RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA, Calif.—Stephen Beckman tried to kill himself a year ago, but defied the odds and survived his plunge off the Santa Margarita Parkway Bridge.
On Saturday, the odds gave in.
He lifted himself onto the railing of the Oso Parkway Bridge and dropped over the side.
In front of his mother.
She was trying to coax him into her car. There was no fighting, nothing physical. There wasn't even an argument. Please, just get in the car.
And then her 22-year-old son disappeared, landing in the bushes of Trabuco Creek.
It was that landing in the wash between Mission Viejo and Las Flores that authorities said prevented him from dying instantly. Remarkably, he still had a pulse and was still breathing after the 96-foot fall. Orange County Fire Authority personnel airlifted him to Mission Hospital.
Beckman suffered from mental illness, but his heart must have been made of iron to survive two such attempts. He remained alive but in critical condition until Wednesday evening, when his organs were harvested so he could save others.
His heart went to a local resident.
His pancreas and one kidney to another person.
The other kidney and liver to other recipients.
It was a final act of kindness by the Rancho Santa Margarita man, a silver lining in an event filled with dark clouds.
It wasn't until Sunday night that learned her son had registered to be an organ donor.
"I don't know in this situation of losing a child that I'm ever going to feel closure," Kelly said, "but I'm extremely proud of my son for the decision he's made and the giving person that he's always been."
Beckman's older brother by two years, Ryan, called him "the definition of compassion."
As Stephen lay in the hospital, Ryan reflected on their personalities. "I didn't become popular in school," he said, "until Stephen started going there."
He graduated from Tesoro High in 2008, one of those kids who could reel off the names of 20 best friends.
He suffered from mental illness, though it was recognized only in hindsight after his first suicide attempt.
His heart yearned to help the less fortunate. He embraced the homeless. He applied for jobs in nursing homes. He worked at the as a pet care assistant.
He also cared for his grandmother as she was dying.
Yet he cut short his life and leaves behind a father and stepmother. A grandmother and two grandfathers. A great-grandfather.
Little Aurora turned 1 year old on Friday. Beckman had wanted to be a part of her life, and had sought the court's help to make it so. Still, he had gone six months without seeing her.
The day after her birthday is when her father chose to say goodbye without so much as a warning.
Beckman and his mother had seemingly enjoyed "a good day together." They ate breakfast at Starbucks and laughed uproariously at the movie Ted. They stopped at In-N-Out—his favorite—for lunch. For the last two months, they had lived near the beach in Dana Point "to get a fresh perspective," Kelly said, but they were visiting their townhome in Las Flores which still housed many of their things.
Beckman poked his head in the door and told his mom he'd be right back. Maybe he wanted to see a friend before they headed back to the beach, she figured.
"I'm getting ready to go," she said. "I'll take you."
With some force, and a streak of independence, he made clear: "Mom, I'll be right back!"
Going for a walk by himself was not unusual. Beckman would often walk to the corner gas station for a snack, but he didn't come right back. Kelly grew anxious. She didn't see him on Antonio Parkway. She turned onto Oso to enter the shopping center.
She saw his bright blue shirt on the bridge.
"Clearly," she said earlier this week, "we're a little uncomfortable with Stephen being on a bridge."
She pulled alongside him and rolled down the passenger window.
"I was very uncomfortable with the way he was looking at me," she explained. "He did not seem happy to see me."
With a mother's intuition Kelly did not wait. She began dialing on her phone.
"Stephen," she said, "you need to come with me or I'm going to call 911."
He put the sole of his foot on the wall for leverage and lifted his butt onto the rail.
"How about neither," he answered.
Then he disappeared over the side.
Kelly screamed as she ran to the railing, hoping there would be a platform that caught him. Instead, she had an unobstructed view of her son in the creekbed below.
Five feet to either side, he would have hit solid ground. The large bush cushioned him enough to save his organs.
It was the second time in 13 months that Beckman jumped off a bridge. He survived a leap from the Santa Margarita Parkway Bridge on June 12, 2011, during a Sunday morning walk. According to a witness, Beckman was minding his own business and suddenly like a high jumper. He landed on his back and survived the 63-foot drop.
He suffered a brain injury and doctors told Kelly then that her son would die, then called his recovery miraculous. At least six people have gone over the side of that bridge by choice or accident; Beckman was the only one who lived.
The second jump was too much.
"I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do here," a surgeon told Kelly. "It's a brain injury on top of a brain injury."
His body hung on by a thread, just long enough for his family to learn that he was an organ donor and that his body could be harvested in a final act of generosity.
"There's a very positive aspect to the gift of life that he's giving," Kelly said. "With his incredibly giving spirit, it's no surprise. This is such a poetic ending, if you will. Though it's hard on us, this is obviously what he wanted.
"If it inspires others to donate, then the giving continues."
Beckman's family gathered at Mission Hospital on Wednesday evening, about 27 hours after a second doctor confirmed that he was brain dead. Kelly had not had a chance to say goodbye four days earlier on Oso Parkway, but now there would be a proper moment to say farewell before her son was taken into surgery for the last time.
His mother described him as kind and generous, empathetic and sympathetic, a soul who wondered why love and kindness weren't an offered course in school. He loved only one way, she said: "Unconditionally."
She cupped his face in her hands and kissed him on the cheek. Goodbye.
Though she is left with the memory of the bridge, she is comforted by those other memories, too. Of caring for his grandmother. Of choosing a mission trip to Mexico to build a school library instead of a school trip to Washington D.C. Of time spent playing with local children, which he enjoyed most of all.
No matter what happened inside Stephen Beckman's brain, he had such a good heart at his core.
A heart that continues to beat today.
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