Donor family resources
At BloodCenter of Wisconsin, The Wisconsin Donor Network and Wisconsin Tissue Bank, we understand how difficult it can be to lose a loved one. We deeply thank you for your loved one’s gifts, and we hope you take some comfort in knowing that it can help save or improve the lives of others. To help you and your family during this difficult time, we’ve created online support resources that include: 
  • Suggestions on how to cope with your loss, including helpful checklists
  • Grief resources including websites and books
  • Links to local support groups
  • Tips for writing to transplant recipients and donor families
  • Information on the Threads of Compassion program
     
You may also consider asking your local hospital for information about groups/resources available in your area and other donor family resources. When you call, ask for the Pastoral Care or Mental Health Department. The Wisconsin Donor Network (WDN) and Wisconsin Tissue Bank (WTB) are also here for you with donor family support services at: (414) 937-6999.

How to Cope With Your LossWe have compiled a series of checklists and suggestions that we hope will be helpful to you, especially in the days and weeks immediately following the death of your loved one.
 
Checklist of things to be done 
Many people find a checklist helpful during the difficult first several days and weeks following the death of a loved one:
  • Choose a mortuary. Family, friends, hospital staff, or your clergyperson can help with this decision. The funeral home will work with you in making funeral arrangements.
  • Make a list and contact other family, friends, employers, business colleagues by phone. You may want to ask other family members and friends to help you with these phone calls.
  • Notify the school that children are attending.
  • Have someone keep a careful record of all phone calls, flowers, food donations, and people visiting.
  • Coordinate special needs of the household, such as childcare, cleaning, groceries, shopping, etc.
  • Write an obituary. Suggest including age, place of birth, cause of death, occupation, college degrees, memberships held, military service, outstanding work, and list of survivors in immediate family. Give the time and place of services and any other special comments.
  • Select pallbearers and notify them.
  • Contact an attorney who may be able to assist you with any legal issues.
  • Contact your bank concerning any existing accounts.
  • Notify life insurance companies.
  • Notify creditors, credit card companies, and automobile insurance company.
  • Contact your local social security office if you are eligible for benefits.
  • If your loved one was living alone, notify the landlord, utilities, and tell the post office where to send the mail. Take precautions against theft. 

What to do when you go home from the hospital
  • Decide on the type of funeral service and where it will be held. Talk as a family and decide if you’d like an open or closed casket, burial or cremation; and church, funeral home, or graveside services.
  • Find a funeral home. Feel free to check out a few funeral homes before making a decision. 
  • Make an appointment with the funeral home of your choice. While you are talking to the funeral director, ask about the deadline for the newspaper obituary.
  • When you make funeral arrangements, be sure to have the following information about the deceased with your:
    - Date of birth
    - Place of birth
    - Education level
    - Mother’s maiden name
    - Employment
    - Death certificates (request approximately 12 to 15 certified copies)
    - Picture for the newspaper (optional)
    - Clothes for your loved one
    - Burial policies
  • Begin gathering photographs for a slideshow and picture boards.
  • Notify family, friends, and schools (if appropriate) and give them the arrangements.
  • Appoint someone to keep records of food, calls, cards, and visits to the home.Ask someone to spend the first night with you.
 
What you will do at the funeral home 
  • Be prepared to select and buy a casket and/or a vault.
  • Set the date, time, and place for the funeral.
  • Sign the contract agreement with the funeral home.
  • Inform the funeral director if you want flowers or if you prefer that donations be made to a favorite charity.
  • Create the obituary for the newspaper with the funeral director.
  • Select a cemetery if one has not already been selected by your loved one.
 
At the cemetery
  • If your loved one has a gravesite or mausoleum, ask the consultant at the cemetery to show it to you.
  • If your loved one does not have a gravesite or mausoleum, be prepared to buy one.
  • You will need to pay for the opening of the grave. 
     
