Thomas Smolinski became an organ donor upon his passing in June 2015.
His wife Kimberly shared this remembrance:
“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count; it’s the life in your years.”
My husband Tom had 39 years – just a couple weeks short of his 40th birthday. He left this world on June 21st 2015, Father’s Day, after a tragic car accident. My heart, the hearts of our twin daughters, family, and friends were full of anguish and incredible loss. We continue to feel his loss every day, and I know we will forever will. That loss also reflects the love we had in our lives. Our hearts are missing all the pieces that were Tom, but I have hope that those pieces will be patched with the love and joy he gave us. His spirit is with us. And although our time with him was cut way too short, the time we had was full. Though he faced many challenges after a car accident in 1999 that left him paralyzed, he took every fear and faced it. He saw love and grabbed it. He had life and lived it. In his 39 years he filled his life, and in the process he filled ours.
Tom had an incredible sense of humor. His smile and laugh were contagious. His jokes and poking fun at life – even at his own expense – often had you rolling on the ground. Sometimes obnoxious, but you loved him more for it. Tom had a great knack for making friends wherever he went. Tom had an infectious spirit. No matter what your status in life, what your story – he loved meeting people. He loved making everyone laugh.
On one of his high school report cards, the teacher had written: “Tom thinks that my classroom is his stage, and that the students are his audience.” Tom could keep an audience. He could captivate you with his humor, his storytelling, or his kind smile and crystal blue eyes. He certainly captured my attention, and soon after, my heart.
Tom and I met in 1995 through friends. When we first met, he drove me crazy and seemed like a whole lot of trouble. But that crazy turned into charm, that trouble was mostly talk, and we hit it off quickly. That summer before college was some of the best times of my life. There was camping at Sherkston Shores, hikes through the Sculpture Park, late night bonfires, and hours of getting to know each other under the August sky. From there we went on to college spending a lot of time apart, but somehow we made it work. Distance, I guess, made the heart grow fonder. I do know that we brought out the best in each other. We became a team.
Tom grew up in the Boston Hills. He was the youngest of three boys. He went to Hamburg schools and was a talented athlete. He played soccer, swam, golfed, was a really good baseball player, and springboard diver. Tom still holds a diving record at Hamburg High School and his name is still displayed on the walls of the pool. Tom went on to ECC and eventually got a scholarship for the swimming and diving team at Cleveland State University. He was an athletic and academic all American both years, and his team won championships the years he attended. He was a proud Viking and even prouder of the marketing and communications degree he earned.
Tom and I both graduated from college in May 1999. We were looking forward to all life had to offer us. Unfortunately, we faced a detour in our plan after a car accident six months later. The next chapters of his life were characterized by disability. Tom became a C4, C5 quadriplegic. It certainly changed his path in life and that of our family.
Like anyone who suffers a traumatic injury, Tom’s first fight became one of life. He relied on doctors, nurses, and therapists to help him recover and gain strength. The next fight he faced was that of rehabilitation. He had to learn how to adapt and move forward in life not by taking steps, but by rolling forward in a set of powered wheels. As he and we navigated this new normal we faced many challenges – adapting our home, purchasing needed medical equipment, buying a van, arranging home care and so much more. It’s overwhelming and life changing.
Many people don’t often realize how much individuals and their families have to go through once they are released from hospitals or rehab facilities. They often don’t know what direction to turn or who to turn to. They embark on a journey. It is often filled with obstacles to overcome – whether physical or emotional. There are moments of grief and discouragement, but there are also moments of triumph. The moments of triumph were much more frequent and possible in our home when Tom got the support he needed. The equipment, the care, and the therapy he needed to regain a sense of freedom – a sense of himself.
There were years of climbing mountains and navigating systems and it certainly tested us, and Tom’s spirit, but he moved forward. He moved forward by believing in his inner strength, and having the support and love of his family and friends. He never – through everything – lost his sense of humor or his vigor to take on life. Tom learned to drive again, fish again, and even last year ski again. He embraced life despite the challenges he faced. And we embraced each other as we ventured through them.
Tom and I were married in June 2002. We welcomed our twin daughters, Isabella and Jenna, into the world in April 2008. They were by far Tom’s greatest joy and accomplishment. Despite the challenges of his disability, he was a fantastic father. He loved volunteering at their school, taking them to gymnastics and soccer practice. He made up ridiculous songs and told great stories. He was a true trooper and would play Barbies and attend tea parties. He just loved every part of being their dad. And we loved every part of him. How much we miss him can never be measured. We continue to celebrate him every day. We share memories, we laugh, we cry, we carry forward. We carry his spirit forward. We’ve honored him with a scholarship in his name at Cleveland State, and continue to raise donations and awareness for other organizations in his name. Most importantly, we carry forward living the life he wanted for us. That is the greatest honor we can bestow upon him.
They say life is the sum of all your choices. Tom’s choices became the script of his life. Tom chose me and I chose him. We chose to have two beautiful girls and a life together. We chose love. Tom brought us great joy and great love. He will never be forgotten – he has left a lasting impression on all our souls. And in his last days, I honored his choice to be an organ donor. Tom chose to give life to others. Tom’s choice has helped so many people. Somewhere his heart is beating for another, his lungs are breathing for another, his liver and kidneys are giving new life to others. The list can go on. He is a true hero. Of course if he was here, he wouldn’t think that. He’d just think it was the right thing to do. And it was. As hard as it was to let him go, knowing that he has saved lives is powerful. It’s an amazing gift to give. He was an amazing person.
We love and miss you Tom. We may have not had the gift of time that we would’ve wanted with you, but you have certainly left a mark on this earth. We love you to the moon and back Cracker Jack.
– Your Kimmy Bear