Organ Donation and Grief: Losing a Loved One Who Is a Donor

Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Terri Forehand RN Terri Forehand RN

Terri is a critical care nurse with over 35 years of experience. She is also a freelance writer and author.

Grieving is hard work.

The process of organ donation and grieving after the recent death of a loved one is time-consuming.

Donating Organs

Your loved one has requested that one or more of his or her organs be donated. Perhaps you have mixed feelings about the pros and cons of organ donation. A little understanding of the process will help you to accept his or her wishes.

Organs That Can Be Donated

To put it simply, organ donation takes healthy organs, bones and tissues from one person for transplantation into another. Organs that can be donated include:

  • Liver
  • Kidneys
  • Heart
  • Pancreas
  • Intestines
  • Lungs
  • Skin
  • Bone and bone marrow
  • Cornea (eyes)

Who Can Donate

People of all ages and ethnic backgrounds can become organ donors. Those under the age of 18 must have a parent or guardian give permission to become a donor. Those 18 or older can request to be a donor by signing a donor card. It is best if one lets his family know he wants to be a donor so that when the last days of his life occur, the family can stress the wishes of organ donation to the appropriate medical staff.

Benefits of Donating

The organs from one donor can save or help as many as 50 people. Therefore, organ donors can make a big difference in the lives of many people.

It is especially important to consider becoming an organ donor if you belong to an ethnic minority. African-Americans, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and Hispanics are more likely than Caucasians to have certain chronic conditions that affect the heart, kidney, lung, pancreas, and liver. Certain blood types are more prevalent in ethnic minority populations. In order to conduct a successful transplant, blood types must be matched, and the need for minority donor organs is particularly high.

Myths to Dispel Regarding Donation of Organs

Fears creep within people when they think of donating organs. Some of these fears and uncertainties, which can be dispelled as myths, include:

  • Organ donation is against my religion. Organ donation is consistent with the beliefs of most religions. If you would like to learn more about what Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Buddhists, and Jews have to say in regards to organ donation, visit the American Red Cross site about this subject.
  • I cannot have an open-casket funeral if the deceased's organs or tissues have been donated. Organ and tissue donation does not interfere with having an open-casket funeral. The deceased is clothed and if any visible tissue such as the eye, has been removed for donation, an artificial one is inserted. The eye lids are then closed. No one will be able to tell the difference.
  • If I agree to donate my organs perhaps the medical staff will not work as hard to save my life. My organs will be quickly removed in order to save another's life. Doctors are about saving all lives. Besides, the doctor in charge of your care in the emergency room is not the same as the one who will be involved with the transplant.
  • Nobody will want my organs because I am so old. There is no cut-off age for donation. Organs have been successfully transplanted from donors in their 70s and 80s. Doctors will decide at the appropriate time whether or not your organs can be transplanted to another person's body.

Organ Donation and Grieving Your Loved One

Your loved one has died and your grief is heavy. Having to fulfill his wishes for organ donation can be hard on your emotions. You wonder whether this is really something the deceased wanted to do. You might second guess his desires.

To guide you as you deal with organ donation and grieving, keep these thoughts in mind. Remember the body is useless to the person you loved who once breathed through it. Be happy your loved one wanted to help others. Let this encourage you. His eyes or heart go on even after his death. Someone, somewhere has received a long-awaited liver or cornea all because of your loved one's willingness to be an organ donor. Many families who have lost a loved one who became an organ donor say that knowing their loved one helped save other lives sustains them with their sorrow.

Take Time To Grieve

Be sure to take care of yourself. Planning a funeral, and having to cope with grief takes a toll on a body. Get plenty of rest and eat healthy foods. There will be holidays and special anniversaries to have to deal with after the death. Do not let the gift of organ donation get in the way of your grieving. Focus on what the deceased meant to you and let his legacy joyfully live on.

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Organ Donation and Grief: Losing a Loved One Who Is a Donor