Q: My mother chose to donate her body to science. When I get the ashes (which could be 18 months from now), she will be interred in her family plot several states away. What type of service should I plan, and how should I notify her friends? Is it appropriate to send invitations?

One of the things I love about this is you have such creative space to work in. When it comes to funerals and memorial services, people often feel completely obligated to a set of regimens. But I’m impressed that your mother saw a higher purpose for her death to be something more than a traditional rite. She felt her body could do others good, and to donate a body to science is a tremendously thoughtful gift to give. What I take away about your mother is that it sounds like she was a “it’s not about me” type of person.

I think she has given you an open opportunity to memorialize or share her in whatever creative way you want. Your mom was obviously a pretty out-of-the-box person, so feel free go with it. Why try to formalize something that obviously wasn’t a priority for her?

It wouldn’t be out of context for you to organize whatever service is meaningful to you, and reach out to others to take part. And I encourage you to do this in whatever way feels right for you.


Your mother's non-traditional decision has

liberated you from society's mores about what funerals

should look like. 


One compelling reason to personalize the service is that you will be holding it far from your hometown. I say this because I had a jarring experience when my grandmother died. She was cremated, and she didn’t have a lot of relatives close by. The formal service ended up being four disjointed people standing around a cemetery plot. It was confusing to me. It wasn’t personal, so I didn’t really connect with the event and mourn my grandmother.

I wish we had been able to memorialize my grandmother either in a more personal way, or with more of her loved ones there. And it sounds like you have the opportunity to do both.What do you know to be true of your mother? If your mother loved the water, then do something on the water. Or if she loved a small group of close friends in her hometown, invite them over. Maybe you could organize memory night in a location she liked and invite people to join you. Ask them to bring a favorite dish, or a favorite memory of you mother to share.


Download our Checklist: What to Do After a Death


And send out invitations, absolutely! You may also consider placing a notice in the paper once you decide where her ashes will be interred. I find that older people in particular follow their local newspaper’s obituary section closely. Those who knew her would appreciate being updated, whether or not they are invited to a private memorial.

I think your mother’s non-traditional decision has liberated you from society’s mores about what traditional funerals should look like. If more of us could embrace that freedom, I think funerals and memorial services could become less about tradition and more about embracing the emotion.

For anyone else looking to donate a body to science, I recommend contacting your nearby medical school, or a nonprofit agency certified and recommended by the American Association of Tissue Banks or the American Medical Education and Research Association.

At Wayforth we work with families in transition. We can empty an entire house within days, sorting what items to keep, sell, donate, and discard. Our employees pack and move everything, then prepare the house for sale. Call us for a free consultation.

Our advice is based on our experience cleaning out and settling estates for our clients. Each project is different, and each state's laws are different. We always recommend that you consult personally with experts about your particular situation before making any important decisions.