Column - A new-found familyLake Osakis buzzed with hope this past January 31 as a spring-like breeze blew across the frozen surface. This was a far cry from January 27, 2006, when the scream of a four-wheeler zipping across the lake followed by a deafening silence interrupted a good afternoon of ice fishing. That disruption began a three-year journey that changed my life forever – on January 31 of this year, I met the family who donated the organs that saved my dad’s life.
By: By Greta Petrich, Staff Reporter, Alexandria Echo Press
Lake Osakis buzzed with hope this past January 31 as a spring-like breeze blew across the frozen surface.
This was a far cry from January 27, 2006, when the scream of a four-wheeler zipping across the lake followed by a deafening silence interrupted a good afternoon of ice fishing.
That disruption began a three-year journey that changed my life forever – on January 31 of this year, I met the family who donated the organs that saved my dad’s life.
The man on the four-wheeler was Rodrigo Morales and he didn’t survive the accident. While the couple never discussed it, Mary Jo – Rigo’s wife – knew he would want to save others if he could. A decision to turn their sorrow into a gift of hope for others, their kindness, resulted in a pair of healthy lungs for my father.
I actually wasn’t sure if I wanted to meet these people. It seemed an awkward idea to me. How could I walk into their life all happy and normal when they could still be grieving over the loss of their loved one?
About a year ago, I shared a part of this story, explaining how on January 30, I planned to take my children to Lake Osakis to release two balloons – one representing Rigo’s last breath and one representing my dad’s first breath after the transplant.
Apparently, Mary Jo found the tribute so touching she wanted to share it with her children.
Although her phone call surprised me, I agreed to come to her house so we could meet and release the balloons together.
Just the thought of that life-changing day fills me with a joy that I feel compelled to share.
After some lovely words by Mary Jo, while she clutched a red, heart-shaped balloon, her fingers gently released the string.
Rigo’s balloon loop-de-looped around the boat lift on the front lawn, then remained close to the cabin he loved before meandering down the shoreline, as if making one last visit to his neighbors. If it were summer, one could easily have run alongside that low-flying balloon
With one final look back, the balloon turned, then slowly lifted up, gliding slowly toward the heavens.
We were expecting the same thing out of my dad’s round, golden balloon, but it defied our idea. As is his style to never follow the rules, it shot straight up into the sky, rising higher and higher and then bee-lined out into the horizon, eventually catching up with the now red speck representing Rigo.
As fast as that balloon went up, the tears poured down – tears of joy, sorrow and hope intermingled on my skin. How could I ever repay the extreme generosity of this amazing family?
I stood frozen on the shore until I felt the generosity of Mary Jo’s arms around my shaking shoulders. The embraces of her daughters, Angela and Amy, calmed my spirit, filling me with the joy I so longed to share.
A gentle thank you whispered in my ear by Rigo’s son, Andrew, touched me deep in my heart.
While I stood wondering how our family could be worthy of this gift, they found solace in their loved one living on – it comforted them.
Each hug from my dad – a big bear hug just like Rigo – feels like a hug from the man they miss so dearly.
As they hung onto my father’s every word that afternoon, I realized each offered another breath from the man they missed so dearly.
Rigo Morales’ last breath wasn’t really his last.
Through the generous hand of the almighty father, Rigo now breathes for another. It’s his lungs that fuel the beating of another man’s heart.
I no longer question how we can repay this kind family. Seeing Rigo live on, that’s a gift in itself.