What You Take

By: magnolia_admin | August 22, 2017

We often hear the expression “you can’t take it with you”. While this is technically true, you can fix it so that nobody else gets it either. I’ve buried thousands of dollars worth of jewelry before. I never know if it’s by the wishes of the deceased or as a comfort to the family – whatever the reason it is forever consigned to the grave.

Taking valuables to the tomb isn’t a new idea – Egyptian pharaohs were famously buried with anything they could possibly need to live comfortably in the afterlife under the assumption that it would travel with them into the realm of the dead. Their bodies were mummified and their organs preserved for the same reason – it was expected that they would need them after death.

Some of you are probably thinking that burying valuables doesn’t make any sense to you, that you’d want your family to be able to get some use out of the things you leave behind – in the same way that you work to build a business or a home or a bank account for your children.

But no matter how you are buried  you still take valuables to the grave.

What if I told you that a few years ago a research scientist developed what he believed to be a cure for heart failure. That early testing proved extraordinarily promising. That the only complete formula for the cure was kept in his possession at all times. That he died suddenly – tragically – and ordered that the formula for the medicine be buried with him and that it hasn’t been used since.

Outrageous right?

And yet it happens every day. The dead take their organs to the grave, robbing the living of another chance at life. The tragedy of one lost life becomes the tragedy of two.

Tragedy, however, isn’t necessary to make a difference. You don’t have to die to save a life. Those who are medically able can donate blood many, many times throughout their lives. Some of you may have the means to give to lifesaving groups like St. Jude and Doctors Without Borders. But however we live, we all know that someday we will die. And when we die there are even more opportunities to save and enrich lives – through the donation of your organs, tissues, skin, eyes, bones – do not make the mistake of thinking you are ineligible because of medical conditions or age. That may not be the case.

No matter what your decision is about organ donation, talk to your family about it. If you choose to be an organ donor, make sure they know that’s what you want. Let the conversation make a place for a discussion about the end of your life and what your wishes are. Your family may not feel that they will be able to grieve if they commemorate your death the way you initially think you want it handled – this is an important conversation where everyone should be able to voice their concerns. I have seen families crushed because they either didn’t know how their loved one wanted to be remembered or felt that their loved one wouldn’t like the way the family felt drawn to grieve. Maybe you would like to have a small ceremony but your family thinks that a larger celebration would better enable them to move forward – or the other way around. Maybe you would like to donate your organs but your family would find that very traumatic – or maybe it’s something you hadn’t really considered but that your family would find a rewarding way to ensure that you are not forgotten. Either way it is a discussion that needs to be had. Make realistic decisions and make sure everyone is on the same page.

Organ donation is a commitment from many people – from the individual who gives, with their dying breath, for another’s life. From the deceased’s family – to know that they send their loved one to the grave in pieces. From me, as a funeral director – to ensure that the body is prepared in a way that will provide the grieving family with closure, despite the trauma of removal. From the organization responsible for the donation process – to make sure that all individuals involved are respected.

Let the discussion about organ donation be a broader one about survival, about grief, about dying, and about valuing life.

Death should not be a silent, looming certainty at the end of all of our journeys. Let it be an inspiration – the impetus for our greatest achievements. It does not have to be the end.

Think of the people you love most in the world: your wife, your son, your grandchild, your mother. Now imagine that their life could be saved by organ donation – for some of you that requires no imagination, it is an ever-present reality. If you could save their life after your own death, I’m sure none of us would hesitate to do so. But because we are removed from the lives of many who need our help, it is easy to ignore the need – to make no decision at all, and to allow 22 people a day to die waiting for a transplant. If either of my daughters, or my son, needed a kidney, I would be at the doctor within an hour of their diagnosis to find out if I were a match. I would consider it no sacrifice to have a kidney harvested from my body and transplanted into my child’s if it would save their life. But what if it were something I couldn’t give them – a heart? They would sit on a list with greater than 117,000 others, waiting. What would I give up for the list to shrink so that they would be more likely to receive the help they needed?

You are the cure.

In the past twenty-five years I have buried several donors. Often the families of the donors can meet to grieve and rejoice with the families of the recipients – to understand how seemingly senseless, terrible death can lead to new life.

More often I have buried people on the list. People waiting. People who died hoping for a miracle – for more donors. And none came. I bury people who could have donated organs in the morning and people who needed the organs in the afternoon.

The majority of us are in favor of organ donation and speak highly of the people who do it – we honor their sacrifice and admire their commitment to life. But how many of us are actually registered. How many of us have told our families to donate whatever they can at the moment of our death.

Even surrounded by death it’s not an easy decision to make; not making a choice is simpler. I am not faced with the despair of need every day. I am not on the list.

This morning I visited the official organ donation website. I had a conversation with my wife. And I registered as a donor. I pray to God my children will not need to be one of the eight lives saved by my death. But someone else’s will be.

I am not on the list of those who hope. I am on the list of the ones they hope for.

You have a choice to make about how you are buried. You can take one of two things to the grave with you: a lifesaving cure, or death itself.

Bury only death. Bury only one life.

For more information, and to sign up to be a donor, visit the official Organ Donation website here: https://www.organdonor.gov/index.html
Registering there will route you to your state’s organ donation website; it will take about five minutes.

August 22, 2017


  1. Bill Russell says:

    Nice read, you have me thinking of registering. I will start some conversations with my immediate family and friends. Thanks Bill Russell

  2. Joyce Jones says:

    Thanks Greg I am considering being a donor.

  3. Rosa Sargent says:

    Greg, this is a very informative article that needs to be widespread. I have thought seriously about being an organ(s) donor, but it seems no one yet can answer my question…which is: I am a cancer survivor (twice) and would like to know if I qualify for being a donor. Can you shed some light on this for me and others? Thanks, Rosa