Memorial service draws tears, thanks

The following letter was written by Amy McGinnis of Nebraska Medicine, who attended the recent memorial service held for those who had donated their remains for the scientific use of UNMC students. McGinnis and her family attended in honor of their father, who had donated his remains and was among the loved ones being honored.

Dear students, professors, educators, therapists and anatomy department,

On Friday, April 21, my mother, siblings and I had the honor of attending your memorial service to honor our loved ones who had donated their bodies to science.

I can honestly say when my mom gave me the invitation I was a little leery to attend a memorial service for my father, Alvin Brhel. When my father passed away, we celebrated his life — during the service, the pastor would randomly tell one of dad’s best-known jokes. The day was full of bittersweet, fond memories, and tears were mixed in with the laughter.

At your memorial service, the tears that splashed on my cheeks were tears of gratitude, respect and pride. When my dad first started talking about donating his body to science, my mom thought he was nuts. Two years later, he signed the paperwork. Honestly, we didn’t know what to think.

Alvin Brhel

The message conveyed at the memorial service was perfect! For it’s just like my father to leave us and give himself to teach others, make a few more memories and a few more friends. My father was a gentle man, a hard worker, a skilled mechanic, a gardener. He could fix anything, he was a Christian who devoted himself to the Lord, and a comedian (so he would like to think). In 2016, on my mother’s birthday, someone knocked on her door. She answered, assuming it was one of us kids. To her surprise, it was a stranger delivering my dad’s remains. My dad always had to have the last laugh, not in a cruel or heartless way, but just to give a person a needed smile.

The following are a few highlights of the memorial that I will remember:

  • When one of the speakers mentioned feeling a connection to one of our loved ones when she saw the women’s hands and that her fingernails had been polished. (I had held my dad’s hands in his final moments of life and through his hands I could tell that he was leaving us. His hands, which were as strong as his mind, were waving goodbye.)
  • When all the students in the room were asked to stand, and half the room stood up. My family was overwhelmed by the feeling of gratitude and love that filled the room.
  • Watching a professor as he wiped a tear from his eye. The professor had most likely attended several of these ceremonies and yet shed a tear as the students expressed their appreciation.

At the end of the memorial, one member of each family was asked to come to the center of the room and receive a carnation. I assumed one individual would hand a carnation to each person, but that idea soon diminished when I saw the students line up around the room. Each student handed a family member a carnation. My husband and I were filled with gratitude as we watched the students interact with the loved one receiving the flower, and again, I felt so much reverence and love.

The whole ceremony was totally amazing. I’m sorry that all the loved ones family members were unable to attend; however, I was grateful when the students offered an extra carnation to me.

After the memorial service, my family gathered around in the corridor and each of us expressed how wonderful the service was, and how we were so glad we had come.

I thought I had shed my last teardrop when a student stopped and introduced herself to me. She mentioned that she didn’t know who my loved one was and it didn’t matter, because she had made lasting memories with all of our loved ones who donated themselves to be their first patient. I had assumed my father had touched one person’s life – however, after speaking with the student, I realized my father had touched several students’ lives! Another “Aha!” moment.

As my family parted, my husband and I rode back to Lincoln with my brother and his family, who had come from California for the memorial service. We all expressed our thoughts of the ceremony. Recently, my mom had chosen to donate her body to science, and I wondered aloud if mom had felt like she was sitting at her own memorial service.

Last of all, the letter and the flower! At home, I opened up the card that was attached to the flower. Once again the thank-you card expressed the gratitude from everyone and how our loved ones would be remembered forever.

Wow, what a great job all of the students did with the memorial service. Thank you, thank you. I feel very proud to have been my father’s daughter and inspired of his choice to continue to teach after he left us.

God bless you all in the future. The appreciation, loving, thoughtfulness, grace and professionalism that everyone showed to us will lead all of you as you heal the many who are broken.

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