Friday, August 24, 2012

My Day at the Morgue

I'm currently on a path of remembrance. Doing research for my WIP (work in progress) is bringing up all sorts of memories. These memories have helped to mold me into an author that isn't afraid of toeing the invisible line between horror and suspense. Today's Murderer's Market post takes you back to my first time - at the morgue and seeing the dead. 

At the age of sixteen, life was before me and I was trying to decide which of its varied paths I should take.  Believe me; it wasn't filled with necessary gooey emotions. Instead I was trying to be logical about my choices. At that time, I’d already completed biology and its dissection requirements; I’d seen how people react when it came to dead animals, but nothing could prepare me for my field trip to the morgue at the local hospital.

Remembering significant events
 help to bring things back into focus.
It was a small group of us, I believe between ten and fifteen high school students. Our teacher at the time had arranged for this great trip; the purpose behind it, I’ll never be able to recall, but the scent of what I can only guess was formaldehyde was overwhelming as we walked through the swinging doors. On the metal slabs were several nude bodies. All of them had been donated to the school for science.

I shivered at that thought for not only were students eyeing the dead in strange curiosity, but then there were also several medical students “working” on them.

The professor giving the tour took us first to an old man who’d died from lung cancer. She showed us his heart, and his lungs. But for me, what I saw was his face. Immobile, still, ashen. Even now, I can still recall every line, every wrinkle of this man. He will never know how seeing him there changed my life.

We then moved on and viewed more body parts, including the washing out of the bowels (for southerners or those familiar with pig chitterlings, it looked just like that. The students had a white bucket and were pulling them out of there to clean them, one by one).

They say that things in life prepare you for later events. Looking back, I can say this is true. Before then, I’d never encountered a dead person. No one close to me had ever died; I’d never understood what wakes were or even attended a funeral. This setting though was void of all emotion. The poor man was reduced to a mere object to be studied – no name, no history, nothing.

After this trip, my interest in law began. Somewhere I made the connection that we all should have a name. I’m not supposing that this elderly man was a victim of a crime, but for me, the crime was to act like he was not human at all. Sure, to work in the medical field, maybe there has to be a little disassociation (especially during dissection), but for me, I always and continue to wonder about his backstory. With that conflict and the value of life, I jumped into studying theology – trying to find meaning of life through religion, and thus, figuring out a way to understand the value of life, as a mere forethought to death.

I didn’t scream, cry or have nightmares. I didn’t pass out. And for an uncomfortable situation, I didn’t joke about the situation either because for me, we were in a place that was almost sacred; a place where the deceased rested, and where their last wishes were to be consummated.

Since then, I’ve experienced more death than I’d prefer, but whenever I think about “him” I recall an old man that didn’t have a name. 

About Tina: I am the author of THOU SHALL NOT. I love creating three dimensional characters and am always looking for new people to kill…in my stories.
Check out my author's  blog at and my book is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also connect with me on Facebook and on Twitter.


  1. Good post. I'm intrigued by the thought of a high school teacher taking students on a tour of a morgue. I've been told that medical students have to compartmentalize their emotional responses in order to deal with the issues though empathy should NEVER be completely removed. I applaud your determination to keep intact the connections that make us human no matter the arena.

  2. Thanks Denise! My mother found it so remarkable that I was able to come home afterwards and fall asleep. I on the other hand like to think that the lesson I learned from being there trumped the fact of seeing the dead.

  3. saw this in Denise's feed on FB and it caught my eye... you relate this memory with a concision & straightforwardness-- both the scene itself, and your reaction to it--that is fitting, i think, somehow.

    my knee-jerk reaction, though, is defensive: we were always given the names of the bodies we worked on in med school, and we kept covered the parts of the body, especially the face, that we weren't currently "working on," lending what modesty we could to the process. i think it is customary now, too, to have a memorial service for the donors after all cadaver work is done. for me, and for many, i think, donors are considered the first patients we ever have.

    now here is a strange thing. i know all this; i experienced it; never felt that the bodies were treated in an undignified manner or in a way lacking respect. yet when my mother died a few years ago, and there was some question about her treatment (maltreatment?) in the hospital, we were asked if we wanted to pursue the matter legally. my immediate reaction was "no," for the pure and simple reason that i knew it would mean an autopsy, and i knew what was done to those bodies, what they looked like when the examination was done. and i couldn't have them do that to my mother. ironic, yes?

    i apologize for going on overlong here. but your piece provoked a lot of thought in me, and i am so very glad you shared it. instead of a link to my website proper with my name here, i am putting a link to a piece i wrote some years ago, which, in tone and content, summarized my experience with cadaver dissection. thanks again

    1. Joanna,

      I read your poem. Thank you for sharing it with me. It must have been difficult to separate yourself from what you were doing, in the sense of trying not to think about the person's back story and to create distance to the actual person during dissection. I applaud your honesty and in those verses I see the difficulty that dissection presented.

      Thanks again for sharing it!

  4. Thanks Joanna for leaving a comment.

    My condolences on the passing of your mother. I am sure that was a difficult time, and continues to be one.

    My post was written with a pure heart, and not to make it seem as if the students were not doing their jobs. At that time, when we were there at the morgue, I don't recall the gentleman's face being covered. I can say this because I remember him so well; and although my post is from the memories of my 16 year old self, being able to have experienced that changed me. It changed me in a good way.

    I can still remember ever wrinkle on the man's face, which is surprising to me. Although surrounded by my classmates and teacher, looking at him for one moment, it was just me and him. I stared at him and came to recognize my own mortality.

    Being from a rougher part of town, where violence was prevalent, it took being in the morgue for me to understand that my life was not endless; that my mortality was not unlimited. One day, I too would lay on a slab - my body would remain, but I hope that what I leave behind will also be enough to inspire someone to do and become more than they ever thought possible.

    I consider this moment to have been one that pushed me forward; it was a drop in my cup that made me pursue my dreams. To some it may seem a little macabre, but for me, it was a moment of divine inspiration.

  5. I've never been in a morgue, Tina, although I've seen my share of the dead at funerals. It helps me to revert to faith in those times, to remember that (to me) the body is only a temporary shell. I had an aunt who never married because she lived at home to care for her mother. When her mother passed, my aunt never visited the grave. I always thought that was weird (considering that she'd devoted her life to her), and I asked her about it one time. She said, "That's not my mother lying there six feet in the ground. Those are just bones. My mother's spirit isn't there."

    I know people who feel differently, but I found that so comforting, and still do.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking message.