As a Marine, Eric James Clauson spent months in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan, moving from village to village with ground forces in search of Osama bin Laden. He also served in Iraq, where he helped build temporary bridges in hostile territory.
His mother, Barbara Jean Clauson, always worried about him.
"My heart would be in my mouth until he got home," said the Warrington, Bucks County, woman. "It was like he was always testing fate."
Fate is something Clauson thinks a lot about these days, especially around the holidays. She lost Eric when she least expected it, on a warm January day in 2008 not far from his home. The 27-year-old was riding his motorcycle and crashed as he was making a turn. He wasn't wearing a helmet and doctors told her that Eric had suffered a fatal brain injury.
Eric was taken to now Abington Hospital-Jefferson Health, where grief counselors consoled Clauson. Then came a question she was unprepared for: Would she donate his organs?
"It was the worst possible time of my life," she said.
Still, someone came to mind.
The day of the crash, Clauson was cleaning the house of a couple whose 22-year-old granddaughter, Nicole Moeser, was in kidney failure. Clauson, who also worked at Doylestown Hospital serving meals, had delivered meals to Moeser while she was in the hospital for two months when she was pregnant.
"She just popped into my head," said Clauson.
Though in shock over the death of her son, Clauson asked doctors about the possibility of a direct donation. She hardly knew Moeser, yet she felt a strong impulse to help her.
"Maybe it was divine intervention," she said. "It was a miracle that he was a match for her."
Days later, at Eric's funeral, Clauson said she was touched that Moeser's mother, Adriene Moeser, was there. Nicole Moeser couldn't attend because she was still recuperating from the kidney transplant.
Adriene Moeser "knew she could have been in the same place," Clauson said. "I thought 'I'm burying my child,' and that's hard for a mother to accept. But that day, she put herself in my place. She was close to losing a child, too."
Clauson later learned that a young musician received her son's other kidney. An older man received Eric's liver and "went on to work again and got to enjoy his grandchildren," she said.
Several months after the crash that killed her son, Clauson saw the benefits of the decision she made that difficult January day.
She reunited with Nicole, her baby boy, Rocco, and Nicole's mother.
Clauson brought a photo book she had made of Eric, which included a picture of him dressed as an angel when he was 4.
"I said, 'This is your angel who is watching over you now,' " said Clauson. "There were a lot of tears and hugs, but we didn't want to feel too down. We didn't want her to feel guilty."
Nicole Moeser, now 32, recalls that day and said she did feel guilty that she was alive. But she also felt grateful and yearned to embrace the woman who decided to save her life.
"At a time of insurmountable grief, she thought of me. Her being able to think of that is the most selfless thing ever," said Nicole Moeser, who has two boys now and is joyful at the opportunity to be a mother.
Nicole and Adriene Moeser said they think of Clauson's kindness and Eric's heroism as a Marine every day.
"I feel so thankful, and I take care of my body, so they will know that I will never take that gift for granted," said Nicole Moeser, who is a makeup artist in Doylestown.
Clauson has since retired from her job at Doylestown Hospital, but still cleans houses and baby-sits. She thinks about Eric often and how her decision was really "fate."