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Local donor family honored at Rose Parade

Jasper Yazzie Family


January 13, 2017

Lisa Bailey

The roadside memorial where Jasper Yazzie was hit by a car

Local donor family

honored at Rose Parade

by Lisa Bailey

It seems we all want the New Year to be different. However, what different means is unique to each of our circumstances. For one family, the widow of Jasper Yazzie, Tenaj, and their daughters, it was clear. They were expecting closure when they attended the Donate Life event that coincides with, and includes, a float and attendance at the annual Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. The float honored loved ones who have given life to others through their gifts of organ and tissue donations. Jasper was struck by a vehicle in September, 2014, which led to his untimely death at age 35. Jasper's choice to be an organ and tissue donor changed the lives of five people, including that of his Uncle Clifford Werito who received one of Jasper's kidneys.

During a December 7th press conference at San Juan Regional Medical Center, Farmington Lions member Wes Brown presented a check to Tenaj and her daughters, Jade, Frankie and Takota, to cover expenses in order for them to attend the Rose Bowl Parade. The gift from the Lions was a surprise, Tenaj is unaware of how the Lions Club knew of their circumstances or chose them to be recipients. However, after a two year roller coaster of emotions, the family welcomed the opportunity to take the trek! Tenaj said they felt like royalty, escorted by a Donate Life sponsor on a flight to California and subsequently to a Hilton which was dedicated to Donate Life donors, families, sponsors and officials. The families were welcomed with leis, in keeping with the float's theme of a sailboat, and treated with meticulous attention during their five day stay.

The Donate Life families were allowed to visit the grounds where the floats were being assembled, in a huge tent in the Rose Bowl parking lot. They were able to tour and learn about the various floats. While Tenaj and her daughters had been included in preparing the floragraph depicting Jasper for the float, and had seen illustrations of what the float would look like, seeing it in person was an overwhelmingly emotional experience, initially during construction and then again during the parade. Jasper's face, as part of the sail was a reminder of the man, husband and father that Jasper was to his family.

Donate Life went to extraordinary measures to make sure the family's every need was seen to, providing meals, meaningful events and transportation as needed. Tenaj shared that the donor families received buttons, shirts and other memorabilia that had their loved one's names and pictures. During a banquet style brunch the donor families sat at designated tables, each with a vase of different colored sand in it. Later, the families layered the colored sands into one container, symbolizing that they were all part of one another's lives now. Donate Life later provided a small sealed keepsake vessel containing the mixed sand to each of the families.

During free time the family was able to spend time with Jasper's aunt who lives in California, and visit the Santa Monica beach. In spite of the overcast day they all rolled up their pant legs and played in the ocean water, and wrote tributes to their husband and father in the sand. Tenaj shared that there was a moment that the sun broke through and shone only on the small area where their words were written.

Of course, the parade was the highlight. Tenaj said that the aroma of the flowers when visiting the floats and during the parade was amazing! She laughed about how the flowers, which had been individually placed in water tubes, falling from the floats was the "candy" of the parade, causing people to run out from their spots to retrieve them as souvenirs.

But, was it closure? Tanaj admits that seeing Jasper's face repeatedly actually stirred her feelings towards him. She mentioned how handsome we was several times. However, she feels it was a healing experience. She reflected on Jasper's personality and smiled at the irony of him "going out with a bang." "Only Jasper," she reflected. Tanaj and her daughters are still reeling from their whirlwind trip. Tenaj donned a jacket with buttons and donor family identification when I met with her. Sadly, I did not recognize that we were meeting less than a mile from where Jasper was hit while walking. Talking with Tenaj though, I feel a sense of hope and strength. This family is no stranger to adversity. Yet, they wisely seek solace and guidance from their family and friends, and sought professional counseling to get through the tough times. Additionally, in conjunction with Donate Life, they are helping Native Americans to recognize the value of organ donation. Jasper and his family are continuing to change lives.


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