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Grief and Organ Donor Decisions

The chaplain had been with the family during their Loved One’s unexpected death. Family members had arrived. They were calming down a bit. The clock was ticking. It was time for the inevitable question.

“Do you know if your husband is an organ donor?”

Blank looks. Family members turned to one another questioningly, only to get shrugged shoulders in response.

“I have no idea. We never talked about it. I would guess no, he wasn’t. But I don’t know what his feelings were about that.” The chaplain then asked what HER feelings were, and would she consider allowing him to donate.

”Oh, NO!! No, I couldn’t do that. I know he’s dead, and can’t care. But the idea of cutting him up like that, I’m just not comfortable with it. No. I’m sorry.”

Just then the doctor came in to speak with the family. In answer to their question, he said he didn’t know why the husband had died so suddenly. This didn’t satisfy them. They wanted to know. Could tests be run? The doctor said only an autopsy would reveal the cause. Family members looked at each other again, this time heads nodded.

“Yes, we’d like an autopsy done, please.” Paperwork was produced and signed.

Grief does strange things to the thought process. Logic goes out the window. Common sense takes a vacation. A person in the throws of grief shouldn’t make a decision about what’s for dinner, let alone something affecting life and death.

Anyone who has seen any episode of any medical drama or CSI knows that an autopsy involves extensive surgical procedures.

Not as many people want to know that organ and tissue donation from one individual can save as many as four lives. It can also help a mother carry a baby full term. It can help someone with bone deterioration stand again. It can help a burn victim heal. It can help someone with vision problems see again.

And just like after an autopsy, the remains look ‘normal’ for viewing and burial.

Are there despicable people who buy and sell organs? Very, very few, but yes. Some use this as an excuse not to donate. But the illegal organ trade is not only connected with donors. Any surgical/autopsy unit can be victimized. Does this reality horrify you? It should. But don’t let it stop you from donating. It doesn’t stop you from having needed surgery, or ordering autopsies. Don’t let it stop you from leaving a noble legacy when you depart this earth.

Some people have signed up as donors. It’s on their driver’s license. They have a donor network card in their wallet.

And it comes as a total shock to the family to find out after the donor has died. This isn’t fair, no matter how noble your intentions. Your family and friends MUST know you are a donor. In some states, a distraught family member can negate the donation. In states where the donor’s request has to be honored by law, shocked family members have to adjust to that idea, along with all the other realities they now face. No chaplain on earth can answer the question “Why wouldn’t she tell me?”. It hurts, and you don’t want to do that.

Sometimes people can’t answer the donor question because they’re not sure of their faith’s views on the matter. Be assured, a chaplain does not ask if the chaplain knows your faith background, and that it is not promoted. However, all major religions condone organ and tissue donation. Put “organ donation and religion” in your search engine and read all about it. Even if a chaplain can explain your faith’s beliefs on the matter, grieving people are not receptive to a teaching moment. And they shouldn’t have to be.

If you start asking around, you’ll find many people who can tell you that knowing that their loved one donated, and helped others, aided them in their bereavement. They feel their loved one lives on, in some respect. When they see a story about a life changed through donation, they are glad for the joy of the recipient, even as they miss their loved one.

One organ recipient was asked if she thinks about the donor. “Yes, every day” she said. “Only God knows why that person died then. I’m grateful to that person and pray for the family every day.”

For a few bucks you can order a new driver’s license with a donor designation. For free you can contact your state’s organ registry online. A card will come to you in the mail. You also have the option of giving your remains to a teaching hospital. It’s how medical science is able to make so many life saving advances. Your cremains are eventually shipped to your family for burial or other disposition. Be a hero.

Do it today.

Shalom.

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Content copyright © 2013 by Rev. Jaclin Meade Scott. All rights reserved.
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