It’s difficult to think of a more painful experience than the loss of a child. It is likely that no one can truly understand the deep hurt unless it is their child who died. Fanestia Massey does understand because her youngest son, Preston, was killed in an auto accident a few years ago.
There is a big hole in the heart and a feeling that never entirely goes away, even as time passes. Just ask Fanestia and her husband, Roy. But even with the daily burden she carries, Fanestia has found ways to use the experience with her son to help uplift others.
“Project Graduation Night” at Caldwell County High School in the western Kentucky town of Princeton, on May 22, 2004, was a special time when graduating seniors came together to celebrate and have a good time–safely and without the dangers involved with alcohol abuse. All thought this night would be joyful and safe for the sons and daughters of the parents who organized the program.
Preston’s nice smile, energy, and pleasing personality were well-known to those around the community of Princeton. He was popular, was a member of the high school baseball team and active in his church. He also liked to share his music. “He took his guitar, named ‘Grace,’ everywhere,” said Fanestia, “and his many friends loved to hear it be played.”
Fanestia recalled the events of that night at the high school.
“There was a large turnout of kids because we did fun things like Jello wrestling and we gave kids the chance to play games and win money and stay there all night,” she said. “When it was over, Preston talked about how he had had the ‘best time of his life.’”
But about 6:30 the next morning, the sleepy Preston Massey decided to drive home while his parents stayed at the school and cleaned up after the event. About fifteen minutes after Preston drove away, Fanestia and Roy also left, not knowing that their happy mood would soon change to shock and sadness.
“The accident happened less than a mile from home,” Fanestia remembered. “My first words when I saw it were ‘Oh, my, it’s Preston.’ Before Roy got our vehicle stopped, I jumped out. It was bad. They weren’t supposed to but they let me ride in the ambulance. I did not want to leave my child.”
At the hospital, the sad words–that Preston had died–were gently spoken to Fanestia and Roy. Along with the crushing news, there was a question asked them. Would the couple, while there was still time, allow doctors to take living organs from their son’s body in order to help others?
In those dark moments, Fanestia thought of Preston’s kind and helping spirit. He had planned to become a nurse after being a comforting caregiver for his dying grandfather.
“Being a donor was Preston’s last chance to help others,” Fanestia said. Permission was given, and Preston’s corneas in each eye were transplanted within 48 hours. Today, a living part of the special young man is providing a better life of sight for two persons, one living in Kentucky and the other in Indiana. Also, Preston’s donated orthopedic tissues helped create 75 bone grafts to use for doing surgery, and 62 patients have benefited. Preston’s compassionate nature is shown even in his death.
Fanestia talks to anyone who will listen about donating organs, and she works hard to continue Project Graduation. She also started “Preston Massey’s Project Pick Me Up” to encourage students at the graduation event to have drivers take them home. She likes to gently explain to the students that “Preston would tell you not to drive home…”
Fanestia and her faithful parent group do the work of raising money for the project. Wendy Fuller of Dawson Springs said that Fanestia “has been a rock for many families that have lost their children.” Best friend Teresa Cash talked of Massey’s kind and easy way of encouraging others to pledge to donate their organs by having it stated on their driver’s license. “Fanestia never pushes anyone about it. She just uses any opportunity she has to let others know,” Teresa said. “Her most admirable quality is that she has the ability to relate to any age group.”
Fanestia works in the Caldwell County High School office where she has a chance to share and be a friendly face to people every day. She doesn’t shy away from telling visitors about the good-looking guy on her computer screensaver, Preston–and his story. She is uplifting to parents concerned about the behavior of their children. She encourages them to appreciate the positive things and not to fight big battles over little things.
Fanestia Massey knows that the sting of Preston’s loss will always be with her, but hopes that a larger miracle will be worked as the lives of others are improved through her life of service. Melissa Earnest, an educator and friend, spoke of Fanestia’s positive influence: “There is definitely no telling how far she has reached out and touched people, even beyond the borders of our small town and our county. When you throw a stone into a pool of water, the ripples continue on and on and I believe that’s what Fanestia has been–a solid rock that has rippled the waters of our lives.”
(For information regarding Fanestia Massey’s “Preston Massey’s Pick Me Up,” contact Massey by email firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about tissue and organ donation can be found at trustforlife.org)
Steve Flairty is a life-long Kentuckian, a teacher, public speaker and an author of three books, a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and two “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes,” collections of stories about ordinary people who give back to others. He will publish a version of “Kentucky Everyday Heroes for kids” this summer. This piece is an excerpt from that book. Steve is a correspondent for Kentucky Monthly. His column for KyForward will appear weekly. Contact him at email@example.com for information about how to purchase his books or schedule a speaking engagement.