ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sixty faces smile from a webpage, the stories of their lives told in a few lines underneath their photographs.
Each of those 60 stories is told in past tense – he was a typically active teenage boy, she was never afraid of a challenge, he had a brilliant mind, she had a personality that would light up a room.
They were infants, toddlers, teens, adults, black, white, brown, just good folks from across the country when they died of a fall, a car crash, an illness, a sudden passing, a long-waged battle with a disease.
This is the “were” of them.
But their stories are not entirely over. There is an “are” of them, a continuation of their stories in the lives that go on because of their gift of organ donation. These 60 folks are among the some 8,000 people each year who upon their deaths generously bestow their organs to others. They are the ones chosen this year to be immortalized in petal and seed as one of 60 floral portraits, or floragraphs, that will adorn the Donate Life float in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., on Monday.
Which brings us to the story of Jasper Yazzie, the New Mexico honoree.
Jasper was 35 and from Upper Fruitland, an oil field worker, husband and father to three girls he loved to take fishing on the Animas River.
He was walking along a road in Farmington on a rainy night in September 2014 when he was struck by a car. He would not survive his injuries, but because he was an organ donor, five others did survive. His corneas restored vision for two more beneficiaries.
His photo on the Donate Life Rose Parade Float webpage is from Christmas 1998, when he was 20. In the photo, Jasper wears a slight smile and his trademark white Nike cap. A Christmas tree sparkles behind him.
“It was our first Christmas together,” his widow, Tenaj Yazzie, said from her home in Upper Fruitland.
For the floragraph, the photo was enlarged and colored in with all-natural items – a Rose Parade requirement – such as poppy seeds, quinoa, cinnamon and sesame seeds. It was flown to Farmington from Pasadena for a Dec. 7 ceremony sponsored by New Mexico Donor Services and the San Juan Regional Medical Center.
Before it was returned, Tenaj Yazzie and her three daughters, Takota, 17, Franky, 15, and Jade, 12, finished the eyebrows with ground coffee beans.
“His eyebrows were so dark,” Yazzie said. “My mom really liked his eyebrows.”
Yazzie did, too.
She remembers telling him about organ donation when he renewed his driver’s license. Although some Navajos are averse to donating because of cultural beliefs, she said she and Jasper did not consider themselves traditional in that regard and saw the importance of giving life in death.
“I explained to him about how people could use part of us after we die,” she said. “And he said, ‘Yes, I’m not going to need these things after I die. Other people might.’ ”
No one expected that other people might get that chance so soon.
In the hours after learning that the 2014 crash had left Jasper brain-dead, Yazzie said it was a bittersweet decision to agree to allow Donor Services to carry out his wishes.
“But he had a good heart,” she said – in more ways than one.
Besides his heart, his liver, lungs, corneas and kidneys were parceled out to seven people. One of the kidneys went to Yazzie’s uncle, Clifford Werito, 61, who had been on the kidney transplant list and undergoing dialysis for four years.
“To have Clifford live longer for his kids and grandkids – that is amazing,” Yazzie said. “I’m glad Jasper could do that.”
On Thursday, Yazzie and her daughters will fly on behalf of Donate Life New Mexico to Pasadena, where they will be among the family members of the 60 donors featured on the Rose Parade float. They will attend the parade, and they will share each other’s stories. They will talk in present tense about Werito and about how Yazzie’s eldest daughter just got her driver’s license and signed up to become a donor, too, like her father. They will know their stories aren’t over. They will know their stories could be your stories, too.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.