I ran…

Remember.

Life. Death.

In March of 2020. Everything in our city, state, country, and world was shifting into a place of uncharted territory as a pandemic seeped its way into every part of the globe! People were unsure of what was happening and uncertainty coupled with job loss, business shutting down, and insecurities started to plague many. Sickness began to creep into our community and spread fast. We were not only losing a grip on everything as we had always known it to be, we were also losing people to this invisible enemy. All of this loss was happening during isolations and lockdowns. Doors began to lock and security began to be tighten its grip in our hospitals and even our nursing homes. Our schools were shutting down with no real promise of when they would open. The chaos was just beginning to set in.

Shock and Fear

One day during lockdown my little family and I were hanging out at a beautiful outdoor work of art at a local University here in Abilene, ACU’s Jacobs Dream. We were enjoying the beautiful weather outside and talking to one of our precious daughters about what she means to us❤️. We were wrapping up a tough week and quite honestly had already been placed in a spot of humility at the realization that life is so valuable and connection to all of our daughters is priceless and worth being patient for!

I ignored my phone as two calls came through by the same number, because we were having a family moment. We had our feet in the water and we were hanging out. Those moments are rare with teens! A voice message was left on my phone and for some reason I felt that I needed to check it. I stood up and walked to the car and called her back as the lady on the message said she was a nurse and had a patient that she believed was my relative and she needed to talk to me.

I wasn’t prepared.

The moment that I heard “we can’t tell you much but you need to come quick your brother Shawn is with us and we need family here”, my heart sank into the pit of my stomach and I felt instant fear. I knew deep in my spirit the heart wrenching truth was that the prognosis was not good.

I fell to my knees.
I cried.
I wept.
I prayed.

We made it home quickly and worked out plans for the girls because the hospitals weren’t letting people in and the hospital waiting areas were shut down. Our daughter Willow is one of the most empathetic children in the world. She was 4 at the time and had no idea why mommy was crying. She noticed I was trying to pack a bag. She thought I didn’t like packing a bag so she came over to me, asked me to sit down and gave me a big hug. She said “mommy I love packing, I will help you, don’t cry momma.” She hugged me, wiped my tears and brought me her little stuffed lion to hug while she packed my bag with my husband.

I needed her empathy.

We drove and my mind raced with things like, “this isn’t real, they got it wrong, he will be fine, there is no way that God would allow both of my brothers to die so very young”.

Piercing truth.

When I walked into his room I grabbed his hand and begged God to save him. I promised to never do a bad thing again in my entire life (I know perfection may be impossible but I was desperate). I promised that I would do anything if he could just please perform a miracle and WAKE Shawn UP! Please, I would cry out! I opened his eyes with my own hands and they wouldn’t move. His hazel brown eyes were no longer alive. I touched his feet, squeezed his knee (he hated that when we were kids) and grabbed his hand again and sobbed!

Gone.

He was gone. I asked to see evidence and they showed me all of the scans and carefully explained all that they could. I made them show me all of the tests that they ran regarding reflexes and responses. I asked if we could keep him on life support just to see if God would bring him back. I looked for any silver lining. I was desperate for him to wake up. I couldn’t say goodbye. I just couldn’t. His heart was beating but only because of life support. His brain stem had no activity.

Forced goodbyes are no fun.

After three days of staying by his side, talking to him, praying for him, singing to him, brushing his hair and begging him to wake up, it was time for me to say goodbye. I just wasn’t ready. I knew that I would never be ready. Oh how it hurt. I cried the hardest that I had ever cried. It was a cry that arose from the deepest part of my soul as if part of me had decided in that moment to escape from this shell of a sister to unite with her Irish twin brother. I begged them to make sure someone held his hand and asked them to please never leave him alone.

Alone.

Because of COVID my husband couldn’t be there with me. They wouldn’t allow more than one person with him. No children were allowed to come say goodbye. My heart sank. I wondered if I had done enough. I could not think of anything more that I could have done but I was still beating myself up because my prayers, my pleas with the medical staff and my love could not save him here on earth. He was on his way to the Father in heaven and perhaps he was already there watching as I was trying to keep him here.

Life after Death

He was an organ donor. His brain was dead but most of his organs were still vital due to the medical staff getting him on life support quickly enough. I am so thankful they didn’t just let him die. This is a miracle to me. They were able to find three recipients, one for his heart and lungs, one for his kidney and liver, and one for his other kidney.

After returning home, I called the Southwest Transplant Alliance team and emailed often to see if the families who received my brothers organs were recovering well. I was nervous for them. I began to pray for them the moment they took Shawn into the operating room . Wondering how they were consumed me through my grief and it also allowed me to feel hope. Devestation turned to hope. I kept praying for weeks and months for these families. Finally on September 10, 2020 I received a letter from two recipients. 😭😭🙌🏻🙌🏻❤️❤️. They didn’t give their last name but Scott and Gabriel were the two that I was able to now put a name to! They both were both healing. Praise God!

The calls.

I received another letter from the transplant team that included phone numbers and addresses for the recipients. It took a while due to having to get permission from the recipient families. I waited a few days and finally mustered up the courage to call. It was special to hear stories about their lives. My brothers gift provided an opportunity for a second chance to live life to the fullest. Their story is not mine to tell but I can tell you that I am so grateful that they have allowed me to be a part of it in some way. I cannot imagine not knowing who they are and how they are doing!

A special gift for me.

Something sweet and simple that truly makes a difference in my life at this time is that my brothers heart and lungs recipient heard me say the nickname that my brother called me and he now calls me by the same name. Eppie. I feel my brother every time I get a call or message with that name in it.

5K.

Yesterday I participated in my first of many 5K’s for Southwest Transplant Alliance. I had only heard about it a few days prior so I quickly put together a team. #HisLifeMattered. I ran. I set a goal to try and do the entire run in 35 minutes. I ran. At 35 minutes I had a tenth of a mile left and I began to struggle hard. I felt like I couldn’t go further. As I was trying to convince myself not to quit, I looked up and tears filled my eyes as a girl name Kari McQueen was running in my direction. I hesitated for a second but then decided to be brave and ask her if I could run with her for that last tenth of a mile. She said yes! I felt like a blubbering idiot because I was run crying 😂😭😳. I couldn’t stop. Through broken, shallow breathing, I said “I am running in memory of my brother Shawn who tragically died in 2020. I just found out about the 5K a couple of days ago and since it’s virtual I am running alone and I didn’t train. People all over the world are doing it just not in the same place.” She let me join her and I finished!!! 🙌🏻🥳🎉💪🏼

The reason I am celebrating.

Right when I was almost finished with my run when I realized that I was running at ACU. I had intended to run at redbud park but made a last minute change because a friend wanted to meet there afterwards. I seriously hadn’t thought about the fact that I was in the same spot that I had previously been the moment I got the call from the nurse about my brother. I had somehow blocked that out until the last tenth of a mile when I was running towards that outdoor work of art called Jacob’s Dream 😳. I felt the pain. I felt that I could not go on and just then God sent an angel runner to run with me!

When I finished, she kept running but she looped back around as I was heading to my car. She asked if she could pray with me. What a sacred moment as she grabbed my sweaty hands and connected with me. I fell to my knees and wept. She prayed and cried with me. Her compassion and love was piercing my tender heart. I felt the love of her humanity as it connected to the spirit of Jesus. It was a powerful moment. One I never want to forget.

Be brave. Ask.
Be kind. Give.

When you cannot go further look up and ask for help! When you can, look around and give! We all need connection! We all need compassion. We all are going through different seasons and need one another now more than ever.

Be Confident and Kind as you carry on. Register to be a donor. It’s not only life saving but it is also life giving to those left behind to grieve.

Love, Eppie
Stephanie Ellison

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