Before the solemn roll call began Monday evening, silent tears already flowed.
My eyes watered immediately when the two bagpipe players, dressed in kilts, marched down the far aisle of HighRidge Church in Benbrook playing my mother's favorite hymn, Amazing Grace.
Although most of the people who had gathered didn't know one another, they didn't consider anyone a stranger, for they were all members of a very special family.
We were there to remember, and honor, those who are now deceased but who, because of their gifts, helped save and/or enhance the lives of so many others.
I felt I knew each of them because for years I've watched many of these families who, in their darkest hours, made a decision to donate their loved ones' organs and tissues, an unselfish act that time after time has given new life to a stranger as grieving relatives said farewell to one of their own.
But as I told them the other night, I honestly believe that just as an organ transplant extends the life of the receiver, it also adds to the life of the donor.
LifeGift, a nonprofit organ procurement organization serving 109 Texas counties, sponsors the annual Candlelight Memorial Service. I've attended several, dating back 15 years, just as I've attended reunions of organ recipients -- both moving experiences that are difficult to put into words.
The memorial is a simple but elegant tribute to those who have left us and a gracious thank you to their families for their courageous acts.
As the names of the deceased individuals are called and their photographs are projected onto a screen, a candle is lit in their honor and a family member or friend places it in the front of the church. Each family Monday evening was also given a tree sapling to plant in their loved one's memory.
Among those whose names were called were some healthy-looking athletes, bright-eyed young women, mothers, fathers, a 7-year-old girl and a 19-month-old boy.
You see, organ and tissue donors can range in age from newborn to around 75, which is just one fact about donation many in the general public don't know.
Over the years, since its establishment in 1987, LifeGift has been educating our community and others about the importance of organ donation. And while a lot of progress has been made in getting the message out, many people still are ignorant or misinformed about the transplant process, procedures and the growing need for donors.
More than 7,000 Texans are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant, according to the LifeGift Web site.
The organization said last year it had 290 organ donors and more than 2,100 tissue donors. A total of 978 organs were recovered that year.
Because transplanted organs include the heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver and intestines, one donor can save up to eight lives. And with the donation of tissues (eyes, skin, bone, heart valves and tendons), 50 more lives can be enhanced by one donor.
We can be proud that 72 percent of families asked by LifeGift last year said "yes" to organ donation, but my prayer is that many more people come to understand that they, too, may one day be in the position to help save lives.
This is something we should talk about with our families and let them know in advance that, should the opportunity arise, we want to be a gift to someone else. It's easier for our loved ones to make that happen once they know our wishes.
"How does one sum up the life of a 7-year-old who touched so many hearts?"
That's the question that began the memorial page to Chelsea Brown, who died in 2003. Signed by her "Mommy," her biography told of her love for nature -- braiding wildflowers into her hair -- and her refusal to eat meat even when her daddy told her that God had put cattle on earth for that purpose.
"Well, God needs to find a better way," she told her dad.
"Her family is very proud to have been chosen to have her," the biography read. "We are thankful she could make such a difference in other lives.
"We love her just as much today as we did the day she was born. We are very proud she could be part of saving and helping many people's lives."
Chelsea, as are all the heroes honored Monday evening, is a living example to the rest of us to care and to give.
As the theme of the memorial so succinctly put it: "Because they gave, life is their legacy."