When Death Brings Gifts of Life

Kevin McKowen with his sister Amanda after playing ice hockey, a passion for both of them. Photo courtesy of Maryanne McKowen

When Kevin McKowen lost his life after being hit by a car, his family made the decision to donate his organs that others might have a better life. Their generosity and the living gifts of their son were supported by a more unusual gift–that made by of the doctors who performed the transplant surgeries. Kevin’s mother, Maryanne McKowen, writes:
The night we honored my son Kevin for the last time was at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto. He was to be an organ donor after a car crash caused by a young driver ended his life when he was only 48 years old. He was the firstborn of my four children, but we all said that he had the most generous and giving nature. He would have loved being an organ donor, but he probably would have shied away from the formality and respect given to him that last night.
After several days of holding vigil at the hospital while doctors prepared and found viable organ matches, we watched him being wheeled into the surgical unit late that night. We all had the tears of sadness mixed with awe knowing what would happen next. My daughter-in-law Anne had been asked to write a letter to the surgeons describing who Kevin was in life. As a tribute of respect for him, the donor surgeons gathered around my son to read her testament. They then stood in silence honoring him and his gift. We as a family in the
waiting room joined with them in that silence after Anne read aloud what she had written.
My memory of that night and how much light filled us and the hospital is one that allows me a breath of joy for the man Kevin was and the help he gave to others to be able to continue living.

Trebbe Johnson
Trebbe JohnsonFounder
Trebbe is the author of The World Is a Waiting Lover and 101 Ways to Make Guerrilla Beauty. Her new book, Radical Joy for Hard Times: Finding Meaning and Making Beauty, will be published in Fall 2018 by North Atlantic Books. Her articles about people’s emotional and spiritual relationship with nature have appeared in Orion, Sierra, Ecopsychology, The Ecologist, The Nation, Harper’s and other magazines. She lives with her husband, Andrew Gardner, in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, a region currently under exploitation by natural gas companies.


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Radical Joy Revealed is a weekly message of inspiration about finding and making beauty in wounded places.

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