The Reverend Allison Barrett

Loving the World with Words


Service of Gratitude – in honour of those who donated to the anatomy program

Several years ago, I was approached by the Director of the Educational Program in Anatomy at McMaster University, Dr. Bruce Wainman, to participate in their annual “Service of Gratitude” for the families of those who had donated their bodies for education and research. Each year, the Anatomy Program invites the families of those who have donated i.e., “given their bodies to science” to attend the service. It is the Program’s way of saying thank you to the donors and their families and a way to honour the incredible gift that is given. For some family members, it may be the only memorial service that their loved one receives.

The service had a lovely tradition, predating me, of having the main speakers at the service be the students who actually learn in the anatomy lab. Over the years, staff, administration, professors of anatomy, medicine or science, midwifery or physiotherapy, to name a few, have also contributed their thanks and reflections to the service. The students of many different university departments utilize and learn from the Anatomy lab.

I have been so impressed at the words of gratitude the students have written over the years, explaining as only they could, why only the actual anatomy of the human body can truly “teach,” far beyond what textbooks and computer simulations can do. Their appreciation of the gifts given by donation I know, from conversations with family members, have had a profoundly healing effect on those who attend this service year after year.

The hard-working staff of the Anatomy Program plan a lovely reception for after the service, including over the years gifting family members bulbs or seeds, small trees to plant or even releasing doves! I always stay after the service to connect with families and to offer pastoral care and know that many people have expressed the importance of the service to them and their families personally.

When I first began presiding over the service, I noticed that the service used previously had a solely Christian focus and language and yet, students, staff and increasingly, donors and their families represented many different religions and spiritual traditions. So, in consultation with the Anatomy Program, I crafted a service that was more Interfaith in focus, with readings and sentiments taken from many different traditions.

The service below changes from year to year based on those participating, but the heart of it remains the same; gratitude for the gifts that were given.


Educational Program in Anatomy
Mc Master University

Greeting and Opening Remarks – Dr. Bruce Wainman, Director

Minister: Rev. Allison Barrett

Come into this place of peace, and let it heal your spirit
Come into this place of remembering, and let it warm your heart.
Come into this place of gratitude, and let it inspire your living.

We are here this day to give thanks and to remember the gifts given by those who dedicated themselves to greater learning by donating to the Educational Program in Anatomy. We are here to honour their altruism, their vision and their generosity, recognizing that even in death the seeds of new life may be sewn. Our ceremony today is to bear witness to selflessness, and to hear the voices of students speak to us of learning, of appreciation, of the future healing that will come because of the gifts of life that were given.

Therefore today we gather to affirm the sacredness of life, the goodness of our fellow human beings and to celebrate the mystery of the cycle of life, death and rebirth. The poet Nancy Wood writes:

You shall ask
What good are dead leaves
And I will tell you
They nourish the sore earth.
You shall ask
What reason is there for winter
And I will tell you
To bring about new leaves.
You shall ask
Why are the leaves so green
And I will tell you
Because they are rich with life.
You shall ask
Why must summer end
And I will tell you
So that leaves will die.
And the great Islamic poet Rumi wrote:

‘I lived for hundreds of years as a mineral,
And then died and was reborn as a plant.
I lived for hundreds of years as a plant,
And then died and was reborn as an animal.
I lived for hundreds of years as an animal,
and then died and was reborn as a human being.
What have I ever lost by dying?’

We are here today to affirm that life does arise, even from death; and to remember and celebrate the good gifts of those lives. We will celebrate by the lighting of candles and the speaking of words of appreciation.

Throughout history human beings have affirmed a life force that creates, animates and sustains every living thing, a Mysterious Power known by many different names, all of them partial, none of them fully adequate. Let us begin by acknowledging that Great Force, reflecting that life and its creation is for us not only a mystery but also a gift.

1. The Candle of the Celebration of Life

Lighting the first candle that celebrates the mystery of God and the gift of life will be: ___________ of the Bachelor of Health Sciences (Honours) Program.

I would now like to invite our first speaker __________, the Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Medical Education to come forward.

2. The Candle of the Mystery of Life and Death

We human beings live in the shadow of our physical mortality. It is the very awareness of our mortality that inspires us to live, to love and to try and make a difference in our world. We strive to live in a way that makes sense of our dying. For all of us, as human beings, the question therefore is not whether we will die, but how we will live so that our lives will have meant something, so that the world will be a better place for our having been.