Take care of yourself
Grief is different for everyone and you will work through your grief at your own pace. Here are some suggestions to help you work through the grief process:
  • Be gentle with yourself.
  • Take one day at a time.
  • Be willing to surrender to the grief process.
  • Allow yourself the time and right to grieve.
  • Remember that most of the time people do not know what to say to you during this difficult time. Try not to take anything personally.
  • Find someone you can talk to. This will help you process your feelings.
  • Create “Grief Rituals.” Some examples of rituals:
    • Buy a special candle and light it at times that are special to your loved one’s memory such as his or her birthday, Father’s Day or your anniversary.
    • Write a special note in a balloon and let it go.
    • Help feed the hungry/homeless at a holiday such as Thanksgiving.
    • Create a scrapbook of memories.
    • Donate gifts in your loved one’s name.
    • Find a tree in the woods, tie a yellow ribbon around it, and go frequently to remember. (This is especially helpful when ashes have been scattered and there is no gravesite.)
    • Offer a scholarship in your loved one’s name.
    • On his or her birthday, holidays or your anniversary, buy your loved one a gift and donate it to a hospital or nursing home.
    • Hang a Christmas stocking for your loved one and fill it with special notes from family and friends.
    • Buy a Christmas ornament each year to remember your loved one.
    • Create a memory ceremony, which can take many forms. You might consider an actual ceremony in which you place a flower in the room, write a poem, journal, plant a tree, write a letter to the deceased, pray or adopt a cause (MADD, e.g.).

Be prepared for a range of emotions and physical symptoms 
It’s normal to experience a range of emotional and physical expressions of grief. Emotionally, you may experience:
  • Sadness and/or depression
  • Forgetfulness
  • Guilt or anger about what happened or didn’t happen in your relationship with the deceased
  • Unexpected anger towards someone else, God or the deceased
  • You may cry easily and/or unexpectedly
  • Mood swings
  • Discomfort around other people
  • A desire to be alone
  • A sense of death being unreal or that it didn’t actually happen
  • “If only” thoughts
  • Fear of what will happen next
  • Doubts or questions about why the death occurred
  • Desire to run away, or to become very busy to avoid the pain of the loss
  • Feeling like you are “going crazy” when overwhelmed with the intensity of the feelings
 Physically, you may experience:
  • Tightness in your throat or in your muscles
  • Heaviness or pressure in your chest
  • Inability to sleep
  • Periods of nervousness or even panic
  • Lack of desire to eat
  • Desire to overeat
  • Visual or sound hallucinations of the loved one who has died
  • Headaches or stomach/intestinal disorders
  • Lack of energy
  • Inability to concentrate
 
Talking with children about death
Death is a difficult topic for anyone but talking with children about death requires even greater sensitivity. By addressing the concept with honesty, children are better able to understand the changes the adults in their lives are experiencing. 
 
Children need to talk about their feelings after the death of someone close. One of the greatest gifts we can give to children is to honor their grief and teach them ways to communicate their feelings. These guidelines may be helpful.
 
Age differentiations
A child’s understanding of forever, irreversibility, causality, and transformation varies depending on age and maturity. Although these age differentiations have been classified by experts in child psychology, keep in mind that the age categories are generalizations. For example, a mature five-year-old may be able to comprehend more than a less emotionally-mature six-year-old. 
 

Ages 0 to 3
Following a death, most children this range will understand that the routine in their home has changed. They will not comprehend that someone is dead, but they will understand the sadness. The chaos and emotions in the household may cause some anxiety.

Try to:
  • Keep your routines as normal as possible
  • Keep the child around familiar people
  • Hug and cuddle your child often

Ages 3 to 6
Children in this age range tend to think that death is reversible because they see “reversible” death in movies, cartoons and even in religious stories.

