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My Mom wants to donate her body to science.

When she's done with it.

My siblings and I were gathered for a Sunday dinner this weekend, and Mom pulled out a letter from the University Medical School, responding to an inquiry of hers. She's in her 60s, in good health, but she said she's always wanted to "go back to school," with a wry smile. And she asked us what we thought.

Mom's sister died in November. Her family staged a very lovely funeral and burial, customary in our family. She views funerals as "expensive." She'd rather us kids have the money.

I'd rather take my share of those few thousand dollars and give Mom a proper farewell. Funerals are for the living. Dammit, she's the one who raised me to believe so.

My brother left the room. My sister said she was fine with whatever Mom wanted to do. I said I needed time to think about it. I don't want to talk to my friends about this. So I'm asking you, strangers in an open forum. I'm Mom's eldest son, and while she doesn't want my last memory of her to be her body lying in a casket, I don't want to have nightmares of medical students poking at my mother's corpse with a scalpel and forceps...any more than I already have.

by Mommy issues.reply 2702/12/2013

I totally understand, and this may sound harsh, but think of this way: if she's buried, you'll have nightmares of the worms slowly eating her flesh as she slowly decomposes. If she's cremated, you'll have nightmares of her body burning.

If her body is donated to science as per her wishes, you'll be helping with possible medical research, etc, as well as abiding by her wishes.

Basically, none of the options sound pretty, so you may as well go with what she wants.

by Mommy issues.reply 102/12/2013

My Aunt did that, all her idea and she made the arrangements. She was life long handicapped and she donated it to be studied so as she said, "maybe one person won't have to suffer like I did". When she passed, a funeral home picked her up and they contacted the institution, then they drove her 200 miles away. After they use the body, they cremate and either send the ashes back or bury in their own cemetery for other donors.

by Mommy issues.reply 202/12/2013

My grandmother chose the same thing OP. My dad and his siblings were fine for it. But we've had a lot of death in our family, so one less stuffy, costly funeral was a blessing. And if it's her choice, it's her choice.

Really, there's no reason for drama queens when someone chooses what to do with their body after their death.

You and your brother need to frankly get the fuck over it.

by Mommy issues.reply 302/12/2013

I think that is inappropriate dinner conversation.

by Mommy issues.reply 402/12/2013

It's what your mother wants. You do what your mother wants.

by Mommy issues.reply 602/12/2013

Let her do what she wants and have a lovely memorial service for her. You can do them at a funeral home if you want to. I've been to several "wakes" where there was no body present. Lots of pictures, video, music, a few speeches, prayers, etc.

by Mommy issues.reply 702/12/2013

Op, I feel for you. My Mom is doing the same thing. I had a really hard time with her decision at the time (over ten years ago) she told me. But at the end of the day it's her decision. When the students are poking around at her body with scalpels and forceps, it is just that, her body.

by Mommy issues.reply 802/12/2013

[quote] Funerals are for the living.

You can still have a memorial service without the expense of a funeral or cemetery plot.

by Mommy issues.reply 902/12/2013

If you can't remember your mother for what she was in life, but only for the disposition of her body, then you're in no position to make decisions regarding her firm wishes.

by Mommy issues.reply 1002/12/2013

OP, my brother died two years ago from cancer at 58 and donated his body as well. I don't recall anyone having a hard time as it was what he chose to do. It's important to respect that.

His daughter and son gave him a beautiful memorial service. It was much more uplifting and less expensive for his surviving family.

by Mommy issues.reply 1102/12/2013

Science took my father's head.

by Mommy issues.reply 1202/12/2013

I have worked in the pathology department of a medical school and other medical facilities. The body can be used for different things. If she is a lab corpse for a medical student she will have a relationship with a student. Usually each student has their own and remains that students until all the classes where they dissect all parts of the body.l That student will give the body a name and it is an important relationship for the student. On the one hand it is grisly, on the other, necessary and vital to learning. You can choose how you want to think about it. That future doctor may go on to discover the cure for a major debilitating or life threatening disease. The corpse may be used to scavenge for skin, bone, eyes etc. She might save a burn victim from death. As a long term medical worker I have also done hospice work. Personally I am not sentimental about the remains. Reverence for a life that has come to an end is necessary but the fact is the person is no longer with us. You can choose to just accept her choice.

by Mommy issues.reply 1302/12/2013

Reading this thread and fondly being reminded of many, many episodes of "Six Feet Under."

by Mommy issues.reply 1402/12/2013

Sweetie, Mommy's helping other people now, just like she always helped you and everyone else.

by Mommy issues.reply 1502/12/2013

[quote] I totally understand, and this may sound harsh, but think of this way: if she's buried, you'll have nightmares of the worms slowly eating her flesh as she slowly decomposes. If she's cremated, you'll have nightmares of her body burning.

[quote] If her body is donated to science as per her wishes, you'll be helping with possible medical research, etc, as well as abiding by her wishes.

