When I arrived at the driver’s license office before 8 a.m. this morning, the line was already snaking down the stairs and onto the parking lot outside the still locked door. But no worries, I had made an appointment weeks before to renew my driver’s license, and I was determined not to wait more than two hours this time. My appointment was the first one of the day. When the doors opened and the line in front of me moved forward, I was at the reception counter in seven minutes.
No record of the appointment? I repeated to the clerk. Yes, I am sure I made the appointment at Silas Creek instead of Patterson Avenue. Yes, I see that the line is not terribly long. I’ll wait. (silent sigh)
I moved to a seat in the waiting area, my ticket number attached to my expiring driver’s license and silently counted 10 persons in front of me. Directly in front of me, a young man with close cropped hair who looked vaguely European sat with his backpack at his feet and a driver’s manual in his hands. Another young man, his curly hair straggling over his ears, stood reading a vampire novel. Between them was a large poster: “These North Carolinians are alive today. . . because someone like you said, ‘Yes.'” Three smiling faces on the poster were identified as Destiny in Charlotte, NC, Jon in Greenville, NC and Kara in Cary, NC. I looked at the red heart stamped on my license. Again I looked at those faces on the poster: Destiny with neatly braided hair and elbows propped on her knees, Jon, perhaps a young father himself, and Kara dressed in black formal drape as high school seniors wear for their last high school class photos–and tears came.
How could I not have remembered? I had not been to THIS driver’s license office since the July day sixteen years ago when I brought my daughter Elizabeth in to apply for her learner’s permit. She had asked if she could be an organ donor before even taking the test to begin the process toward getting her driver’s license. It’s the ultimate recycling, Mom, she said. Why wouldn’t I want somebody else to have my body parts when I can no longer use them? I think she was more proud of the red heart on her learner’s permit than the possibility of driving practice that it offered.
Why had I made an appointment at THIS office? I probably did make the appointment at the other one and came here by mistake. Too late. Too late to go to the other one today. Too late.
Less than three months after Elizabeth had her choice to donate organs witnessed at the driver’s license office, my husband and I followed her wishes. We donated her heart valves and corneas. Because she was dead on arrival to the hospital after the car crash, those organs were all we were able to donate. She had a huge heart full of love and laughter and the bluest eyes with vision so clear, so I imagined that her heart valves and corneas gave new stamina and clarity to those who received her recycled parts.
Ticket number A107 to Station 1. I moved to the other room and sat down at the examiner’s desk, still shaken from remembering the day I had brought my daughter here. We had stood in almost the same place where I was now sitting as she made her wishes known. Her voice was purposeful, her smile genuine. I was surprised at her insistence. And today I was surprised that I was ambushed by this memory.
The examiner, a woman with kind eyes, listened as I apologized for my tears. I explained what had happened with my daughter and told her about the writing group that had offered balm for ten years and about the book just published that we hope will offer help to others. She told me about a friend whose son had died in a motorcycle crash and how his mother’s and his brother’s life had changed afterward. She left me with a blessing. I plan to recycle it.
And my driver’s license is renewed for eight years. Maybe I will make an appointment for the Silas Creek office in 2020.
Betsy Anderson said:
I loved how you wrote your story about the DMV and Elizabeth. I was looking at my Elizabeth’s picture on my bureau this morning. It’s the one used in the book and on the blog site. I realized that I needed to get away from looking at her pictures in the context of her death. I need to start celebrating her in the context of the happy life she led before 2/15/95. Maybe after 17 years I’m able to start doing that without feeling too much pain. Bringing her closer – without the barrier of her death – is easier to do now. It’s as though I was using my grief as a shield. Does this make sense to you?
Again, your story is beautifully written. Thank you for sharing it with us.
Kay Windsor said:
Betsy, I think you have just shown again how and why writing has helped us both to move through grief. I am remembering in the days before our writing group got together that you and I emailed back and forth often, exploring our grief and remembering our daughters. I can see how grief can become a shield but gradually we poke holes in it and let those memories of how our loved ones lived their lives or how we have lived ours to honor them shine through.
Lynn Ellis said:
This brought tears to my eyes. I can understand how writing brings solace and peace. We’re looking forward to the book launch.
Kay Windsor said:
And may your own sweet memories of Samuel and the blessing and balm of connections surround you too, Bettie.
Bettie Vance Steelman said:
Kay, thanks for sharing. Your post is a blessing. The weird thing is 5 days before my son Samuel died, his girlfriend took him to Silas Creek Parkway DMV to get his license also. He nor I realized I would have to sign for him. He and his girlfriend drove back to the Lewisville PO and told me I had to go sign for him and I think he asked for money (He usually did..lol). I will never forget that day, turning around and seeing him standing at my mail case in his navy button up shirt with white stripes. I got permission from my boss to go sign his paper and so I did. I still have that driver’s license. The only portion of his body that was in shape to be donated was his corneas. His skin was too wrinkled from being under water several hours. But I gladly donated his corneas to help someone else. The day he drowned, my daughter picked me up from work and took me home. As soon as I walked in the door I went to his bedroom and picked up his pillow and his navy button up shirt and took them in the living room with me. I leaned on his pillow and covered up with his shirt because they smelled like him. I know you empathize with those actions. May the Lord bless the sale of your book and may it be a blessing and help to multitudes of grieving parents.
Bettie Vance Steelman