Exercise care in using specific explanations rather than over-generalizations like
“Grandpa died of old age” or “Grandpa is sleeping.” The child may generalize this information to mean all older people are awaiting imminent death.
Suggestions:
  • Explain the difference between being old and sick
  • Monitor “magical thinking.” The child may feel she/he caused the death by wishing the person dead. The child may also try to “wish” the person back to life.
  • Comfort the child by allowing free expression of all emotions including anger, fear and sadness

Ages 6 to 9
Most children in this age group understand that death is final. Honest, direct, age-appropriate communication with the child is extremely important. These kids can understand basic physiology and the results of traumatic accidents. Children in this age range may respond well to books and stories that explain death.
Suggestions:
  • Validate all of the child’s feelings and share your own personal responses to death
  • Help the child to say goodbye by coloring a picture, writing a letter, saying prayers, etc.
  • Consider allowing the youngster to participate in funeral planning by doing something such as choosing the flowers
More tips for talking with children about death:
  • Talk less and listen more
  • Encourage children to express feelings
  • Give the child your undivided attention
  • Empathize
  • Be patient
  • Control your anger
  • Avoid arguments and criticism
  • Ask them questions

Donor Family Support – Grief Resources
To help you easily find resources and information that may be helpful to you and your family during this difficult time, we’ve created lists of online links and books about dealing with the death of a loved one.

Online donor family support resources
Below are a list of online resources that can help you move through the grieving process:
Resources for bereaved parents and grandparents

Resources for those who have lost a baby during pregnancy, at birth, or shortly after birth
  • Share (Support for those whose lives are touched by the tragic death of a baby through early pregnancy, stillbirth, or in the first few months of life)
  • SIDS (For those dealing with a sudden death of an infant)
  • Baby Steps (For those recovering from the loss of a baby)

 Resources for children who have lost a parent (for children ages 5 to 16)

Resources for people who have lost a spouse or a partner
  • Parents Without Partners (Provides single parents & their children support)
  • Widow Net (Online information and self-help resources for, and by, widows and widowers)

Resources for those who are dealing with the suicide of a loved one

Spiritual Perspectives
 

Books about Grieving for Adults
Don't Take My Grief Away
Written by: Doug Manning
A complete helpful handbook addressing the painful aftermath of the death of a loved one.
 
No Time for Goodbyes
Written by: Janice Harris Lord
Gives hope and useful suggestions to survivors coping with sorrow, anger, and injustice after a tragic sudden death.
 
Remembering With Love
Written by: Elizabeth Levang
Filled with messages of hope assuring us that one of the secrets of healing lies in remembering our loved ones forever.
 
Safe Passage
Written by: Molly Fumia
Words to help the grieving hold fast and let go.
 
Surviving Grief...and Learning to Live Again
Written by: Dr. Catherine M. Sanders
An insightful, compassionate account of the grieving process that helps us through the pain and isolation experienced with the loss of a loved one.
 
When Bad Things Happen to Good People
Written by: Harold S. Kushner
A must read for all those who are faced with tragedy and loss. Provocative and comforting; wise and compassionate.
 
Living When a Loved One has Died
Written by: Earl A. Grollman
An easy read at any stage of grieving. A great help in understanding and working through your grief.
 
The Journey Through Grief
Written by: Alan Wolfelt
A spiritual companion for mourners that affirms their need to mourn and invites them to journey through their very unique and personal grief.
 
The Next Place
Written by: Warren Hanson
A beautiful picture book, which some families have found helpful in grieving.
 
Books About Grieving for Children and Teenagers
Books for young children:
 
I Miss You: A First Look at Death
Written by: Pat Thomas
A reassuring picture book that explores the difficult issue of death for young children.
 
When Dinosaurs Die
Written by: Laurie Krasny Brown & Marc Brown
A wonderful book to be read to very young children. Explores feelings, offers help and reassurance to the very young when someone close to them dies.
 
Everett Anderson's Goodbye
Written by: Lucille Clifton
A touching portrait of a little boy who is trying to come to grips with his father's death.
 
