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A Community of Compassion: Honoring Our Funeral Homes Heroes in Eye Donation

A Community of Compassion: Honoring Our Funeral Homes Heroes in Eye Donation

SightLife’s work to advance the gift of sight with purpose and integrity would not be possible without funeral homes and their dedication to ensuring a timely and smooth donation process for donor families. This Eye Donation Month, amid a pandemic that adds complexity to their work, we are doubly grateful to funeral homes for providing grieving families the opportunity to memorialize their loved one in a meaningful way.

“Our partner funeral homes not only play a critical role in the eye donation process, but they also often help grieving families find further solace by exploring how best to acknowledge their loved one’s gift during the family’s custom practices and rituals of mourning,” said Mike Meyer, Regional Development Manager at SightLife. “This compassion and meaningful intention when working with grieving families and partners alike is exceptional.”

While SightLife engages in the difficult but important conversations about donation with families and nurses, our funeral home partners help support families in making the memorial and burial arrangements that are right for them and their loved one. They also help families understand that cornea donation and recovery does not impact the ability to have a viewing or an open casket funeral.

Once SightLife confirms a potential donor’s medical background and learns their registry status and/or contacts the next of kin, we dispatch our Eye Recovery Technicians to carefully and with the utmost respect recover the decedent’s corneas. While this is often done at hospitals, sometimes the donor has already been transported to a funeral home. Since the ideal recovery window is within 12 hours of death, there are times when funeral home directors must provide after-hours access to donors – even opening their doors in the middle of the night.

“Donation is so much larger than the restoration of sight – it restores livelihoods, activities, and passions that may have been lost or changed due to corneal blindness,” said Robert Goff, Executive Director of the Washington State Funeral Directors Association.  “I have worked with many families that have made the choice to donate after death and I have never heard the comment, ‘I wish we wouldn’t have donated,’ but rather that donation allowed them to turn a difficult experience into something positive by allowing their loved one to help someone else.”

When asked to share her perspective of cornea donation, Jess Wakefield, Manager of Renton’s Greenwood Memorial Park & Funeral Home underscored all who play a part, “Thank you to each and every person who makes donation possible – from the screener who calls the family, the tech who does the retrieval, the surgeon who does the transplant and every single person in between – you all make such a huge difference in the lives you are helping, as well as the lives of the families who’s loved one gave the greatest gift.”

It truly takes a Community of Compassion to make eye donation possible, and our funeral home partners, including Ms. Wakefield and Mr. Goff, are an equally important part of that community. We extend our sincere gratitude to all our funeral home partners for their unwavering commitment to eye donation and compassionate support of grieving families as well as cornea transplant recipients – helping renew hope, healing, and brighter tomorrows for thousands of individuals and families each year.