Last May, when my father was dying in a South Jersey nursing home, I wrote a piece titled Eulogy for a “Terrible” Father. It detailed his huge faults, but also how much he tried to be better towards the end of his life. I also talked about how he decided, when he was alive, to donate his body to science.
He died a few weeks after that post. I envisioned an ambulance coming from Philadelphia to retrieve his body. Not quite. A minivan came about an hour and a half after the nursing home called to say that he had died. The driver was straight out of Central Casting. A huge man with ill-fitting slacks and a face that likely frightened the young.
He had obviously retrieved a lot of bodies before because I needed a bathroom break when he arrived, and when I returned, my dad was already wrapped up in a sheet. I thought I’d have a little more time with him, but was too stunned to say anything. A few minutes later, my father was toe-tagged, body-bagged, and on a gurney.
I followed them out to the minivan, where upon opening the back, noticed there was another dead person already in there as well. The guy from the funeral home said she was an old lady who had just died that night too. He loaded my dad into the minivan and there he was, side-by-side with an anonymous woman. I laughed to myself thinking that he would be hitting on her by now if they were alive.
And that was it. My father was off to somewhere in Philadelphia to be a cadaver for medical students. It was his choice so I respected it, but I had trouble coming to terms with what they were going to do to his body. I get organ donation, but this just seemed too random, and I actually wondered how much of his cremated (also his request) remains I would get one day. I think I watched the movie Coma one too many times.
Today, FedEx delivered his remains:
At Thomas Jefferson Medical College, my father was no longer Frank Gray, he was #225-18. There were a lot more ashes than I expected. The whole thing was a lot to immediately process. But after wondering for so many months, I finally had the remains of my father and true closure after his death.
The college also sent a letter saying that they are grateful for donations like my father’s. I hope that his donation helps leads to a cure, or a drug, or a procedure that will help the lives of others in the future. Helps them live a life better than he lived himself.
Now as far as his ashes, I have to put them somewhere. My wife’s father died years ago and she has his ashes stored in the basement. Our parents never met, but now I get to “introduce” them to each other.
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