After the Funeral
Written by: Jane Loretta Winsch, et. al.
Written for children, this book offers some very real help to parents, teachers, and other adults in dealing with complex reactions children have to loss.
 
The Empty Place: A Child's Guide Through Grief
Written by Roberta Temes, et. al.
A little boy deals with his feels after the death of his older sister.
 
Glad Monster, Sad Monster
Written by: Anne Miranda, et. al.
A joyful and useful book, featuring monsters who talk about particular feelings. Enables children and adults to discuss their emotions in an easy and non-threatening way.
 
I'll Always Love You
Written by: Hans Wilhelm
Story of a boy and his dog Elfie, who one day does not wake up. The boy grieves and initially refuses a new puppy.
 
Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children
Written by: Bryan Mellonie, et. al.
Beautiful illustrations with visual and safe explanations of death to children.
 
My Many Colored Days
Written by: Dr. Seuss
Book about feelings and moods. Bright colors and animals illustrate the depth and variety of feelings.
 
Precious Gifts - Explaining Organ and Tissue Donation
Written by Karen L. Carney
Coloring book that explains organ and tissue donation on a very basic level without going into great detail.
 
Waterbugs and Dragonflies: Explaining Death to Young Children
Written by: Doris Stickney
Christian-centered book explaining death and the resurrection to young children with a tale about a water bug leaving the pond to become a dragonfly.
 
Books for older children:
The Next Place
Written by: Warren Hanson
A beautiful picture book, which some families have found helpful in grieving.
 
Everything You Need to Know About Grieving
Written by: Karen Spies
For children between fifth grade and high school dealing with all kinds of losses.
 
How It Feels When a Parent Dies
Written by: Jill Krementz
Children age 7 to 17 speak openly of their experiences and feelings.
 
Learning to Say Goodbye: When a Parent Dies
Written by: Eda LeShan
A book that helps children understand what has happened and validates their feelings about losing a parent.
 
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages
Written by: Leo Buscaglia
Uses nature and changing of seasons of life to explain how death is a natural part of living.
 
The Great Change
Written by: White Deer of Autumn, et. al.
In a Native American tale, a wise grandmother explains their people's understanding of death to her granddaughter as they work together on the land, for which they show an exemplary respect and love.
 
So Much to Think About: When Someone You Care About Has Died
Written by: Fred Rogers (executive producer)
Activity book to help families communicate and know that their feelings are mentionable and manageable.
 
Books for teens and young adults:The Kids' Book About Death and Dying By and For Kids
Written by: Eric E. Roses
A book especially for teens and young adults answering many of their questions in their own words.
 
Part of Me Died Too
Written by: Virginia Lynn Fry
A moving and eloquent chronicle of eleven children ranging from toddlers to teenagers, who have lost family or friends, shows how creative strategies can help the grieving process.
 
Facing Change: Falling Apart and Coming Together Again in the Teen Years
Written by: Donna B. O'Toole
Information and coping choices to assist in transforming pain into resilience.
 
Flowers for the Ones You've Known: Unedited Letters from Bereaved Teens
Written by: Grieving Teens
Published by: Centering Corporation
Support group for teens in book form, filled with unedited letters and poems from bereaved teens. Includes activities and writing guides from experienced group leaders.
 
Helping Teens Cope with Death
Published by: The Dougy Center for Grieving Children
Explains common grief reactions of teenagers and offers advice on supporting teens in grief.
 
Supporting Children and Teens Through Grief and Loss
Written by: Helene McGlauflin
Explains how to provide support to children and teens who are grieving.

Local Support Groups
Reaching out and connecting with people who are experiencing the same kinds of feelings can help you journey through your grief. Here’s a list of some of the many support groups in Wisconsin.
 
