I became an organ donor at the age of 17, for reasons which I don’t need to go into. In my opinion, the introduction of the new organ donation law in England (Spring 2020) can’t come quickly enough - the ‘opt out’ system is estimated to save some 700 lives each year.
Twice my family has been handed the gift of life, a second chance to live through organ donation. One, an uncle in the UK who required a liver transplant, and another, my father-in-law in America who, as recently as a few short weeks ago, received a new lung. In both instances, the transplants were successful. There will never be enough gratitude to those families for that, because, as a funeral celebrant in England, I have also sat next to a grieving widow as we spoke about, and arranged her husband’s funeral ceremony, because he had not been as lucky, and time had run out while he waited for a donor… that was one of the hardest funerals I have ever had to officiate.
So what have I’ve learned during this journey?
1. There’s an underlying current of fear. Fear that an organ will not be donated in time. Fear that an organ will not be donated at all. Fear that time will run out. Fear that the operation will not be successful. Fear that you haven’t said everything you’ve ever wanted to say but didn’t, just in case something happens on that operation table.
Hope for all of the exact opposite reasons listed above. Hope that someone has declared their wishes to have their organs donated, and hope that their family see it through. Hope that the organ is a match. Hope that the procedure is successful. Funnily enough, although I am not a strongly religious person – I found myself saying a little prayer.
3. When you receive “that call” – things happen at supersonic speed. When you’re on the transplant list, you are requested to be no further than an hour away from the transplant hospital. I expect that this can vary, but it was an hour in our case. In my father-in-law’s case, I also found out that the world is actually quite a small place, and that you can get from inner London to the Midlands to New York in literally a matter of hours. Thank God for no pilot or air traffic control strikes on that day.
Guilt because while someone dear to you is receiving a second chance at life, someone else has made the ultimate sacrifice. Guilt that while you are happy, another family is grieving and dealing with an immense loss.
In fairness, this should be the number one point. Gratitude first and foremost to the donor who has quite literally changed a life, indeed it will probably have been several lives. Gratitude to the donor’s family. Gratitude to the immense number of people on the medical team. Just an immense sense of eternal gratitude.
About Justine Wykerd
Justine Wykerd is an independent Warwickshire based Funeral Celebrant. She conducts person-centred non-religious & religious funerals and weddings and was awarded Funeral Celebrant of the Year at the Good Funeral Awards 2017. You can follow Justine on Twitter.