The Breath of Life
Nick was never a long-distance runner or a swimmer. Thus, how did he think he could ever be a Navy SEAL? Because Nick thought he could do anything. He just had to try.
He was a great athlete and loved every sport he played. He was one of the toughest and hardest working kids on the team. He was also a great leader. But still, he was only 5’7” and 140 pounds soaking wet when he graduated from high school in May, 2015. By then, the decision had already been made and he was signed up for the United States Navy. He had his SEAL contract and was guaranteed the chance to at least try and become a Navy SEAL. Now it was just a question of when he would go in.
There are only so many “Special Forces” contracts given out.
So the start date can change depending on openings. Nick had no idea of when he would actually start basic training, but we were hoping it would not be too soon that summer. That was because of the water temperature in San Diego and Coronado, California, where actual SEAL training takes place. The water temperature can fluctuate greatly between summer and winter, and the number of SEAL candidates that make it drops greatly when the water temperature is so cold in the winter months. Thus, you want to start basic training in the winter so that you are trying out for the SEALS six months later in the summer.
That summer and fall of 2015 saw Nick transform his body from that of a high school boy to a grown man. He was lifting weights and doing a ton of pulls up, push ups and sit ups, but more importantly, it transformed his lungs. Nick had never been a runner so he was not in great lung shape. He needed to run for miles and swim under water while holding his breath for great distances. That is part of the SEAL training and a necessity. You can’t be a SEAL without being a great runner, a great swimmer, and having world class lungs. You also need to learn how to properly swim like a SEAL. It is a totally different stroke and you wear fins. Nick had to learn all of these things if he was going to have a chance to make it through BUD/s.
Little did we know at that time that his lungs would be so important later on.
The summer and fall of 2015 were some of the best months ever for me personally. It was also wonderful for Theresa and Laney with Nick. Nick had graduated high school and was waiting to start his basic training. He didn’t have school every day so he was always home working out, running, lifting and just available. Nick and Laney were always very close, but during that nine months from May through January, they were inseparable. Grant and Alec went back to school in August, so it was just the four of us at home.
Even though it was great having Nick home, we also knew it was different for Nick when he left for the Navy. He wasn’t just going off to college.
He wasn’t going to be home every school break and during the summer. He was joining the Navy and trying to become a Navy SEAL. He was really leaving home at age 18 and never returning. It was a foreign concept to us and our family. It was also very scary.
For the last two years during his junior and senior years of high school, Nick constantly pressured us, and especially me, to agree that he could join the Navy instead of going to college. He was going to be 18 years old and could obviously make his own decision if he really wanted, but he did not want to do that against our wishes. He wanted our blessing. He wanted all of us to be in agreement that this was his best course of action, considering all of the circumstances. I didn’t know what was best. It was not a snap decision.
Looking back, and knowing what I know now, would I have made the same decision.
Would I have given my blessing to Nick to join the Navy and pursue that career path. Obviously not. No one in their right mind would choose to have their son go off to the Navy and be killed. However, other than him being killed, was it the right decision? Absolutely yes. It was his dream. His life. His goal in life. It may not have been mine, but he is not me and I am not him. Every person should be allowed to pursue their dreams if it is possible and makes sense. Based on everything we knew and researched and read, it was the right time for Nick. It was the right decision. However, do I wish every day of my life right now that we had not made that decision and that he was still here and still alive, the answer is simple. Yes. But you can't go back in time. You can't change history. You can't live with that guilt.
We are a family of lawyers. Education is a big thing. Going to college and graduate school was a given. Joining the Armed Forces was a foreign idea for us to start. Trying to become a SEAL was an awesome idea, but seriously, why would you do that at age 18 and not get your college degree first and then go in as an officer. That was my first thought. That was not Nick’s.
Nick was an Engineer at heart. He was a tinkerer.
He had to know how everything worked. He took everything apart and put it back together. If there was something he didn’t know, he looked it up and figured it out. It drove him crazy to wait or not know. On the other hand, he was bored to death in class each day. His senior year of high school, he was notoriously late for school. If there was a tardy limit, he exceeded it, by a lot. On the second to last week of school, Nick actually made it into class on time that whole week. On the last day of the week, when he walked in, the teacher and all of the kids gave him a standing ovation. Nick just smiled and laughed. That was our Nick.
On the other hand, Nick was very well liked and popular. He was kind and caring. He was genuinely a nice person and really cared about other friends and students. He took the time to listen and get to know you. He put others first. He was an awful lot like his mother, and that is a good thing.