General grieving support groups
  • The Healing Place/Sacred Heart Hospital
    1010 Oakridge Drive, Eau Claire
    (715) 833-6028
     
  • Harbor of Hope Grief Support Group
    500 Interchange North, Lake Geneva
    (262) 249-5860
     
  • Aurora West Allis Medical Center
    Living Through Loss (Grief Support Group)
    8901 W Lincoln Ave, West Allis
    414) 328-7405 or (414) 328-7524
     
  • Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center
    Women and Grief
    2900 W Oklahoma Ave, Milwaukee
    Contact: Kerry Ahrens/Spiritual Care Department
    (414) 649-6567
     
  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) WI Office
    385 Williamstowne, Suite 104, Delafield
    (262) 646-5022 or wi.state@madd.org
     
  • Sheboygan Memorial Medical Center
    Grief Partners
    2629 N 7th St, Sheboygan
    (800) 686-4314 or (920) 458-4314
     
  • Loss of a Loved One (Waukesha)
    Contact: Kathy Bruning
    (262) 524-9965
     
  • 211/First Call for Help (Waukesha County)
    (262) 547-3388
     
  • Horizon Grief Resource Center
    8949 N. Deerbrook Trail, Brown Deer
    (414) 586-8383
     
  • AARP Grief and Loss Program
    (888) OUR-AARP (888-687-2277)
    or griefandloss@aarp.org

Groups especially for bereaved parents and grandparents:
 
Groups for parents who have lost a baby during pregnancy, at birth or shortly after birth
 
Groups for people who have lost a spouse or a partner
  • Oshkosh Seniors Center
    234 N. Campbell Rd, Oshkosh
    (920) 232-5300
     
  • St. Luke’s Medical Center
    Grieving the Death of a Partner
    2900 W Oklahoma Ave, Milwaukee
    (414) 649-6567 
     
  • Parents without Partners
    (800) 637-7974
  
Groups for children ages 5 through 16 who have lost a parent
  • Horizon Grief Resource Center
    8949 N. Deerbrook Trail, Brown Deer
    (414) 586-8383
     
  • Kyle's Korner
    7106 W. North Ave, Wauwatosa
    (414) 77-1585
     
  • Partners of Horizon Care Center and Good Shepard Congregation
    N88 W17568 Christman Rd, Menomonee Falls
    (414) 251-1001 or (414) 266-3295
     
  • Margaret Ann’s Place
    912 N Hawley Rd, Milwaukee
    (414) 732-2663
     
  • Camp Hope
    301 Florence Dr, Stevens Point
    (715) 341-0076
 Groups for people who are dealing with the suicide of a loved one


Writing to Organ Transplant Recipients and Their Families
The decision to write to the transplant recipient is very personal.
 
Sometimes, donor families want to write to transplant recipients and their families to share information about themselves and their loved one. For some donor families, sharing information with the transplant recipient helps them move through the grieving process. The choice to write or not to write to the recipient is totally up to you.
 
Wisconsin Donor Network handles the written correspondence between transplant recipients and donor families. All correspondence is completely anonymous and identities are kept confidential.
 
If you would like to write to the transplant recipients, you may send a greeting card or letter.
Here is some general information you may choose to include:
  • Your loved one’s first name only
  • Their hobbies or interests, job or occupation
  • The state in which you live (not the city)
  • Your family situation such as: marital status and if you have children or grandchildren (do not include last names)
  • If you are going to make religious comments, please keep in mind that you don’t know anything about the recipient’s religious affiliation
 
In closing your letter
  • Sign your first name only
  • Do not reveal the name of the hospital
 
Mailing your card or letter
  • Place it in an unsealed envelope
  • On a separate piece of paper, write the following information and then put it in the envelope:
    • Your full name
    • Your loved one’s full name
    • Date of the donation
 
Mail to:
Wisconsin Donor Network
9000 W. Chester Street
Suite 250
Milwaukee, WI 53214
 
Wisconsin Donor Network will review your card or letter first to ensure confidentiality, and then we will forward it to the transplant center. The transplant center will then send it to the recipient.
 
Because your card or letter must be mailed to Wisconsin Donor Network and then forwarded to the transplant center, it may take a few weeks for your letter to reach the transplant recipient.
 