Except that many bodies that are donated to science are left out in the open to rot. They are forensic specimens. Police, coroners and other forensic personnel study what kind of bugs infest the body, how long it takes the bugs to procreate and leave the pupae to become fully grown adults, etc. This helps determine how long a body left in the open has been out there to determine time of death.

They do this in various types of environments -- temperate, cold weather, tropical, sub-tropical, etc. How long does it take local fauna to consume a body? How are the bones scattered during and after consumption? How far away from the body will you find body hair in the nests of birds and rodents?

If a body is left in the sun in a hot climate, how much faster will it decompose than if it is in a cooler, shaded area? If a body is shallowly buried, how fast will it decompose vs a body left in the open or a body that is buried more deeply?

Scientists work for cosmetic companies and can use body parts for developing new moisturizers, anti-aging products, etc.

by Mommy issues.reply 1602/12/2013

I think it would be more interesting if she did it now.

by Mommy issues.reply 1702/12/2013

There are many thoughtful responses here. R13 was most helpful. I will also consider the information provided by R16 and ask Mom to be very specific in defining parameters.

The medical school being considered is my sister's alma mater, and respected for its research. This discussion has helped broaden my perspective on a sensitive topic. Thank you, everyone.

by Mommy issues.reply 1802/12/2013

Also, very special thanks to R15.

by Mommy issues.reply 1902/12/2013

Make sure to warn her about narconecrophiliac pathologists, OP. You don't want pictures of some guy passed out whilst humping mom's dead husk floating around the internets.

by Mommy issues.reply 2002/12/2013

[quote] and ask Mom to be very specific in defining parameters.

OP - It's your mother's decision. So just let her do what she wants to do. Go to counselling if you think that that will help you, but don't upset your mother.

by Mommy issues.reply 2102/12/2013

This reminds me of "Yes, to the Dress" with relatives thinking they will decide what gown the bride will wear. OP, it's your mother's wish, be gracious, honor her request.

by Mommy issues.reply 2202/12/2013

I think your mother is fantastic person, OP, and a pretty great testimony to selflessness and thinking of the greater good.

My best friend is a surgeon and I remember well her first years in med school when she had "Jim", her corpse, to learn/practice on. She now saves lives at an ER in New Orleans.

by Mommy issues.reply 2302/12/2013

Reuse, repurpose, recycle.

by Mommy issues.reply 2402/12/2013

Are you saying you may go against your wishes because YOU don't believe in it? Is that how your mom reacted when you told you were gay? Hmmm?

by Mommy issues.reply 2502/12/2013

My aunt and uncle donated their bodies to science. No problem arose from that decision. I am doing the same thing. Don't care how they use my body. Just knowing I am helping science and saving land space is enough. We can't believe in a soul, and hold onto a body. Or maybe a body is just a body at the end of the day. Just atoms in a certain form.

There is a good book about death and bodies during the Civil War called " The Republic of Suffering"- very informative. There was a PBS special too. Just gives another point of view. It might help you deal with your mother's decision .

by Mommy issues.reply 2602/12/2013

I went through this, OP, with both of my parents. They'd jointly decided to donate their bodies. When my father died over 30 years ago, my mother made the arrangements with a local, major, teaching hospital. She declined receiving his ashes back.

When my mother was dying, about 6 years ago, she reminded me of her wish to donate her body. Indeed, she wanted me to call the medical examiner (the official where she was living to coordinate donation) just a couple of weeks before she died. I insisted on waiting until she was taking her nap, but as soon as she awakened, she asked if I'd made the call and what the results were. I told her I had, and that I knew what to do. She also made a specific request that she did not want her ashes returned - in her words, she didn't want to spend any time on a mantel.

Spending the last couple of months with my mother as she was dying (and she knew, and accepted it) was perhaps one of the most profound times of my life. As sad as I was to have lost her, the donation experience gave me (and continues to give me) a smile. After she died - at home, in her bed - I called the medical examiner. The medical examiner's office proceeded to ask me a series of questions - had she had any infection diseases, what was the cause of death, etc. - then she asked: "Was she straight?". I paused. I answered: "I think so." The questioner pushed: "You don't know if she was straight?" I told her mother was 89, married for many years, and had children, and I had no reason to believe she wasn't straight. At that point, the questioner told me that wasn't what she meant. By "straight", she meant physically not atrophied, bent or curled.

At that point I understood. Most people die in hospitals or other medical facilities, and most times the medical examiner is talking with a nurse or other medical professional who would have understood the question in context. But today, I still smile at that conversation - and I suspect the person on the other end does likewise.

Our family has never regretted the decision. She had a wonderful memorial service at her church - standing room only - followed by a lunch catered by the group she told me to call to cater it. We needed no casket to celebrate her life.

And at the end of the day, it was absolutely her decision.

by Mommy issues.reply 2702/12/2013
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