If you met Ryan Cressman, you soon realized he loved the outdoors. So, maybe it is no surprise that his mother Carol said he would not miss a family camping trip, even after he died.
"The first summer, along came some dragon flies, and all these dragon flies would then come together and formed the shape of a heart," Cressman said, noting that dragon flies did not hang around their campsite in the previous years.
"It's just a nice reassurance that at different times, you have to just look - you get messages from those you love," Cressman said.
Cressman, her husband, Daniel; and their daughter, Melissa, kept that in mind as they met Bob Cook and Lori Cassman in April. Cook received Ryan's lungs. Cassman received Ryan's heart and kidney. Both people said Ryan saved their lives. As they all embraced, for a small moment in time, it seemed the pain of losing their son did not hurt as much.
After that meeting, Cressman said she felt Ryan was with her that day.
"Yup, yeah he sure is. We see him lots of different places. I do; I feel his presence. He's here today," Cressman said in April.
Nearly a year later, through cards, letters and Facebook messages, the Cressmans remain close with the man and woman who received their son's gift of life.
"She (Cassman) said, 'We have a new family, and it's really hard to leave,' and that was pretty cool to hear. I felt that was a little part of my son yet, still in a state that I could -- still living in somebody else and that was so cool and reassuring," Cressman said.
Which is why Cressman has not changed her mind about the power of organ, eye and tissue donation. She continues to be a strong voice in South Dakota and uses her own story to encourage others to give the gift of life, just as Ryan did when he died on January 28, 2012.
"So, on the 28th of every month, to me, is another anniversary that we have lived without Ryan, and so, but the 29th of every month is another month that Lori and Bob have lived another month," Cressman said.
"It was a tragedy to lose her son, but yet, that was a powerful, powerful gift that that young man gave and that family," Allison Hauck, Director of Donor Development with the South Dakota Lions Eye and Tissue Bank, said.
It is now easier than ever to become an organ, eye and tissue donor in South Dakota. Doing so does not require waiting for hours in line at the driver's license office, as it previously did. In July, legislation went into effect, allowing people to go online to become a donor. To register, go here.
"During a time of loss, it's hard to make decisions and to have one done already for you, to know that your loved one wanted to make a donation, and to have a small portion of their soul, their body live on, its very peaceful. Not only is it peaceful, but it brings so much comfort," Hauck said.
No matter how much comfort, every day is still a challenge.
Brady Mallory: How do you go forward?
Cressman: That's a tough question. It's a journey and it's a journey we work together. We honor Ryan's memory and celebrate his life and know that some day, we'll meet him again.
If you know Cressman, you have already realized how much she loves her son. Maybe that is why it will not surprise you to learn that despite missing him every day since his death, she instead makes an effort to focus on Ryan's life.
"I think we all have choices in life, and your choice is either stay in bed and not do anything, or your choice is to get out of bed and try to do something really great. And my choice has been, there's a lot of days I don't want to get out of bed, but I don't get anywhere. Being a Christian, it's God's will for me to help others," Cressman said.