Writing to the family of your organ donor can be difficult. It may be hard to find the right words to express your gratitude and describe just what the gift of life has meant to you and your family. Knowing that while you may be celebrating the gift of receiving your transplant, someone else will be remembering a loss may make it even more challenging.
We know that donor families often find letters from recipients comforting. When you acknowledge their loss and express your thanks, you make their loved one’s gift even more meaningful.
Lara Moretti, LSW, CT, Manager of Family Support Services at Gift of Life Donor Program, notes that it can be overwhelming to feel like you have to write a long letter or find the “perfect words.” She suggests that simple thoughts and expressions of gratitude will be appreciated by the family of your donor just as much as a longer letter.
If you decide you’d like to write a letter, here are guideline from Gift of Life to help get you started:
- Include only your first name and only the first names of your family members (if you choose to include them).
- Acknowledge the donor family’s loss and thank them for their gift.
- Discuss your family situation such as marital status, children or grandchildren.
- Describe the type of transplant you received. (One donor may have benefited many people.)
- Use simple language.
- Avoid complex medical terms. Don’t give too much detail about your medical history.
- Describe how long you waited for a transplant. What was the wait like for you and your family?
- Explain how the transplant has improved your health and changed your life. Did you return to work or school, or accept a new job? Did you celebrate another birthday? Did your son or daughter marry? Did you become a parent or grandparent?
- Share your hobbies or interests.
- Consider omitting any religious comments, since the religion of the donor family is unknown.
If writing a letter doesn’t feel like a comfortable option for you, Gift of Life also offers an opportunity to electronically send a note to the family of your donor by visiting the Family Support Services web page and completing the online form. A third option is to mail a nice thank card to the family of your donor with a brief acknowledgement of their loss and expression of gratitude for their gift.
Additionally, if you don’t feel ready yet, any member of your family may write a letter.
The Correspondence Process
Correspondence to donor families should be mailed to the Gift of Life Family Support Services team. It will be reviewed by them before being sent to the donor family. The Family Support Services team is a group of social workers and counselors who help guide the donor families through the many complex emotions associated with donation, loss and grief. Their relationship with donor families is similar to your relationship with your transplant coordinator. They are able to anticipate support needs that an individual or family may have.
- Your full name
- Your mailing address, city, phone number and email address
- Your physician’s name
- The name or location of the hospital where you received your transplant
If any such information is included in your letter, Family Support Services will edit the letter prior to forwarding it to your donor family. Should Gift of Life have questions about the content of your letter, the Family Support Services team will contact you directly.
Letters or cards should be sent to:
Gift of Life Donor Program
Attn: Family Support Services
401 N. 3rd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Please be sure to include your full name, date of transplant and organ received on a separate piece of paper so Gift of Life can be sure to send your letter to the appropriate donor family.
What Happens After the Letter Is Mailed?
Donor families are coping with the loss of a loved one, and each manages their grief in different ways. Some donor families find that writing about their loved one and their decision to donate helps in their grieving process. Other donor families prefer privacy and do not write back.
In either case, “thank you” is as important to say as it is to hear. There is no time frame for writing. No matter when you were transplanted, it is always the right time to express your gratitude.
“Writing the family of the donor is an important process for all recipients,” Moretti notes. “Even if you don’t hear back from the family, the act of offering condolences and expressing gratitude is a critical part of becoming the best steward of the gift you can be.”