From 1997 and 2004, a man named Henry Reid was the director of the UCLA Willed Body Program. The program accepted bodies from people who wanted their remains to benefit scientific and medical research. During the years that he was at the helm of the program, however, Reid allegedly sold bodies and body parts to this guy named Ernest Nelson, who owned a company called Empire Anatomical Company. Apparently Nelson then sold the bodies to other companies, like Johnson and Johnson, for products testing. Stuff like that.
Eric's first wife, Sandra, passed away from colon cancer in 1999. I didn't know her, obviously. But she is a part of our lives--always has been, and always will be--for whatever that's worth. In fact, she's been a positive part. When I first started dating Eric, I had a sort of Lifetime-made-for-tv-movie idea in my head about what it might be like to be married to a widower. Would he put life-size portraits of her up all over the house, wailing and gnashing his teeth in front of them? Would he spiral into despair and alcoholism? Would I always feel like the other woman?
But none of that happened. Not even close. We do have some of Sandra's things around the house--her art, for example, was often wickedly funny, making ironic and playful statements about sexuality and identity. Sandra's sister was also an artist, and many of her prints decorate our walls here and in my office at work. We have some small pictures of Sandra around the house, too, and some video shot of her during the year before she died. Eric has been very willing to field my questions about Sandra, and has done a lot of work around healing from her illness and death. He wrote an entire c.d. of songs about that experience that is a testament to the enormous pain he felt, and to his commitment to express and then, eventually and with time, move past it.
I don't mean to gloss over the enormity of those events--the experience of her getting sick and dying will be with Eric always. I just mean to say that Eric was able to incorporate his pain and grief such that it didn't become the defining experience of his life. Of our lives.
From what I can tell, Sandra was a funny, smart, loving person. She really liked chickens (we have a lot of stuffed, porcelain, and straw chickens. I'm not sure why). She liked art--Addie paints with her brushes and molds with her clay. Sandra was also beautiful, and had a ginormous family who loved her immensely. And she was progressive. My understanding is that when she learned she was in fact going to die from cancer, she willed her body to UCLA for medical research.
And so now we are part of a class-action lawsuit. Isn't that strange? