Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another. To follow, please leave your email address.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Donating Our Love

My interview with Linda Schreyer for Writers' Talks at Studio West in Los Angeles is now online. You can listen to it at 

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Organ Donation

April is Organ Donor Awareness Month, and tomorrow, April 17, is National Blue and Green Day for honoring those who have donated organs.

Most of us don’t like to think about death, or grief, or anything connected to them. We may feel uneasy being in the same room with a dead body. And if that dead person is someone we love, we might not be able to look at all.

As squeamish as it feels to some, and horrific to others, donating the organs of a loved one can be a sacred event, because we are giving life to people who have run out of options. Without the organs, they will die.

And we are the ones who decide which it will be.

Although it may be the logical decision, to donate the organs of a loved one, it may not be the right decision for us. Emotionally we may not be there.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t know how we feel because we haven’t thought about this option, so when someone we love dies in an accident, and people come and ask if we want to donate, we don’t know. In that moment we are overwhelmed by death, and we really don’t know. We are probably in shock and find it hard to make any decision. Yet this is one decision that has to be made now because organs are delicate.

The decision to donate organs should be made ahead of time because then we have time to see how we feel about our choice, and can make changes if we want. Then, if the unexpected should happen, we’re set, and our families don’t have to go through the anguish of deciding. They can simply follow our wishes.

It wasn’t like we would need our organs after we died.

When we were in our 30s, Evelyn and I talked about donating our organs. I think she saw a public service announcement and felt that it made sense, so we both signed our driver’s license cards for organ and tissue donation. Ten years later, when she died unexpectedly in her 40s from an unknown heart problem, I chose to respect her decision. It was her body.

Four people are alive today because of her organ donation. Fifty others had the pain of their burns eased because of her tissue donations, and someone has sight because of her corneas. In addition, hundreds of their friends and family members were spared my grief because of what Evelyn did one evening in April.

The need for organs is great in the United States. Only half of the organs that are needed are donated, and thousands of people die waiting. The sad part of this is that many people are willing to donate but don’t get around to setting things up. Or if they have decided, they neglect to tell their families.

Every day people die who do not expect to do so. 

I am not asking you to donate your organs. I am asking you to take a few minutes right after you finish reading this, to think if this is something that you might like to do. If you decide to donate, tell your family. Then do what you need to do to register as a donor in your state.

Nicole, my compassionate transplant coordinator, guided me through the process and kept in touch with me afterward. I will always be grateful to her.

Knowing that part of Evelyn is still alive and walking around in four women brings me a great deal of comfort, as does the thought that I might meet them some day. Will there be a spark of recognition?


2 comments:

  1. My husband was an organ donor, registered with the Ca DMV. He also donated blood when he could. I knew this was important to him. Still, when he was killed in bicycle collision, I was not prepared for the phone call a few hours later when a person asked me if they could ask me a few questions but let me know it was happening whether I liked it or not(thinking about it now it had happened by the time of the call). I thought they were rude to say that but I answered the questions knowing it was what he would want, and it was a lot of questions. I guess they had to say that, but it took more control from me in an already uncontrollable situation. Three and a half years later it is nice to know someone might be able to see with something that were once attached to his beautiful eyes(his internal organs took the brunt of the collision) I haven't registered, when I do I will let people know about that phone call.

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  2. They were rude. We were in California, too, and when I was asked the questions in 2001, even though Evelyn had signed her Driver's License, they said that I could still decide not to donate her organs. I hope they haven't changed the law. I don't like the way they handled that, at all. You were giving them a very precious gift. And you are so right. At a time when you were dealing with unexpected loss, you didn't need attitude from others. I'm sorry for your loss, and sorry for the way they spoke to you.

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