After Nick’s death, we had multiple people tell us stories about Nick and his random acts of kindness. Things that he did for them or their children that we had not heard about. Some of them seriously cool. Like helping a fellow student who came out as gay and was suicidal at times. Both she and her mother contacted us to tell us how Nick helped her through those hard times. We had no idea. Nick just did nice things for other people. He didn’t need to get praise for them. He did them because that is who Nick was. He made us very proud then. He still does today.
It is July 27, 2017.
More than five months have passed since our open letter to Life Quest.
We have received no responses except from Aaron. Where is everyone? There are four more people out there. Is anyone else going to connect with us? More importantly, did the organ donation work and are they healthy?
Our second answer came early that morning. This time there is an email from a woman named Pamela. She is also from Florida. I know right away it is another donor recipient. I know right away it worked. Awesome.
With Pam’s permission, here is her email with personal information removed:
My sincere condolences and Thank you to your family from the bottom of my heart for the gift of life. I have been trying to find the words to say to you since I received your letter and beautiful family photos. I am the blessed recipient of the most fantastic set of lungs, without which I would not be writing to you.
My name is Pam and I was born with Cystic Fibrosis, although not diagnosed until I was 12. I grew up in a small town in Maine, with my parents, brother and sister. In 1993, I moved to Florida with my late husband (John of 21 years) where I still reside. We never had any children due to my CF.
After losing my husband in 2009 from congestive heart failure, I spent a lot of time in Maine at my brothers following his celebration of life. After returning to Florida, I donated much of my husbands’ belongings, got rid of my house, and moved in with my sister and her family for a couple of years. With my health as it was, they didn't want me alone. Then in the fall of 2012, I was lucky enough to meet a man named Gary from New England and am proud to say I got engaged to on December 26, 2016. That is something that wouldn't have happened for me if it wasn't for your wonderful son. He has twin daughters that will be 25 on December 31st. One has her Masters Degree in education and teaches in Miami and the other lives near us and is a dance teacher.
It breaks my heart that you lost your son so early in life, but I also feel so thankful and blessed that I was able to receive his gift. What a truly amazing young man you raised. Thanks to his generosity, I am able to do so much more than I have been able to do in many years. I walked in my first Cystic Fibrosis Great Strides 5K on May 20th. Then I was able to celebrate my 50th birthday with family and friends on May 30th. I just had my 8th month clinic appointment at the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital and I am doing fantastic. My labs are great, my lungs are in perfect working condition and my breathing test was the best it has ever been.
I went to the hospital on November 17, 2016 barely able to breath on 10 liters of oxygen. I am truly amazed and thankful everyday with how wonderful I feel and with how much I can do now. I am hoping now that my health isn't an issue, I will be able to travel and see our beautiful country. That is something I haven't been able to do in a very long time. I went on oxygen in 2008 and got to the point that I couldn't even drive because of my CF and I was legally blind from all the steroids. I had my cataracts fixed in April and was recently released to drive again. Mr. Murphy, you have a wonderful family that someday perhaps I can meet. Please feel free to contact me here or at my e-mail. I would love to communicate with you and your wife or even your children. You'll find lots of pictures on my Facebook page.
Hoping to hear from you soon.
Good Night and God Bless. 💙💚
Go Red Sox⚾️
Wow. I sat there and could not believe what I was reading. Pam went from going into the hospital two days before Nick’s death barely able to breathe to walking 5k races and having complete health. From unable to drive and legally blind to back to full health. All because of Nick’s champion lungs. She was one of the three people that “were not going to make it through the night” without Nick’s organ donation. Then, even more funny, she was a Red Sox fan just like Nick and our family. It really is a small world.
As soon as I read her letter, I googled everything I could about Cystic Fibrosis. I did not know anything about it and it is an unbelievably debilitating disease. No wonder Pam’s life had been hell for most of her adult life. It is a tough disease. Then, I sat down and emailed her back. Here is my response.
Thank you so much for writing to us and telling us your name and your life story. We are so happy to hear that our tragedy has resulted in a new life for you. I told the story before, but on the Monday of Thanksgiving week when we learned the organ transplants had been completed, we sat in our car and cried. We cried because we knew it was final for Nick here on earth, but we also cried for happiness because we knew there were five other people and five other families at that same moment thanking God for the miracle of life that was given to them by Nick's organs. I cannot tell you how happy I am to hear it was a complete success for you. Thank you for sharing your story. We definitely would love to meet you down the road and stay in contact with you. We have a home in Fort Myers Florida also so we will make sure we get together in the future. We have also been in contact with the gentleman who received Nick's heart and who lives in Florida too. We are actually going to meet him next month in Chicago. God truly works in wonderful ways and we are so happy for your good health. I will send you an email and be in touch. Thanks again for contacting me.
