Not in the sense that I have a recording and "heard" her -- but rather, I read her words and I heard her.
It was as though she were sitting next to me, reading them herself.
See, back in the winter of 1989, a young girl was born to a family we knew from church. Lauren's heart didn't work, and her prognosis wasn't good: She was born on December 22, and doctors gave her three days to live ... three days before Christmas.
Through some very fortunate circumstances, I was able to help save her life. I was one of just a few folks who had blood she could use, and on New Year's weekend my parents willingly drove me 50 miles each way through an ice storm, into the city, so that I could donate. I think she was one of the youngest heart transplants ever at the time, and miraculously she survived! I still have the local newspaper from then, their family's cover photo on the Algonquin Countryside.
Last spring, Lauren reached out to me -- along with others involved in her now 21 years of life. She's in college now, and was writing a book of her experiences. She wanted to include the stories of those around her, the perspectives of the people who have given her the greatest gifts. I wrote a short piece I've been meaning to write for years and sent it off.
I didn't hear back for a while, and in fact didn't really think about it until I saw Lauren's mom at Mom's service. The book was caught up in editing, but was progressing along -- Mrs. Aggen and I talked for a bit about how difficult the publishing business can be, and how once a work is submitted it becomes "property" that is not always your own. I filed it away that day, more focused on other things.
Fast-forward to last month or so, when another friend of mine -- whose mother is Lauren's godmother -- posted on Facebook that she was reading Lauren's book. Austin's Gift had finally made it to print, and "even though I know what happens," she was reading it with tears in her eyes.
What I didn't know is that Lauren had reached out to my Mom too. In what was probably one of her last bits of creative writing -- the contact from Lauren came just two weeks before my Dad was injured -- my Mom related her side of the story, how they couldn't find me because although I was grounded I had snuck out of the house while they were at a holiday party, and how we were waiting and hoping and praying for a successful outcome at the hospital.
And that's when I heard her. My Mom's voice is there, captured in Lauren's book. Her cadence, her tone -- it's preserved forever. When I read those words, which Lauren combined with mine to re-tell the story of that night, I can hear her again.
But here's the irony: Lauren is deaf. The drugs they administered to keep her alive when she was first born destroyed her auditory nerves. She can't hear, and so never knew my Mom's voice. But through her writing, I can. I never asked, nor never expected, to be repaid in any way for being able to help give Lauren the gift of life so many years ago. But that's exactly what she's done, repaying me with the gift of memory.
When she was born, our church pastor gave Lauren's parents a small book called Water Bugs & Dragonflies. Its subtitle is "Explaining Death to Young Children" -- they were given the book in preparation for telling Lauren's brother Dave that his new little sister wouldn't survive. In another crazy connection, after Mom's service, I found an old copy of the same book in her bedroom -- I think it was given to me by our minister when I was 9 years old, when my grandfather -- Mom's dad -- passed away. In the book, Lauren's mom recounts receiving the booklet, and I can just see in my mind's eye Rev. Miller's face, the pale brown/manila color of the book, and the drawing of the dragonfly on the cover as he gave it to her. Thankfully that day they didn't need it! Soon, though, I think it will be time to sit down with Kate and tell her about how her Nana was a waterbug just like all of us, and now she's a beautiful dragonfly, flying high above the pond.