I feel like for the past month I have been really nervous about having volunteered to sing and play piano for the annual anatomical donations memorial. When Dr. B first sent out the email, around a month and a half ago, I quickly replied so that I wouldn’t have time to dwell on the decision and change my mind. At first I planned on singing Amazing Grace but I soon found out that the med school choir was going to be singing that. So I finally decided that I would sing Sam Smith’s Lay Me Down. I got the sheet music for it and went downstairs to the music room of the grad student housing almost every other day to practice. Finally I would actually be using these piano music rooms that were in the basement of my dorm building.
Around a week before the performance I started thinking that maybe I was crazy for volunteering to do this. I knew this performance wasn’t “about me” but rather a gift and a thank you for the families of the donors who would be at the memorial. But at the same time I really didn’t want to screw up and embarrass myself in front of the med school students, the med school faculty, the dental students, and all of our professors. Let me just make clear, the last time I performed for anyone was around two years ago in my band AND I had never sang and played piano at the same time for an actual performance. Trying to find the balance of enjoying the music while knowing that you’re being watched by hundreds of people has always been somewhat of a struggle for me. Of course I had always had the concerns of playing the wrong cord, singing the wrong thing, being off key, or just screwing up entirely and running off the stage crying.
The day finally came and for some reason I was a lot less nervous than I had been the days prior. I met all the other performers as they were warming up by the piano with their flutes, bass, violin. There were about a handful of people in the auditorium when I started my warmup and mic check. After I had sat back down, the director of the memorial asked me if my performance could be the opening to indicate the start of the memorial when the casket came out…aka everyone would be silent while I was singing rather than just having the music be in the background. Ahhh not what I had signed up for, but of course, I was really excited to perform since it had been a long time.
I was up next. I got on stage and sat on the bench while waiting for my cue to start playing. When I saw the casket roll around the corner and up the ramp to the stage I began playing. My voice was not as shaky as I expected it to be and everything seem to be second nature since I had practiced so much the weeks before. After a few seconds I felt more comfortable on stage than I ever had before. I remembered why I was doing this in the first place.
The memorial was beautiful and touching. A lot of the speeches were so well written, poetic, and expressed with emotion. I think one of my favorite speeches was one written by a med student who talked about how after she had finished in the anatomy lab she went home to observe her own body. One line she said that really brought everything together was how she mentioned that she could always “see her Achilles tendon” but she didn’t really know what it looked like inside and out until “you showed me yours”. Each speech brought so much life to the donors who gave the ultimate gift to people they would never know. And yet they taught us so much.
Afterwards I even had a chance to talk to many of the families. They really appreciated the memorial that was put together and it was amazing to meet the families who knew our donors in a more human way. I used to wonder if the donors had any idea what it really meant to donate your body to science. Of course, many of the details were left out of the memorial speeches. Over the summer when I took the anatomy lab I would think to myself about how I would never donate my body to science. It just seemed so raw, personal, and almost degrading. But after the memorial, and after meeting the families, I realized that this is really what they wanted to do because they knew that donating your body to science is the ultimate gift to society to help young doctors and dentists learn how to help others.