Friday, October 21, 2011

Informal Bereavement-Grief Rituals After the Death Ritual (Research, Video 3:46)

The donation of bodies to medical science anatomy programs is a significant end-of-life legacy. In addition to enhancing research, donated bodies offer training opportunities that ultimately benefit public health. People who say they are donating their bodies are often asked,  “Why donate your body? Don’t you want a funeral, memorial service, or something?” A common belief is that bodies donated to anatomy programs are dissected, studied, and then “disposed of” in an uncertain manner. The assumption may be that the entire procedure is strictly medical and scientific with few displays of gratitude for the donations and certainly no death rituals of respect for families or persons whose bodies are donated.

What are some death ritual options available for those who want to donate their bodies to an anatomy program? If funeral services are desired with the body present, the family can contact the funeral home and make arrangements with the anatomy program before funeral preparations are made. Another possibility is to have a memorial service without the donor’s body present.

But a little known fact is that a number of U.S. anatomy programs hold memorial ceremonies of gratitude honoring body donors. These final tributes to human lives are usually planned by students and faculty and include invited guests. Various U.S. anatomy programs hold nondenominational memorial services that include theme celebrations with expressions of speech, music, poetry, essays, visual art, and dance.

Those interested in donating their bodies to anatomy programs should contact the organizations that interest them and request information. Some have websites explaining their procedures. A list of common questions and answers about the body bequest program at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, MI can be viewed. Some answers may be surprising. For example, age is not a consideration for body donation, but there are other factors such as not having major organs removed. Also, if the family wishes to have the cremains returned for burial, the University, if requested at the time of death, will return the ashes to the family.

The following video features a cadaver memorial service with more than 300 in attendance. It is presented as part of a long-standing tradition by first-year medical students at the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

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