Letters from the heart

Letters are rare gems these days and are often accorded the same care as precious jewels – they are bundled in ribbon and tucked away in boxes or drawers for safekeeping.

And no one more fully understands the value of a letter than Transplant Manitoba – Gift of Life organ donor coordinators who describe reading letters as the most joyful part of the job.

All correspondence must remain anonymous. The identities of the recipient, the donor and all family members are confidential, and any information contained in correspondence that could lead to the identification of either party is not allowed by any Canadian donor or transplant program. Letters written by donor families and transplant recipients are reviewed to make sure they meet these criteria so that the letter may move forward and be delivered.

Recipients often hesitate about writing to the donor family fearing that a letter from them expressing their thanks, or sharing how well they are doing is disrespectful or will make families feel worse. Donor coordinators say donor families have often shared that they really welcome letters because they derive a lot of solace and comfort from them. Often the joy of hearing from the recipient helps balance out the sorrow of their loss.

Donor families who write first can let recipients know that correspondence is welcome, even if the recipient isn’t ready to pen a letter just yet. For recipients, it can be hard to find the right words to thank someone you will never meet for their decision to donate the organs of a loved one, or to share their grief for their loss and hopes for the future. The Transplant Manitoba – Gift of Life program helps both donor families and recipients craft letters by providing tips to make the process a little easier.

Sometimes the words just don’t come, and that is OK too. Recipients and donor families can make it clear that they do not wish to communicate. That can be difficult to accept if one party is keen for communication, but donor families may still be coping with the loss of their loved one and many recipients are overwhelmed with emotion or are still recovering and getting back on track after a lengthy illness.