Honoring Cadavers after a Year of Learning

Cards and notes from students

It is a way to give thanks. It is a way to express honor. It is a form of empathy ­— the root of healing. Bastyr University naturopathic medicine students recently gathered in the chapel for a cadaver memorial ceremony, honoring the bodies they studied all year and thanking the donors and their families.

Naturopathic medicine students take Gross Human Anatomy during their entire first year, dissecting a body organ by organ, working two-to-four students per body. Many students begin the year with trepidation. By the end, they possess new understanding about the human form.

"You can't get this experience any other way," says instructor Rebecca Love Steward, DVM, a faculty member in the Department of Basic Sciences. "Nothing you can learn from books shows you what the human body is like with this depth, this texture, with three dimensions of blood vessels and muscle."

The University holds a memorial ceremony each June. Afterward the bodies are cremated and the ashes returned to family members. Students create notes, cards, paintings, sculpture and artwork to express the discoveries they made through the year of study.

The poem "Knowing You," by first-year student JooRi Jun, offers a tender reflection on the life of the woman whose body she studied. Jun's words cut to the core, so to speak, of the woman's gift and the discovery she enabled for students. Jun graciously allowed us to reprint her poem:

Knowing You

I do not know all the paths you chose to walk down in life, but I have felt the fibers of all the muscles that carried you there.

I do not know what made your heart burst with love, but I have pictured how the blood flowed through the four chambers of your heart.

I do not know what life dreams you had, but I have traced your nerves to see how it was possible for your brain to realize them.

I do not know what moments in your life made you sigh with relief or in despair, but I have touched the lungs that held your breath.

I do not know the many hands you lovingly held in yours, but I have felt the strength of each of your fingers.

I do not know all the burdens you carried on your shoulders, but I have cut through the tension you carried there.

I do not know the beauty and brokenness you witnessed in your lifetime, but I have seen how you were able to see the world.

I do not know what nourished and nurtured you, but I have met all the organs that worked hard to sustain you.

I do not know the children you gave life to, but I have been awed by the inner workings of your womb.

I do not know how many times your heart was broken, but I have uncovered the sac that housed your tears.

I do not know the lovers who knew you so well, but I have come to know all the layers and spaces of your body.

I do not know your name, but before you left you gave me permission to uncover the miracle of the human body through you.

You gave me the gift of knowing you.

Thank you.