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.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Organ Donation

Giving Someone Breath

We don’t like to think about death or grief. Most of us feel uneasy being in the same room with a dead body. And if that dead person is someone we loved, then we might not be able to look at them at all, let alone touch their body one last time.

As squeamish as it may feel to some, and horrific to others, donating the organs of a loved one can be a sacred event because we are physically giving life to people who will die in a matter of days without the organs. They have run out of options.

We hold the gift of life in our hands, and we are the ones who decide who will live and who will die.

That’s a powerful decision, and not to be taken lightly. And yet, although donating our loved one’s organs may be the logical decision, and the practical decision, it may not be the right decision for us. Emotionally we may not feel comfortable with doctors taking out parts of our loved one and putting them into someone else.

Here’s the thing. Many of us don’t know how we feel about donating organs because we haven’t thought about it. So when someone we love dies, and doctors ask if we want to donate, we don’t know. In that moment we are so overwhelmed by the blunt force trauma of death that we really don’t know what we think. We are probably in shock and find it hard to make any decision, like do we want to sit down? Do we want a drink of water? But this is one decision that has to be made now because organs are delicate creatures.

The decision about donating our 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. But if the unexpected should happen, then we’re set, and our families don’t have to go through the anguish of deciding. They can simply follow our wishes.

We’re not going to need our organs after we die.

Thankfully, Evelyn and I talked about donating our organs. She saw a public service announcement and felt that it made sense, so we both signed our driver’s licenses for organ and tissue donation. Ten years later, when she unexpectedly died in her 40s from an unknown heart problem, I knew what she wanted.

Four people are alive today because of her decision and because I said yes. Fifty others had the pain of their burns eased because of her tissue donations, and someone has sight because of her corneas. Hundreds of their family members and friends were spared my grief.

The need for organs is great in the United States. Only half of the organs needed are donated, and thousands of people die waiting. The sad part is that many people who are willing to donate 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. 

April 21 is National Blue and Green Day for spreading the awareness of the great need for organ donation. I am not asking you to donate your organs. I am asking you to think about whether this is something you would like to do. If you are, tell your family. Then do what you need to do to register as a donor in your state. It could be as easy as signing a box on the back of your driver’s license.

Knowing that parts of Evelyn are still alive in four women brings me a great deal of comfort.

(A version of this essay was published by The Huffington Post.)

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