Friends from Texas invited me to attend a memorial for their mother, a retired school principal, who had died a few months earlier. If they gave me details, I didn’t note them, only that the service would be at the Heinz Chapel on the U. of Pittsburgh campus on Friday at 1:30 pm. Since my friend’s mother was not from Pittsburgh, and had lived well into her eighties, the past few years with her daughter here, I expected an intimate gathering of a few friends and family members.
I arrived late, not having accounted for the fact that the dorms were letting out for the season, and parking on the street was impossible. But after a several block walk in the rain, I entered a side door of the chapel and found it filled nearly to capacity. I noted many attendees wearing white physician coats and decided I must be in the wrong place. I thought to myself, this looks like some sort of graduation ceremony in progress. A woman attendant in the vestibule reassured me that it was a memorial service and handed me a program. Scanning the list of names, I found my friend’s mother’s name. I felt perplexed, but convinced I was in the right place.
Walking quietly into the ethereal Heinz Chapel, my confusion quickly dissipated in the atmosphere of deep respect and gratitude. Reading the program more carefully, I learned that this Ceremony of Remembrance was sponsored by the Humanity Gifts Registry, a Pennsylvania non-profit, and attended by family members, friends, and students in the medical school class of 2014. It honored those individuals who have provided their bodies as a contribution to Medical Education and Research.
The beautifully crafted ceremony included addresses by administrators from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the Schools of the Health Sciences, candle-lighting and a formal reading of the names by medical students, and music from a variety of genres; the classical hymn, Ave Maria, a duet, For Good, from the musical Wicked, and a concluding choral performance of May The Road Rise Up to Meet You, an Old Irish Blessing.
The tears that welled up in the corners of my eyes might have been partly related to the fact that Ave Maria was sung at the services of my mother and my son, that my daughter’s best friend gave her the song, For Good at a time when she was seriously ill, and that I have a cross stitched version of the Irish blessing on my wall, the work of my daughter, now deceased.
But some tears were of gratitude for those people, like my friend’s mother, who through such a selfless gift, found a way to continue teaching and contributing after their lives ended. I felt proud of the institutions who have made that possible and the families and students that have honored them so graciously.