Sunday, July 31, 2011

Home, Sweet...Hilton Head

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina has long held a special place in my heart. My family started vacationing there in the early nineties, and since 1996 my friends and I have created innumerable memories of our own. I’ve spent a lot of time in Hilton Head, from quick visits to one entire summer during college, and I have a veritable almanac of fond memories from those times spent with friends and family.

But Hilton Head has further entrenched itself in my heart and mind after my most recent visit last week – and for three separate reasons that I’ll share in chronological order. The first treat of the week was getting to spend time with my parents, two of my three brothers, my sister-in-law, and best of all (no offense to the rest of you) my perfect little nephew. This was my second time seeing Baby Michael, and it’s just amazing to see him grow (mostly in width!) and develop. He is starting to grin and respond and even spent some fun time in the pool, which I’m convinced he thought was a giant bathtub. I’m trying to decide if I can justify another trip down south to see him before Thanksgiving…we’ll see. This aunt is smitten.

Look closely, he's rocking his organ donation onesie!
The second thing that happened in Hilton Head was about as special as it gets. I celebrated a full year with my new heart on July 21, and my parents and I met several of my donor’s family members that very day. [In the strangest of coincidences, T’neil’s family and I had planned to be in Hilton Head at the same time.] It’s impossible to articulate how much it meant to me to be able to meet and see and hug my donor’s mother, Denisha. I can’t say enough wonderful things about her warm and loving spirit, and it was a delight to meet her husband, aunt and uncle as well. We all chatted for quite a while, and they each used a stethoscope to hear T’neil’s strong heart beating in my chest. I think that meant the most to them, and I’m so glad I was able to give them a way to truly feel T’neil’s presence again.

Denisha made the call to donate T’neil’s organs last year, since they hadn’t previously discussed the topic. It takes a remarkable person to think of anonymous others when experiencing the anguish of a child’s sudden illness and death. Most of us can’t even imagine; I know I can’t. Denisha is that remarkable person. Her kindness during that impossible time saved many lives, including my own, and improved the lives of countless others. Even through a year of grief and pain, I can tell that she continues to be so proud of all of her children and their accomplishments. She feels T’neil’s presence when candles are lit and when butterflies are seen nearby, and she seems able to maintain focus and joy for her surviving children – especially one that is expecting a baby girl in the fall and another that hopes to go to college on a basketball scholarship. Oh, and she’s pretty focused on her own big birthday coming up in a few weeks, too! Denisha has a truly contagious aura of positivity and warmth around her, and I hope we will be a part of each other’s lives forever. Eventually, I would love to meet T’neil’s many siblings – I’ll be here whenever they are ready.

Isn't Denisha pretty?! I promise she's older than I am...
To round out the week of excitement, nine of my best friends came down to Hilton Head to celebrate my one year anniversary and recent thirtieth birthday. My parents graciously loaned us their house for the week and we happily accepted! People traveled from North Carolina, Boston, Pennsylvania and even Utah for the celebration, and we had a great time. I strayed wildly from my diet for several days, but I figured I could splurge a bit for the occasion.

Most of us!
Now I’m back in New Jersey, preparing for the return to real life tomorrow. After nearly two weeks of vacation, my alarm clock is going to be quite a shock in the morning. But whenever I get tired or frustrated or down, I know I can close my eyes and peruse my internal database of unforgettable memories from Hilton Head Island, both old and new.


  1. Sounds like an all-around amazing time in Hilton Head! I still haven't met baby Michael yet -- Jo is the McCune I see most often and I just haven't made it to see Maggie and Ross yet, but he is so precious! I love the organ donor onesie, too. Congratulations on your anniversary -- you look great! And good luck getting back into the swing of things post-vacation :)

  2. So happy you all had fun in Hilton Head. Great photos!!

  3. best post ever (except maybe the Mother's day post). Thanks

  4. Sign me up for the 2 year transplanniversary! Love you so much, lady, and am so proud of you. Thank you for touching all of our lives (including Michael's!).

  5. I astonished while my eyes fell on your blog. What a nice nice blog!Hilton head is very beautiful place and this is full of energy,this place will automatically pull you and you will feel entertainment till the sun goes down.You will feel a great relax and forget about all the worries of life.

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