Visitors to University Hospital will notice a beautiful art centerpiece in the Main Garden. The Tree of Life: Book of Memories, created by Austin artist Susan Wallace, is an integral part of the Sky Tower and University Health’s Healing Arts program. Each tag on the beautiful sculpture is inscribed with a name and personal message in honor of an organ donor whose gift of life will always be revered.
When somebody loses a life, and donates one or more organs, the donor’s family receives a formal invitation to have their loved one included on the Tree of Life and attend a special ceremony. Their gift has enabled others to live, and the magnitude of their gift lives on as well. The event is also an important part of the healing process. Surviving family members as well as administrators, physicians and nurses from the trauma and transplant teams come together to appreciate the full circle of life together.
“I’ve hosted this ceremony every year, and I still get teary,” said Susan Gerhardt, executive director of nursing research.
People react to grief differently. Some aren’t ready to come back for a year or two, and others want to come every year. They can come as many times as they want to participate in the ceremony, or wait 20 years before they do. They come by themselves, with large groups and families, or together with those who have received organs. The most important thing is that every year, everybody whose loved one has donated an organ is invited.
“That’s what we’re here for,” said Gerhardt. “Every year, the Tree of Life ceremony is a chance for loved ones to process their grief however they’re most comfortable, and come through stronger on the other side.”
During the ceremony, each participant receives a mountain laurel, a hardy Texas symbol of spring and renewal. They also leave with these words, a powerful resolution for a resilient community:
To hope for courage in a trying time.
To hope for grace in a dark respite.
A promise to always remember.
And the promise that new life is all around us.