Taking Dad Home: A Daughter’s Memoir

On July 7, 2010, I received a phone call that changed my life forever: my father had been in a single-vehicle car accident and sustained a critical brain injury. As his eldest child, I became his Substitute Decision Maker; I was 24 years old at the time. After learning he would never awake, my siblings and I chose to withdraw life support, knowing it was what my father would have wanted.

The situation was complex: he and my mother were not speaking after a hell-ish separation although they were still legally married, while his on-again-off-again girlfriend appeared and insisted on being deeply involved in his care, much to the dismay of my grandfather and my Dad’s two sisters.

The night I found out he was in an accident, one of my first questions to the doctor was ‘when can we take him home’? Unfortunately, his injuries were too severe and he passed away on July 14. He was six months shy of his 50th birthday.

My own struggles following his passing were immense: I found myself following in my father’s footsteps and self-medicating. I refused to seek help and spent many nights on my couch pouring over photos, watching videos and isolating myself from my family and friends.

Five months to the day my father passed away, I received something that changed my life: letters from his double-lung recipient and family members. At the time of his death, my father met the criteria for organ donation, saving three lives and enhancing two more through tissue donation. The letters helped me realize the immense impact my father was continuing to have for other families long after his passing.

I put the bottle down, and began to focus on what my father had given these other families in Ontario – a second chance at life. I reached out to Trillium Gift of Life Network in Ontario and started to volunteer. I was offered a seat on their Provincial Committee, started an organ donation group in my community and became a fierce advocate for the cause, offering a donor family perspective. My Dad’s story was shared in three countriesfeatured in a film festival in California and appeared in countless news outlets here in North America, including a profile on the one-year anniversary of his passing.

In a country where organ and tissue donors do not meet, I bumped into my father’s double-lung recipient by complete chance at an event at the hospital where he received his transplant.

Slowly but surely, my three younger siblings and I made it through the dreaded “firsts” without my father and have found a new normal where he exists only in our memories. Most days memories aren’t enough, but they’re all we have.

Twenty months after I originally asked the question, I had opportunity to take my father “home”: my sister, along with my father’s two sisters, and I returned his ashes to Scotland where his parents’ remains are also scattered.

Taking Dad Home documents a daughter’s journey of finally taking her father home, although in the beginning home had a very different meaning. The book details the ups and downs, the physical, emotional and mental effects losing a parent and vividly depicts personal struggles. With childhood flashbacks and context around family dynamics woven through as well as the impact organ donation can have on both recipients and donors, the book showcases one daughter’s determination to make the same – and different – choices than her father and seek to inspire others through sharing his story.

Taking Dad Home is a work in progress. If you are interested in receiving a copy of the manuscript, please email Alyshia{dot}Higgins{at}gmail{dot}com.