Instead of being buried or cremated my mother donated her body to science, which in this case meant Brown University Alpert School of Medicine. Last night we went to a ceremony there in which the first year students — who have been working on the bodies all year — thank the family and friends of the donors for this gift.
It was a very moving ceremony and not just for the families and friends. At one point they read off the donors’ names one by one and with each one a student placed a flower in a vase that went from empty to overflowing. (See picture)
Afterwards there was a reception where med students came and talked to the families. This was really the most moving and unexpected part of the evening. It became clear that these aren’t just cadavers for the students. They are very much people who the students learn about as they examine the bodies. One woman told us her donor was a construction worker and she could see how the strength he got doing that was still evident even in his 90 year old body.
While the students don’t know much about the person they work on beyond a first name and maybe a few other details they knew a lot about them. They used the words “humbled” and “in awe” frequently when describing the bodies. One student even said he sometimes would just hold the person’s hand which made me hope he worked on my mother.
Mom would be so happy to see how much people were still learning from her. We told the students about mom and especially her famous last words, “Holy Shit!” and gave them the pins with those words which we had made up for her memorial service. They loved them and I watched them showing the pins to other students who were also clearly delighted. Talking to the students it became clear Brown’s med school clearly has an emphasis on public service which I found touching and knew mom would love (perhaps it’s why she donated her body there). This ceremony was a great public service to me and my family.