Over the course of the next few months, we corresponded with Pam about her health and her life. She is very active on Facebook and allowed me to talk about her on my Facebook page. Her story is one of success. Her story is how organ donation saves lives. Her story shows how one families tragedy is another families miracle of life. For her, Nick’s gift of his lungs truly brought her the breath of life. A new life. A new health. Today she is healthy and happy and a new person because of it.
It is now November 18, 2017.
The day before the anniversary of Nick’s death. I decide to write Pam an email.
Tomorrow will be one year since Nick died. We want tomorrow to be also a day of celebration and not just sadness. I want you to know how happy we are for you and your successful and healthy recovery. You having found new life through Nick's lungs gives Nick‘s death some purpose. Keep up all of your hard work and stay healthy. We look forward to meeting you this winter.
Pam then responded.
Thank you Ed. I know tomorrow will be hard on you and your family as I lost my husband in August 2009 from heart failure and on 12/10/14 I lost my Dad. I truly believe they, as well as Nick, are my guardian angels. They will all look over us as we move forward through these tough days. We can honor them by celebrating the great people they were and smile when remembering all the special memories we have of our time with them.
It has finally cooled down some here in Florida so I am outside everyday walking and enjoying spending time with my family. I wasn’t able to do this for many years as I was attached to oxygen and thanks to your wonderful son I can now do the things I love to do. He’s my HERO. You and Theresa are so blessed to have four wonderful children. May you all have a Happy Thanksgiving and know that we will both have angels at our tables.
Pam then sent us a photograph of her family and how happy and healthy she is.
Our journey continues. It is now February 11, 2018.
The last three months have been a roller-coaster of emotions. Many up and many downs. Today I am better. 2018 has been better. But it has not been easy. I would have never thought that the one-year anniversary of Nick’s death would have been so hard. In many respects, it was harder than a year earlier. I truly believe that you are in shock for the first nine months to a year, and then that shock slowly wears off. That is why the one-year anniversary was so hard. You are not in shock like you were. It is all still real, but the nightmare has no filter. It is just a nightmare that is not going to change. The new “normal” really is here to stay. There is no going back.
As I sit here today writing another chapter of Nick’s book, life is better. I am better. My family is better. However, it will never be the same. As Theresa told me, “a piece of our hearts has been ripped from us and it will never be able to be put back”. It is true. We will never be the same. But that is true no matter what happens in life. That is just life. It passes us by and there is no going backwards, whether they were good times or bad times. As I am sitting here typing this, I am at my computer next to a wall of family photos from my kids and family at all ages. I look at my life in pictures. It has been a good life. It will continue to be a good life. But no matter we do, those pictures and everything that happened to us is still behind us. We can’t go back to when the kids were little. We can’t relive the baseball game when Grant hit the walk-off home run, or the football catch of Alec that won the game, or any of the glory days of our kids or ourselves. The birthday party is long gone and the past celebrations are over.
What we can do is celebrate those good times and the people we shared them with.
There are more celebrations to have, more birthdays to attend, more candles to blow out and more games to be won. There are graduations and weddings to enjoy, and there are future grandkids to see. The future is as bright as the past and there is life still to be lived. I cannot wait to live it.
There are 7.6 billion people alive on earth today. Each one of them is going to die. Each one of us alive today was not here 125 years ago. That means the entire population has been replaced over that time. Yet life goes on. With new people, new families and new stories. So instead of living in sadness for what we have lost, we need to live in celebration for all that we have had and will continue to have. Whether we have someone in our lives for one day, one year, or a life time, we need to appreciate them in our life. As I stated almost fifteen months ago, we had a wonderful and the best 19 ½ years a parent could ever have with Nick Murphy in our lives. I cherished every moment and continue to do so today.
Nick will live on through the Nicholas J. Murphy Foundation. Nick will live on through Breona and Aaron and Pam. Nick will live on in our hearts. Nick Murphy will never be forgotten. For that, I am very happy.
Here is a 2015 and early 2016 timeline of family events for those nine months Nick was home. It was a wonderful time for our family and we celebrate it today.
© G. Edward Murphy 2018