Requiem, revisited

For nearly three years, the story of Abigail Garcia has woven its way through this blog.

Back in April 2008, I got an email from Garcia, at the time an 18-year-old student at Reed College. I had started gathering science tattoos, and she had one she wanted to share.

“My first year of college, I wanted to be an English major,” she wrote, “and I took Intro Chemistry to fill the science requirement. The brief unit on thermodynamics made me fall totally in love. Entropy made sense to me–-scientifically, philosophically. I became a Chemistry major and love every second of it. I got the tattoo to mark my rite of passage–Entropy going both ways, with its symble delta-S in the middle, all supported in the roots of Yggdrasil, the world-tree of Norse mythology (harking back to my English-lit days).”

Three months later, her mother left a note in the comment thread for the tattoo. Garcia had died in a car crash. The thread became a condolence book, for people who had never met Garcia but who felt a link strong enough to want to offer their sympathies to her mother.

The thread fell silent for a year. But then Abigail returned, with a new comment from Sherrie. “On May 23, 2008, my mother had a double lung transplant,” she wrote.

In 2009, Sherrie’s mother set about finding out whose lungs she carried. She discovered they belonged to Garcia, and she received a letter about her from her mother, Tamara Thomas. “It was a little story of who her daughter was, and through her words, I felt as though I had a little glimpse of her daughter’s spirit,” Sherrie wrote.

“What two amazing women. One taken far too early in life and one to live on alone, but obviously imprinting that spirit in everything she does.When my mom finished reading the letter, of course crying the entire time, she said, I feel so honored to have been chosen to recieve such an amazing child’s gift. We feel truly blessed, and honored, to have been given a second chance. I say we, because I am her caregiver and I went through every step of the transplant process with her. I can promise you, this gift will not be wasted.”

The thread went quiet again for a few months, but came back to life in January 2010, when a friend of Abigail’s at Reed stumbled across the post. “Ava, the name Abigail gave herself at Reed, was truly a pleasure to know,” wrote lovereed. “She was a kind and remarkable girl, and I consider myself so lucky to have had her as a friend. I remember how excited she was about this tattoo, and it has always been one of my favorites. I think it’s beautiful that Ava has given life to others, and the donation of her body to science and medicine embodies the selflessness with which she carried herself every day. I miss her constantly, and I will be carrying her with me when I cross the graduation stage this spring that she, too, was supposed to pass over.”

Ava returned again in April of last year, in the memories of Lucky13. “I never met Ava, although I have met and assisted thousands of students in my nearly twenty year career as a university employee and now college programs manager,” wrote Lucky13. “Ava was affiliated with a program that I now oversee and I had occasionally run across her name on historical lists in my files. All I knew about her initially was that she passed away while traveling to her internship at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. Then today, a rather dissatisfying work day, I again ran across her name on a list. And of an unexplainable reason, I decided I wanted to know more about Abigail Garcia. What I learned in reading brief information on only a couple of sites was that Abigail ‘Ava’ Garcia was nothing short of truly exceptional. In her brief and amazing life she demonstrated the power of intellect when combined with curiousity and passion; something not commonly found in today’s youth. I smiled when I read that she had found an intellectual and emotional home at Reed College. I can only imagine how happy she must have been to be surrounded by others just like her–smart, inquisitive, and engaged in learning. And I could not help but cry at realizing all that was lost when she died. I wonder what she would be planning for her life at this time, the weeks before her graduation from Reed. Whatever it would have been, it would have been extraordinary–as was she. — Thanks to everyone who shared their story.”

And today, almost three years later, Ava paid another visit, with a comment from her mother:

“I now share my daughter’s tattoo. The symbol she designed marks the headstone of her grave. It will be three years this May that she left me, and the pain and loss is still fresh. I am grateful to have connected with some of her organ recipients; I have met the man in whose chest my daughter’s heart beats. I have started writing about what I’ve termed my ‘grief journey’ [link–CZ] in hopes it might help others. There’s not much out there for parents who lose children. Shoot, there’s not even a name for us — not widow, not orphan — why is English so lacking here?”

Words do fail so often. But they suffice for me to say that Ava is always welcome to visit again. We will do our part to wind back entropy’s grind, with memory and life.

[Thanks to Tamara Thomas for the image of Garcia]

18 thoughts on “Requiem, revisited

  1. Thank you. Deeply moved by this, I am crying. Losing one’s child is, I believe, the worst fear most of us parents have to deal with. Let’s hope we all notice the exceptional and not-so-exceptional persons we meet while they are still alive.

  2. There’s someone important to me whose mind I’ve been trying to change on the subject of organ donation. I think I’ll pass this on. Beautiful and heartbreaking story…I hope it will change his mind.

  3. Thank you for keeping Ava’s story alive. She was a close friend and an incredible person, and that’s really not post-funeral rose-colored glasses. You hear people talking about lost potential every time a teenager dies, but she honestly had more visible potential than any eighteen-year-old I’ve known–she was a rare renaissance woman, all about chemistry *and* history, math *and* words. That photo Tamara gave you is from a geek girls calendar I put together, and Ava spent a good while waffling about whether she wanted to do a chemistry photo or a comic book photo. I’m glad she decided on chemistry in the end, since that was the last real photo shoot ever taken of her, and Tam’s been using it in all the memorials.

  4. Ava was one of my best friends at Reed and truly one of the most important people in my life. She was a fantastic person, and although I miss her terribly, I remember her with more laughter than tears. I remember very well when she changed majors. She practically exploded into the room with joy. Her love for science, art, and life was awesome, and I am very glad to see that a scholarship was established in her name so that other young people can have that same moment of ebullient revelation. It still hurts me to think we’ve gone on without her, writing our senior theses, graduating, and going out into the world, but she is still here with us in some seriously profound ways, reminding us not to take our lives for granted and to doggedly pursue what delights and fulfills us. Thank you for sharing her story, Mr. Zimmer. I hope that it inspires the people who read it.

  5. Because the story is not over, I (Abigail’s mother) have adopted three young women during the past two-plus years: My littlest is starting 6th grade this year; my next is now a senior in high school getting ready for her college entrance exams; and my oldest is enrolled in Embry Riddle Aerospace University and will start as a freshman in a couple of weeks.
    I feel my Abigail smiling… Thanks Carl for helping me keep Ava alive!

  6. I knew Abigail; Abbie, in those days, as a baby and toddler. Her parents had been friends of mine and my boyfriend, later husband; but we drifted apart over the years. Thanks to the power of the internet, her mother and I reconnected, but sadly it was three months after the accident that took Abigail from this physical plane. And so, I never knew Ava as a young woman.

    Had she lived, from all that I’ve read, heard and seen, I am sure Abigail Garcia would have gone on to make her mark in the world. But so strong is this woman’s spirit that death could not keep her from being an extraordinary force for renewal: three young woman have had their lives completely and positively changed as Abigail has shared her mother with them; a scholarship in her memory has empowered the dreams of other young women, a man has a heartbeat, a woman takes a breath, all because Abigail Garcia lived.

    I’ve shared the story Ava and Tam’s shared tattoo and this article with many, both strangers and friends. It seems that every year, new people have come across this article, or Tam’s blog, and have been touched. As one of her friends commented, Ava’s still doing some very important work in some incredibly profound ways. Her story is far from over.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *