The Best Way to Go

It was an impulsive move.  But somehow at the time, it felt right.  Later though, I experienced a smidgen of regret. 

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We were sitting in our lawyer’s office, my husband and I, going over our will.  All the papers were signed and ready to be filed away, all except for one.  One I’d forgotten to fill out.

Not wanting to hold up the entire process, I quickly signed this last paper with very little thought.  All was well, until later…

Later, on the drive home, I realized I’d made a huge decision in a span of 10 seconds.  Later I realized that with nary a thought, I’d checked a box to donate my body to science.  Later I realized exactly what this meant.

If I donate my body to science, there will be no burial.

If there is no burial, there will be no me resting in a cemetery.  There’s no gravestone, no me lying under a huge oak tree with the sun setting over the horizon. And worst of all,  there’s no me to come visit.


If I donate my body to science, there is no place for my kids and grandchildren to come ‘see’ me (will they even want to?).  I realized that if I donate my body to science, once I’m gone, I’m gone. There will be no trace of me left in this world.


But in January, everything changed.  Because in January I made another impulsive move.  

One cold day, on my way home from picking up my daughter, I made a quick stop at Barnes & Noble.  In the span of maybe 25 seconds, I picked up and purchased a book to take with me on a an upcoming trip.  The book, Stiff  by Mary Roach, has been enlightening to say the least.

What’s it about?  Well cadavers of course.

Stiff explores the ‘life’ of cadavers.  In the most respectful of ways, Roach tells the history of body snatching, explains the ways in which cadavers are used for scientific research and even touches on embalming procedures and human decay.  That she can tackle such a morbid subject with both wit and respect is a credit to the author herself.  All in all, for a curious mind like mine, it’s fascinating stuff.

I’m not yet done with the book, but I can’t help but share with you a bit about what I’ve learned thus far.


*Humans have dissected their family and friends since 300 B.C.  But back then no one donated their body to science.  The human body was to be honored, and thus dissection was mostly frowned upon. This led to a shortage of cadavers for aspiring scientists, and ultimately led to the practice of body snatching.  It’s safe to say many a gravedigger earned a decent living back in the day.

*Surgeons in residence aren’t typically given the opportunity to practice operations on donated cadavers.  You know what this means right?  A surgeon’s first surgery is on a live person (with guidance from other surgeons of course).  In other words, surgeons learn on the job.  Yikes!

*Cadavers are often dissected and the various parts are utilized separately (versus a one-time use of the entire body).  This is done in an effort to reduce waste (apparently fresh cadavers are hard to come by).  It’s also done because it’s harder to separate emotionally from an entire person than it is objectify say a hand or foot.

*Embalming is temporary and it took a lawsuit for mortuary services to stop advertising eternal preservation. Yes, it is true that one man tested the claim by opening his mother’s casket every six months.  Needless to say, he won the lawsuit. Sounds eerily like something Norman Bates would have done.

*Humans make the best crash test dummies.  For every cadaver that rode in a crash sled to test seat belts, 61 lives have been saved per year.  For every cadaver that took an airbag in the face, 147 people per year have survived otherwise fatal crashes.  For every corpse whose head hit a windshield, 68 lives per year are saved.  Because of cadaver testing it is now possible to survive a head-on crash into a wall at 60 mph.  Impressive. Though I’d still prefer not to crash.

*Many medical schools hold memorial services for their cadavers.  Medical students attend these services as a way to show their respect and gratitude for those who’ve given their body  so that they, as students, can improve their craft.   Family members are often invited to the services (at least my kids have this).

Because of Stiff, I’m now re-thinking my regret.  Perhaps giving my body to science is the way to go.

Perhaps my kiddos don’t need the guilt of thinking they should come visit me when I’m no longer actually here.  After all, they will be busy with their own lives and just maybe they’d  prefer to remember me for what I was like when I was alive.  And besides, if I donate my body to science, I think my after-life just might be more exciting than my current life.


About thewritertracy

Writer, Mom, Lover of books, travel, family, friends and fun.
This entry was posted in Family Life, gratitude, humor, life lessons, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Best Way to Go

  1. Sabra Penley says:

    I’ve always wanted to donate my body to scientific research. I’m not sure I’ve done it yet, though. I am a committed organ donor, but I don’t know if that includes my whole body. I better check it out. So glad that we don’t need our bodies after we die, and nice to know that they can be used to help the living. Thanks for sharing, Tracy.

  2. Kerrie says:

    Indiana University provided graduate classes with four whole body cadavers. Each had a history sheet posted nearby with the cause of death and listing of any chronic illnesses so we could look for any associated physical changes. Memorial services were conducted for them at the end of the year.

  3. gapark says:

    this is interesting and very timely. Husband and I are contemplating this very issue. Thanks for sharing! Gail at Making Life An Art

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