Today, we are continuing our A Journey of Hope series featuring organ and tissue donation advocates who are intrumental in helping make the Donate Life Float in the 2014 Tournament of Roses Parade a reality.
Yesterday, we featured the story of Larry Lefferts who took part in the 2013 parade as a floragraph family member. Today, we feature Vivian Lefferts’ story — Larry’s wife — and her experience as Gift of Hope’s float rider last year.
We feel so very blessed to have been asked by Gift of Hope to honor our son John’s donation by representing them at the 2013 Rose Bowl Parade on the Donate Life float. We were thrilled this past summer when float staff asked us to travel to Pasadena to assist with this year’s festivities. We will be riding and helping with the shuttles that transport the families from the Pasadena hotels out to the Rose Bowl where the Donate Life Float will be getting its finishing touches. We are so excited to meet this year’s float riders, walkers, and floragraph families. I would encourage anyone to visit www.donatelifefloat.org and read the biographies of these individuals.
The 2013 float theme was so fitting for this once in a lifetime experience for our family — Journeys of the Heart. As we met the other float riders and floragraph families, we immediately knew that we had a bond that was hard to explain, like we had known them forever, and that we could share anything with them. We knew that we were not alone on this “Journey”.
Early on the morning of New Years Day, the riders journeyed to the float. As we waited for our turn to join the parade, I was amazed at the people who came by and wished us luck. One woman reached over the tape and shook each of our hands and thanked us, so she obviously knew the story of our float. A reporter stopped and took the time to talk to each and every one of the riders and ask about our connection to donation.
Once we started moving, everything became a 2 ½ hour blur. Many say that, due to the purpose of our float, we are the “float with heart”, and I truly believe that. As Phil Collins’ song “You’ll Be In My Heart” played over and over and over, I tried to sing along, but became choked up each time. The crowds along the route were so supportive and emotional. In several cases, I felt that they were there because of the Donate Life float: some had on Donate Life shirts, one gentleman pointed to his shirt and said “I have a new heart”. The person who got to me the most was the woman near the end of the route who had obviously been waiting for us. She held up a sign with photos of two men, and a sign that said, “My dad and his donor are my heroes”.
I do not believe we will ever again experience anything like this. We now have numerous friends around the country who have gone through this journey with us and, thanks to social media, continue to share our grief journey. I have already seen how we turn to each other in times of distress and receive comfort from someone who also “gets it.” We will be forever grateful to Gift of Hope for this opportunity for our family, for our journey of the heart.