Teresa Gardner reached her hand to Timothy Jordan's chest, feeling the beating heart of her son who died nine months ago.
"You're family now," Gardner said, smiling through tears and clutching the father of two. "I'm so glad. We know what God can do … You're definitely a part of the family now and you're never getting away."
The Darlington man and his family met the North Charleston mother for the first time Monday at the LifePoint offices in North Charleston. LifePoint is the designated organ procurement organization for organ recovery services in the state.
Out of about 180 organ donations last year, an estimated five to 10 recipients of organs met with the donor's family, according to spokesman Mark Johnson.
"This is probably the only bright spot from that tragedy," Johnson said. "It's extremely rare that they met."
Gardner lost her 20-year-old son to a brutal armed robbery in March. Maraleius Birdsong was killed by a gunshot wound to the head as he was doing his job as a Domino's deliveryman. He had taken the job three months earlier to pay for college. He was attending Trident Tech with hopes to transfer to The Citadel.
Birdsong graduated from high school in Indiana, but had attended Fort Dorchester High. Gardner said when he moved back to South Carolina and went to the Department of Motor Vehicles, he came home with a heart on his license. He had decided to become an organ donor.
Gardner surmised it might be the family connection to organ donation — two of her uncles received heart transplants. And after Birdsong's death, Gardner said knowing her son lives on in four people has helped her cope.
For Birdsong to give his final gift, the Dorchester County coroner had to release his body for organ donation. Although there was an investigation at the time, Coroner Chris Nisbet said since he died of a gunshot wound to the head, it did not hurt the investigation.
"The investigation comes first," Nisbet said, adding that due to the location of the shot, it allowed both the investigation and the donation. "His mother will be able to spend the rest of her days knowing her son gave life to so many people."
Prior to meeting Jordan, Gardner was excited and nervous. The word "bittersweet" crossed her lips several times.
"It almost feels like you know him — you have that bond," Gardner said, prior to meeting the Darlington man who she had yet to meet for the very first time. "It's a roller coaster. But on a roller coaster, if you get scared, you can get off. But with organ donation, you have no choice but to see where it takes you."
Birdsong loved Christmas and Gardner said this time of year has been difficult for the family.
"But it's a joyous Christmas now," she said.
Tuesday, the family will gather again at the LifePoint offices to put the finishing touches on a floral depiction of Birdsong, which will join 71 other floragraphs on the LifePoint float in the Rose Bowl Parade Jan. 1. The float honors those who have given life, and celebrates those who received life.