What it Means to Experience the National Donor Memorial

I received an email on Monday that made my week. In July, Mary from the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois had the opportunity and honor to attend the 10th Annual Donor Recognition Ceremony and Workshop in Washington, D.C.

Mary’s recap is incredibly moving and a great reminder of how impactful and important the issue of organ donation is on a national scale. We will be sure to feature under our Illinois Donor Diaries. Thank you for sharing Mary!



I was asked to share my experience at the 10th Annual National Donor Recognition Ceremony and Workshop recently held in Washington DC. I think I was asked to write this about one month ago but kept putting it off because I didn’t know where to start or how I was going to fit all my feelings into three or four paragraphs! But as I sit here and begin to write, I realize why it has been so difficult to get started…it brings up feelings and emotions I thought I had dealt with during my journey of grief.

I am reminded that I lost someone special to me and hurts me to think that as the days go by, I can’t remember the sound of Craig’s voice or what it felt like to hold his hand or to receive one of his hugs. It reminds me of all the pain and suffering I went through and what it felt like to try and put all the pieces of my life back together, without him being a part of it. But is also reminds me how far I have come and lessons I have learned about myself and life…lessons I probably never would have had the opportunity to learn if he hadn’t passed away.

The weekend in DC brought together donor family members, living donors, recipients and professionals to celebrate the life and the gifts given by their loved ones. Workshops were available for everyone to participate, but the highlight for me was our trip to the National Donor Memorial located at the UNOS Headquarters in Richmond, Virginia. One hundred donor family members made the two hour trip from DC in charter buses to visit this outdoor memorial that was created by donor family members, living donors and transplant recipients from around the country. My eyes welled up with with tears as the bus pulled off the highway and right there on the side of the building was UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) DONATE LIFE. All I could think about was that the people inside that building helped make Craig’s and all the other donors’ donation possible.

As I walked into the memorial, the first thing I saw was The Wall of Tears and I was shocked at the overwhelming sadness I felt as I looked at the wall. The water flowing over the words “mother”, “father”, “brother”, “son”, “sister”, “daughter”, “friend” represents the tears of pain and sorrow we all feel as donor families. As I walked further into the memorial, there was a wall with over 200 names front of me.

With little hesitation, we each found the names of our loved ones and without knowing it, we all did the same thing…we took our fingers and outlined their names or put our entire hand on their name and cried. It was just another way for us to feel connected to the one we lost.

Although there could have been 30- 40 people at the Wall with me, I didn’t notice them and they didn’t notice me. However, everyone was gracious and would assist a mother and father by taking their picture next to their child’s name or of a spouse taking a picture next to their husband or wife’s name. At one point, again the tears were unstoppable and as I began walking away, a man just put his hand on my shoulder…no words were said, but I knew exactly what he was telling me. It was comforting to be with others who had an idea of how I was feeling and what I had gone through.

The last two rooms of the memorial symbolized the renewal of life with The Butterfly Room and the ripple effect donation and transplantation has through The Grove. As one drop of water hit the pool of water you can see the ripples created, representing the impact created by donation and transplantation. This is a beautiful memorial and wonderful way to honors those who gave the gift of life. The virtual tour on the internet of memorial doesn’t do it justice! This is truly a beautiful, healing place and a place that should be visited in person. If you can’t visit the memorial in person, you can write a tribute to your loved one at http://www.donormemorial.org/.

Saturday consisted of workshops which allowed us to share thoughts and experiences with each other. On Sunday, we joined together one last time for the recognition ceremony. Outling the room was the National Donor Quilt and candelabras in the shape of hearts. We heard from recipients whose lives had changed because of an organ and tissue donor and from donor husband and father, Acting Surgeon General Kenneth Mortisugu who said the day was “A day of pride, a day of sadness and confusing emotions, but also a day of love to remember those who gave”. Each donor family then stood in honor of their loved one, spoke their name and received the Gift of Life donor medal.

Although emotional and overwhelming at times, this weekend to me was a time of coming together with others whose lives have been changed by organ and tissue donation. More importantly, it was a time of celebration! We celebrated the lives and gifts of our loved ones, as well as the advances in medicine that make donation and transplantation possible for others to continue living longer healthier lives.

Taking advantage of opportunities like the weekend in DC have helped me on my journey through grief. Some moments have been are more difficult than others, but every time, I remind myself that some good was able to come out of Craig’s sudden tragic death and that valuable lessons have been learned. I am proud to say that he saved three lives through his donation and I am also proud to say that he opened the eyes of so many friends and family members by showing us that that donation and transplantation works! May the memories of our loved ones continue to live on in our hearts and in our actions.

“As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without every really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here.” ~Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie


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One Response to What it Means to Experience the National Donor Memorial

  1. BreathinSteven says:

    Hey Scott!

    Mary totally rocks… I’ve shared audiences with her — she’s an incredible speaker with a beautiful, touching story — and she tells it with such grace.

    After her experience with Craig becoming an organ donor, she left her career to begin another career teaching people about organ donation. When I grow up I want to be like her and take the path she’s taking… She’s helping people like me — she’s saving lives.

    I’ve been to the National Donor Memorial — it’s beautiful, and it’s simple… And when you understand what it’s about, particularly from the eyes of a recipient or donor family member, it’s an incredibly moving experience… To see your donor’s name etched permanently in a wall — to be able to touch it and know that it’s permanently etched in your heart as well — to see the wall of tears Mary spoke of and think about the family who saved your life… It’s a very moving experience.

    Mary mentioned the online memorial associated with the National Donor Memorial — Both Craig and Kari have tributes in there… My tribute to Kari isn’t finished — I started it in April, 2005, with a promise I would finish it in the following month… I haven’t finished it yet and I need to do that…

    I’m so proud of Mary — and it’s such an incredible honor sharing a podium with her — One thing that everyone who knew her remembers about Kari is her incredible smile… It’s on my mind always… Craig had a beaming smile like Kari…



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