In my early teens, my fraternal grandmother, in her early nineties, died. There was no funeral, just a memorial service. Nonnie had given her body to science. I had no idea what that meant exactly, and I didn’t question it. But it seemed like a good and honorable thing to do.
About twenty-five years later (1996), my father died. He, too, had given his body “to science.” We all knew ahead of time that Indiana University would receive custody of his body when the time came. Unfortunately, Dad died while vacationing in Florida. So the University of Miami got his body.
At this point, I understood better that what this meant was that future doctors get a hands-on anatomy lesson. Although I assumed that such students went about the dissections with a bit more respect than what might be found in a high school class dissecting frogs, I also assumed that it was all very anonymous. A year or so later, Dad’s cremated remains were returned to Mom and were interred in a grave.
About a year ago, Mom (Anne) passed. We all knew ahead of time that she had donated her body to Indiana University. They were called. They took care of everything. It was a blessing to not have to urgently deal with any details of a service or funeral. A memorial service was held.
Several months later, my oldest sibling received a letter from the instructor of Human Gross Anatomy at the Indiana University School of Medicine — Northwest. From the letter:
Your beloved mother bequeathed her body for use in anatomical education. Anne’s gifts to my students, myself and our faculty and staff are many; her gift of “self” is the most profound gift that any person can give. We have learned much and continue to learn from Anne. Your mother will touch the lives of the thousands of people that we serve.
This letter was an invitation to the school’s annual Service of Thanksgiving & Remembrance of Our Donors. Four of Anne’s children attended this service. It was powerful and moving. There were prayers and readings. But there was also the opportunity for the four students who worked with Mom to tell us what they learned.
When they mentioned Mom’s broken arm, my brother told the story of how it broke and what happened in the hospital.
There were six donors being honored that day. Twenty-three students educated.
Anonymous? I do believe that all 23 students will always remember with gratitude the name of the donor he or she worked with.
Mom & Dad gave tirelessly to so many people all their lives. And beyond.
It is my understanding that though the IU School of Medicine — Northwest is the only school that holds such a service, the respect, reverence and gratitude exhibited by the students we met that day are the norm.
More info can be found at the Anatomical Education Program web site.