At every cemetery's entrance, Fr Pat Keleher tells me, these words are inscribed: Memento Mori (Remember the Dead). Today I went with the good Father over to the medical school for their Memorial Service for those who donated their bodies to the Human Gross Anatomy Lab.
Indeed it was a moving day filled with an outpouring of gratitude for these people who have allowed these students access to their bodies, so that they might better understand and learn about the intricacies of the human body.
Books and models just don't tell the whole story when it comes to the human body. Being able to see a touch and probe an actual human body allows these students to gain not just hands on experience with the body but to examine and see how disease effects the body as well.
An anonymous letter from one student said it perfectly: "The gift of these bodies makes Human Gross Anatomy truly 'human.'"
I've never really thought about this type of gift before, but it truly is one of the more altruistic things one can do. The overwhelming sentiment of the day was that these people had this type of altruism in mind. The letters read by students from family members expressed that very clearly. Their generosity went well beyond, heck, it even literally transcends the grave, avoiding it altogether. Truly death could not hold their gift of self, a gift that might transmit life to another.
I decided to be a donor of my organs some time ago, but now I think I have been inspired enough to consider the good I can do beyond this life with my old bag o' bones.
Besides, it's not going to be of any use to me once I return home to God.
Next semester I plan to volunteer at the lab as someone who assists the students when they get queasy or uneasy or even come to the realization that they're not cut out for medicine. As a minister to medical students it provides me with an opportunity to help them get in touch with their own existential questions, which undoubtedly will come up when time is spent amongst the dead.
Pray for these students today and pray for those who help them be the best doctors they can be.
For even death cannot hold back our desire to give life. And in gross anatomy labs around the country, we see a place where "death delights in helping the living."
Your humble blogger is Mike Hayes, a well-known expert in the world of young adult ministry (20s and 30s) in the Catholic Church. Mike is the author of Googling God (Paulist, 2007) where he explores both the chaotic world that young people live in and their religious reactions to that world. He also explores the age of instant gratification and how churches can respond to the needs of the young adult age by using technology alongside more traditional ministry methods.
Mike founded the award winning BustedHalo.com® in 2001 and continues to contribute to it as the editor of their catechetical section appropriately named Googling God.
Recently, he left BustedHalo® to focus on more direct ministry with young people at St Joseph University Parish as a Campus Minister for the South Campus at the University at Buffalo.
He has only two loves: his adorable wife, Marion and a nine pound chihuahua named Haze, who still find him amusing enough to let them live in their home.