By Chasity Dodd, CTBS

Chasity is a licensed funeral director and embalmer and part of the External Relations team who oversees Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network’s partnership with forensic services professionals. For more than 10 years, Chasity has applied her professional training to guide Gift of Hope’s collaboration with funeral directors.

Funeral directors and their funeral homes play an important role in honoring organ and tissue donors and caring for their families.

National Funeral Director and Mortician Recognition Day is Friday, March 11. The annual observance is an opportunity for all of us to thank funeral directors across Illinois and northwest Indiana for their empathy, expertise and professionalism in serving families who have lost a loved one. It is also an opportunity for us to bring attention to the critical role funeral directors and morticians play in supporting families of lifegiving organ, tissue and eye donors.

Every time someone passes away and becomes an organ, tissue or eye donor, there is a funeral director working closely with Gift of Hope. In Illinois and northwest Indiana, more than 2,100 people became life-giving organ or tissue donors last year. Funeral directors worked with us to ensure the family’s wishes were honored, and the family was comforted as they grieved their loss.

In many cases, funeral professionals have played a role in making donation possible. I remember one case that is a perfect example.

A registered organ, tissue and eye donor’s body was at the hospital, awaiting authorization for the donation process to begin. Our Gift of Hope team had not been able to reach the next-of-kin for their authorization, and time was running out.

Our staff reached out to the funeral director at Meyer Funeral Home in Newton, Ill., where arrangements were already being made. The director provided an alternate phone number for us to reach the family. When that failed, the funeral director offered to reach out in person. He drove to the family’s home, talked to them and put them in touch with our team so they could authorize donation and honor their loved one’s wishes.

Without that funeral director, a donation opportunity would have been lost. It was real teamwork.

Funeral directors honor those who become organ, tissue and eye donors on the day of services by flying Gift of Hope flags, incorporating donation-related wording into readings, providing casket-draping ceremonies or displaying Gift of Hope donor magnets on the hearse and family cars. Their role helping donors’ families acknowledge the lifesaving gift their loved one gave is an integral part of both donation, and celebrating their loved one’s life and legacy.

During National Donate Life Month, many funeral homes show their support for organ, tissue and eye donation by illuminating their buildings with purple light bulbs.  The work to “Light It Up Purple” takes place to honor donors and their families.

Gift of Hope collaborates closely with hundreds of funeral directors in Illinois and Indiana to support them and their role in the donation process. We host continuing education webinars for  funeral services professionals every year on topics like embalming the donor and the tissue donation process.

The funeral professionals who serve on our Gift of Hope Funeral Director Advisory Council also help advance our mission: advising our staff on matters related to funeral services, providing perspective from the mortuary field on the care of donors and their families, and providing education for industry peers through presentations and training.

I encourage you to take advantage of Funeral Director and Mortician Recognition Day to thank a funeral director for all they do in your community.

On behalf of Gift of Hope, I say to all funeral directors: Thank you. We’re proud to work with you every day.