Angie Whisman was hesitant when doctors asked if she wanted to donate her son's organs.
"I refused to give up on my kid," she said of her 18-year-old son Conner, who was brain dead just two days after a massive stroke. "But then I knew he would want to [donate] because that's the type of person he was. If he could help someone he would help them."
Angie Whisman and 19 other family members were among the 450 who descended on Bath Township Sunday for an event to celebrate the lives of organ, tissue and eye donors -- and their recipients.
"For some families, they need this Gift of Life ceremony to move on in their grieving process," said Rich Pietroski, CEO of Gift of Life Michigan. "You never forget your loved one and you never stop grieving, but somehow, knowing there's a greater purpose for the end of their life. This event and this ceremony help them understand that."
Families could contribute 12"x12" squares to a memorial quilt or pin messages to a remembrance wall. A slideshow honored 80 individual donors, the emcees pausing for applause and to recognize the family in between each name.
"It's like the tree of life," said Pietroski. "It helps them get beyond their grief and gives them a point of focus, something they can come back to and say this is their loved one's tree."
There are 3.3 million registered donors in Michigan, Pietroski said. But there are still 3,100 Michiganders waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant.
Angie Whisman wants everyone to sign up to donate. She says the grief for her son will never go away, but she's glad she can help other families.
"If [Conner] dies and we bury his organs, other people have to experience the same loss," she said. "If we can just donate their organs, other people can live. Other people won't have to experience the loss."
Kleenex travel packs were strategically placed and put to good use. But through tears, families found support of others who knew what they were going through.
"It makes us one big family, I guess," said Whisman. "We've all experienced the same thing. For me it was my son, for someone else it was their wife, their daughter, mother, father, but coming together today, we know our sons and daughters and parents live on in other people and it was a blessing to be able to help other people.
"[Conner] lives on in other people, so I'm thankful for that."