Providing a Light in the Darkness for Donor Families
The selfless act of donation is profound. It can provide renewed hope and healing not only for an individual waiting for sight-restoring surgery, but also for donor families during a very dark time – the loss of a loved one. In the instances when donation does not lead to sight restoration, the donor’s generous gift and impact can still be transformative, fueling key research and training needs that help advance new treatments and cures for the many of the conditions that diminish vision.
At SightLife, we deeply value our donor families. Their support makes our critical, sight-restoring work possible. That’s why our commitment to donor families does not end after our initial donation conversation. Instead, it extends upwards of 24 months, or sometimes longer, through SightLife’s Aftercare Program, which serves as a warm guiding light of support to families as they learn to move forward through life after loss.
Over the years, our Aftercare Program has evolved to better serve our grieving donor families and help strengthen as well as expand connections across the donation community. Always listening with an empathetic ear, we work with families to continuously honor their loved ones while respecting each person’s unique experiences and grief processes. We also curate a range of tools and resources as well as community-building events in support.
For each family, SightLife is committed to:
- Providing Custom Bereavement Resources
Every family receives a packet that contains a letter describing the outcome of their loved one’s donated corneas (e.g., that they were used for sight-restoring transplant or innovative research), a donor certificate, and various bereavement resource materials, where possible, customized to the family’s unique situation, such as losing a loved one to traumatic death or navigating the death of a child. These communications touchpoints continue over the course of two years, through our quarterly e-newsletter (new in 2021!), holiday acknowledgments, and a note of support on the anniversary of the loved one’s passing.
We also have a robust online resource page where families can find more information and links to organizations, articles, books, and podcasts, among many other resources that can help people navigate their grief experiences.
- Expanding Opportunities to Remember, Celebrate, and Honor
Each year, SightLife hosts several events for donor families, both virtually and in-person (when safe to do so, given the COVID-19 pandemic), that help create space for community building, peer learning, and resource-sharing in honor and celebration of loved ones lost. Our donor families frequently express how the sharing of stories at our community events bring moments of reflection, comfort, and peace during difficult times. As one donor father, Andrew, put it:
“I have been angry for a while after the loss of our daughter, but this [event] has certainly shed light and helped me see that Hayley is still with us, just as she always wanted.”-Andrew, Donor Father
- Building Connections in Community
Any time our donation community comes together, the atmosphere is full of hope, grace, and unconditional support. Be the forum large or small, in person or online, we strive to create unique and reaffirming connections among donor families that uplift all who participate.
For example, our private SightLife Donor Family Facebook page is a safe and facilitated space where donor families from across the U.S. can come together, united in the shared experience of losing a loved one who then became a donor. On the page, they share stories, offer peer-to-peer support, and exchange resources with thoughtful compassion.
Each month since the onset of the pandemic, the SightLife Family Services team has also hosted small online donor family gatherings. Sometimes these small gatherings focus on curated topics related to death and donation. Other times, they provide families the opportunity to share and discuss in a more open-ended fashion, as often occurs during Crafts Night. If you would like to learn more about these gatherings, email us.
- Raising Awareness of Eye Donation
While cornea donation is the most common type of donation, it is also one of the most unknown. As a result, many of our donor families often appreciate sharing their stories to raise awareness of donation’s transformative impact—not just for transplant recipients but also for grieving donor families, who often appreciate how donation helps the legacy of their loved one to live on. Contact us today to learn more about becoming a Donation Advocate.
Our community programs as well as tools and resources are available to our donor families at any point in their bereavement journey and for as long as they are needed. The many emotions that arise during grief can be difficult to navigate, but there can be pockets of light. As one donor mother, Jeanne, so poignantly shared when discussing the power of donation:
“I didn’t know you can get joy from grief, but you can. You can have two opposing emotions simultaneously.”-Jeanne, Donor Mother
In 2011, Jeanne’s daughter Sarah gave the gift of sight to two individuals. Even though Jeanne was experiencing deep sorrow and pain, the act of donation brought her pride and joy. This mixture of emotions is common for many donor families. We do not take lightly our role in helping people hold space in their heart for both.
It is SightLife’s great honor to comfort and support our donor families as well as sustain the memory of their generous loved ones, who provide transplant recipients a truly inspiring second chance to stay in school, maintain a livelihood, and build a brighter future for themselves and those they love.
About the Family Services Team
Rebecca Grossman is the Senior Manager of Family and Community Resources and oversees the Aftercare Program. Her unique background fits well for this rewarding and complex position.
Rebecca’s formal education began with a degree in social work from the University of Vermont. She knew early in life that she was called to care for the dying and bereaved. Originally, she intended to become a registered nurse, but through volunteering she found that her passion lies in connecting with patients and their families, learning about their journeys, and encouraging their emotional healing. She began a career in child welfare, training volunteers to act as advocates for children in the foster care system, a rewarding position that she loved. When the prospect to join SightLife arose, she was inspired by the opportunity to continue this work in such a profound and meaningful way.
After nearly 10 years providing aftercare to families, Rebecca has found that that her greatest teachers have been donor families themselves. Hearing their stories, sharing the sacred space of grief, joy, and raw emotion has taught her what makes life, and the act of donation, such a precious gift.
Rebecca has continued her education by earning certificates from University of Washington in Adult Education and Public Relations and has taken numerous courses to become a death doula. She also co-produced a live storytelling program for 11 years. She is an advocate, a storyteller, and has cultivated a truly remarkable community to support and connect SightLife donor families.
Stacey Dalman was born and raised in beautiful Alaska, living there for most of her life until relocating to Seattle in 2017 in search of warmer weather. She had a career as a funeral director before joining SightLife in 2018 as a donation coordinator, and began her role as a Family Services Specialist in 2021.
Stacey’s work in the funeral industry inspired a passion for connecting with families who are navigating grief and searching for ways to honor and remember their loved ones. She spoke to many individuals who had made the choice donate, and saw how that compassionate act inspired hope and provided a small sense of comfort, even in the most unimaginable of circumstances.
Stacey values kindness, honestly, and integrity, which are vital elements in the community of families, hospitals, funeral directors, and the extensive network of professionals involved in making donation and transplantation happen. She has found incredible meaning in SightLife’s mission and, above all, a deep sense of gratitude toward donor families.