Consider that by willing your body to the University of Washington you could live forever in the care that future doctors give their patients or in new medical technology that provides better health care.

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My 83-year-old mother’s voice sounded normal over the phone as she talked about making arrangements for her burial, as if it were just another errand that she had finished that week. She knows she’s not immortal, and she’s a planner. She and my father want traditional funerals and graves. I don’t. I always thought it odd to memorialize the dearly departed in cemeteries since I believe our loved ones are long gone and the carrying case is all that’s left behind.

Those who donate their bodies to the University of Washington School of Medicine’s Willed Body Program seem to be practical people who want to continue to help others even after they have shuffled off this mortal coil. It’s what family and friends said about them at a recent memorial, for which some had waited three years to see their loved ones buried and to feel closure — their sacrifice for medical science.

The mostly middle-aged group gathered at the funeral-home chapel, about 100 people and one elderly Chihuahua. Waiting in the lobby, people read heartfelt notes of thanks from UW medical students, who used words like “grateful” and “profound” to describe their education, training on the bodies of loved ones. They described the donors as “selfless,” “generous” and “immortal.”

More information

University of Washington School of Medicine’s Willed Body Program: uwmedicine.org/education/about/willed-body-program

The words used during the service were similar, but the stories about those who donated were exceptional.

Several people spoke about fathers who were doctors and wanted to train the next generation of physicians. One donor, who never had the chance for higher education, told his son, “This is my chance to finally go to college.” Another said his father was the ultimate recycler and wanted someone to get use out of his body when he was done with it.

But the most heartfelt story came from the woman sitting next to me, who sobbed loudly throughout most of the service. A fifty-something woman with long blond hair, she wore a shiny Seahawks jacket, and her long pink-painted fingernails gripped a plastic cup of iced coffee. She spoke about her “sister,” a dear friend she had met when she was 18. The woman had her friend’s name tattooed on her ankle “to remind me to stand upright.” Both fought cancer and diabetes, but her friend lost the battle. She donated her body in hopes that it would be used to cure her sister.

The donors were thinking ahead, like my mother, planning for the end of their lives and trying to make it easier on those left behind. They made sure their friends and family knew what they wanted. It’s a conversation that most of us avoid. But consider that by donating your body you could live forever in the care that future doctors give their patients or in new medical technology that provides better health care. You could leave a legacy that helps thousands of people long after you’re gone. You could be immortal.