Recently, my husband and I were selected to represent South Carolina as a donor family at the Donate Life Transplant Games of America in Salt Lake City, Utah. Our 20-year-old son, Jacob, who died 13 October 2015, was a donor. Our sponsor, Sharing Hope, is a non-profit association dedicated to advancing organ and tissue transplantation and research in South Carolina. Moreover, they provided us with grief counseling and education on the contribution of our son’s donations.
The Donate Life Transplant Games promote organ and tissue donation by bringing together transplant and donor families with recipients who participate in the athletic games. As a Donor Family, we may not meet the person that has our loved one’s organ or tissue, but we get a chance to see how donations have given recipients life and mobility once again.
Before we left for Utah, we were invited to a meet and greet luncheon with other donor families as well as our recipient athletes who would be in attendance. With many of us being first-timers, they educated us on what to expect. The focus was not four days of logistical coordination as I expected from being a seasoned protocol officer, rather, more focus was put on the emotional impact the experience would have on us – the donor families. They told us we are considered “VIPs” at these games and to expect a lot of warmth and attention from others. Certainly, we are in a club no one wants to be in – losing a loved one. And I couldn’t help thinking of my introvert husband being hugged by strangers and how he would respond!
As the visit began, we quickly realized they were correct in saying we would be treated as VIPs. Every day there were activities to recognize our loved one at the opening ceremony, multiple workshops, the donor tribute and even a quilt square pinning ceremony. It was so very healing seeing how they displayed Jake’s photo at the tribute, rotating on the screen with other donors that ranged in age from babies to senior citizens. The emotional rollercoaster was difficult – feeling elated one moment in seeing Jake’s face in front of me on the screen, then pained, knowing I would never hug him again. Our Sharing Hope team anticipated our wide range of emotions, and they were always watching to help us lift our spirit. From hugs to tissues, they were like protocol heroes being a step ahead of our needs every day.
Why do I share this story? Because it’s not about me being a VIP, it’s about how you make your special guests feel when they attend or participate in your events. In the protocol business, there are many aspects of what we do that are not always joyous. There’s sadness, hurtful memories and even just the pain of being survivors of death. But this occasion reminded me how sensitivity and kindness should always be staples in a protocol officer’s diet.
Just like in dining etiquette, it’s not always about the fork – and in protocol, it’s not just about the logistics…it’s about the feelings of our guests, stakeholders and team.
“Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
President, The Protocol School of Washington®