Like my winter birds who come to the feeder in a variety of ways, Christmas presents come in a variety of packages.

Yesterday, I arrived home to find a beautifully wrapped gift on my kitchen counter. I enjoyed just looking at it – so smartly wrapped waiting to open it with the giver. But reading in bed late last night, it was delivered to me. I was encouraged to go ahead and unwrap it so I could use it during Christmas. And I love the gift and will use it – maybe today!

But earlier in the day I received another gift – a very different kind of gift. I listened to brilliant people discuss degenerative neurological diseases and the progress being made toward finding cures for many of them. I observed research labs and technicians and analysts busy reading graphs and plotting charts. I sat in a small circle of participants and watched a teaching doctor put on gloves and take a human brain out of a plastic bucket and show us how an autopsy is performed for research.

Most of the terminology I did not understand, but I was fascinated by the “hands on” explanation of the process, but chose not to put on gloves and touch the brain myself. Having a daughter who died from a brain disease, I found myself at first intrigued by the science of it all, but began to feel emotionally overwhelmed by the destruction of my child’s brain, surprised that gray matter in a white plastic bucket could bring on such emotion.

I felt the doctor looking at me intently, like she was explaining everything just for me, gently and with compassion. I tried to focus on her words and visuals. I fought my emotions and studied her charts for distraction. After the meeting, I was stunned when the doctor came up to me, introduced herself, and told me that she had performed Megan’s autopsy. It took a few minutes for the words to register. I hope I thanked her.

That was over a year ago, and I have always detested those hours when Megan’s body left our home. I suppose I felt she would be just one on the list at the hospital. That once she was gone, the necessary procedures would be routine and indifferent. And even though I knew Megan’s soul was not there, there was part of me that wanted to be beside of her to witness those final necessary steps, however painful it would be.

Of course, I know there are some things we cannot do. There are some things that others do better. What I discovered today was that someone with love and compassion – maybe a mother herself- attended to my child, taking what she could for the benefit of research and discovery with full knowledge that this life was taken much too soon. She knew of Megan’s disease and was expecting her upon death. She cared, made herself available, and then she told me.

What a gift.

Marcia Gaddis 2011

Marcia Gaddis

Marcia Gaddis is the author of the award-winning book, When God Comes Near, published in 2010. She writes a weekly column for her blog, The Olive Branch, and has been writing for three years. New in her craft, she began writing an online journal when her 25-year old daughter was diagnosed with the rare and fatal Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The journal became a book that offers hope and healing to those who choose to read a painful story. At the 2011 Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in Asheville, North Carolina, her first non-fiction book was awarded three distinguished awards: First Place for Inspiration, The Selah Book of the Year Award and the Director's Choice Award for 2011. She has worked as a Home Economist for the University of Georgia and as the co-host for the gardening television show Backyard America. She attends Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta and serves on the board of Kindred Spirit, a non-profit program for pregnant young women in Atlanta. She is married with two adult children and and tries to write and work in her garden every day.

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