_________ of the Biochemistry Program will now light the Candle of the Mystery of Life and Death for the way in which they are connected.

I would now like to invite _____________, the Head Prosector for the Education Program in Anatomy to speak.

3. The Candle of the Healing of Grief

Perhaps time has passed that has enabled us to see the possibility of healing. Perhaps for some, the loss feels fresh and recent. The third candle is lit to comfort us in our grief, wherever we may be in that tender and precious journey. It is also a candle which reminds us although there will always be a void in our hearts for those whom we have loved and lost, that time, faith and love can begin healing the pain of grief.

_________, of the Kinesiology Program, will light our third candle, The Candle of the Healing of Grief, and then speak.

__________ lights and speaks.

4. The Candle of Joy

The experience of joy is an affirmation of faith in the ultimate triumph of life, of love and of the human spirit. The Christian Maronite poet Kahlil Gibran wrote of joy and sorrow:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises
was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being,
the more joy you can contain…
When you are sorrowful look in your heart,
and you shall see that in truth
you are weeping for that which has been your delight

The gifts of human living come with a price, and this price is love. The greater the love that has been carved into our heart, the greater the loss we feel. And so our third candle says that we are weeping for that which has been our delight. We honour and celebrate the joy that we were given by those who came before us in the lighting of our fourth candle “The Candle of Joy”, lit by _____________ – Student of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.

_____________ lights and speaks.

5. The Candle of Memory

Death cannot separate us from love, nor from our memories either. Someone once said: “Death ends a life, not a relationship.” Those we have loved always live on in our hearts and memories. As long as we live, they too, live on to enrich and bless us. Death can take many things from us, but it can never take love or memories away. They grow ever more precious in time.

So our fifth candle is the candle of memory and I would invite ____________ a student of the Bachelor of Health Sciences (Honours) Program to light “ The Candle of Memory.”

6. The Candle of Thanksgiving

Doctor and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer wrote these words:

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Today we affirm our gratitude towards those whose generosity has inspired us. We give great thanks for their vision, their generosity, their altruism. They gave so that others may learn; so that others may be healed, they gave so that others may, in future, live. There is no greater gift.

I invite ____________ of the Bachelor of Health Sciences (Honours) Program to light our sixth candle “The Candle of Thanksgiving” and speak.

_____________ lights candle and speaks.

Closing Prayer

As we close our Service of Appreciation, we affirm that love is the ultimate triumph of the human spirit. “Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them and they bless the giver.”

As__________ , a Graduate Student who is a teaching assistant in the anatomy classes, lights the final Candle, “The Candle of Love, “I would like to close with a beautiful traditional Buddhist blessing wishing universal peace and harmony.

The Buddha taught this prayer to his community:

May all beings be filled with joy and peace.
May all beings everywhere,
The strong and the weak,
The great and the small,
May all beings everywhere
Seen and unseen,
Dwelling far off or nearby,
Being, having been or waiting to become:
May all be filled with lasting joy.
Just as a mother with her own life
Protects her child from harm,
So within yourself let grow
A boundless love for all creatures.

____________ lights the final “Candle of Love.”

Musical Interlude

I would like to now call upon ____________, the Associate Vice-President, Academic & Associate Dean of Education to read the Donor Roll of Honour.

_______________ Reads Names…

I would now invite each of you to stand as you are able, in honour of your loved ones, their lives and the incredible gifts they have given – for a minute of silence

“May their names be written on the Tree of Life.”


All who are here today have our own individual faiths and beliefs, but we are united by our desire to honour the loving memory of those whose generosity we celebrate this day, in gratitude for the gift of learning their contribution has made, and in our shared desire to help create a better world.

I invite each of you to bow your heads in the spirit of prayer or meditation as we join together in one heart.


Spirit of Life, we give thanks for your gift, that has enabled us learn from your great mysteries

Spirit of Healing, we give thanks for the ways you have found us, and pray for your continued companionship along the journey from grief to memory

Spirit of Joy, we give thanks for the laughter, joy and delight we have known

Spirit of Gratitude, we give thanks for the generosity of spirit we have seen and shared. May it be an inspiration to us throughout our lives.

Spirit of Love, known by many names, none of them fully adequate, giver of all that is eternal, we give thanks for your greatest of all gifts. May we hold you in our hearts through all our days.

So may it be.


I would now like to call upon Dr. Bruce Wainman to come forward to conclude our service and invite you to a reception following the service.

Postlude Plays while a symbolic presentation of gratitude is handed to each family member as they exit.