wanting to forget any detail spoken about our Ashley. I felt of God's goodness this day, of his love for Ashley and her family. For me and mine. It's taken me a whole year to really understand what's gone on and why, to feel complete peace again and to see the many blessings this trial has brought into our lives. I wont' even call it a trial any more because the hardest is behind us but not to be forgotten. It's just a beautiful, amazing, bright road ahead of us. Thank you Ashley from the bottom of my heart and from the bottom of LuLu's liver.
All my love to you, little sweet LuLu with a half Italian liver. Brave, strong, warrior baby of MINE. Thank you for making me brav-er, strong-er and a titch-bit more warrior-like. Every minute with you and Jonah is such a blessing to me and your Da-Da.
Lizzie. Alpha-1, Liver Mum