Will I hear from the transplant recipient?
You may or may not receive a response from the recipient. Many transplant recipients have said they are overwhelmed with emotion and have difficulty expressing their gratitude in words. Others may take several months or even years before they feel comfortable writing to their donor family.
 
If you need more information about writing to transplant recipients, please call Wisconsin Donor Network at: (414) 937-6962 or toll-free (800) 432-5405
 
Reprinted with Permission © 1993 LifeSource, Upper Midwest Organ Procurement Organization, Inc. All rights reserved

Writing to donor families
 
The following information applies to writing to the families of organ donors only. If you would like to write to the family of a tissue donor, please contact your surgeon. The decision to write to the donor family is very personal.
 
Sometimes, transplant recipients want to write to donor families to express gratitude. Many donor families have said a card or a personal note from the recipient offers them some comfort. The choice to write or not to write to the donor’s family is totally up to you.
 
Wisconsin Donor Network supports written correspondence between recipients and donor families. All correspondence is completely anonymous and identities are kept confidential.
 
If you would like to write to the donor’s family, you may send a greeting card or a letter. Here is some information you may want to include:
  • Include your first name only
  • The state in which you live (not the city)
  • Your job or occupation.
  • Your family situation such as marital status and if you have children or grandchildren (Do not include last names)
  • Your hobbies or interests.
  • If you are going to make religious comments, please keep in mind that you don’t know anything about the recipient’s religious affiliation.
 
If you want to talk about your transplant experience, consider the following:
  • Use simple language
  • Recognize the donor family and thank them for their gift
  • 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
    • Can you participate in activities now that you couldn't before your transplant?
  • Explain what has happened in your life since your transplant
    • Did you celebrate another birthday?
    • Did your son or daughter marry?
    • Did you become a parent or a grandparent?
    • Did you return to school or accept a new job?
Closing your card or letter
  • Sign your first name only
  • Do not reveal your address, city or phone number
  • Do not reveal the name or location of the hospital or the name of your physician
 Mailing your card or letter
  • Place it in an unsealed envelope
  • On a separate piece of paper, write the following information and then put it in the envelope
    • Your full name
    • Date of your transplant
Mail to:
Wisconsin Donor Network
9000 W. Chester Street
Suite 250
Milwaukee, WI 53214
 
Wisconsin Donor Network will review your card or letter first to ensure confidentiality, and then we will send it to the donor’s family. It may take a few weeks for your letter to reach the transplant recipient.
 
Will I hear from the donor’s family?
You may or may not hear from the donor’s family. Some donor families have said that writing about their loved one and their decision to donate helps them in move through the grieving process. Other donor families, even though they are comfortable with their decision to donate, prefer privacy and choose not to write to the transplant recipients.
 
Remember –– the donor's family may still be coping with the loss of their loved one, and people manage their grief in different ways. While you may be celebrating the anniversary of receiving your transplant, it is also the anniversary of their loss. Please communicate in a sensitive manner.
 
If you need further information about writing to donor families, please call Wisconsin Donor Network at: (414) 937-6999 or toll-free on our central referral number: (800) 432-5405.

Threads of Compassion
Want to become part of Threads of Compassion? Threads of Compassion is a volunteer group that knits and crochets comfort shawls for future BloodCenter organ and tissue donor families. The group meets at the Honey Creek location once a month (we have both a day session and an evening session). The pattern and yarn are both provided, all you need to bring is your talent and choice of tool. For more information call 414-937-3102 or visit out Volunteer Opportunities page.
 
Requirements
Any skill level for both knitting and crocheting is welcome.

Giving to Research
To make new discoveries, it takes knowledge, skill, passion and you.
Learn more
BCW Impact
BloodCenter impacts patients every day through our commitment to discovery, diagnosis, treatment and cure. Find out how, together with your support, we give hope to others in need.

Hear the story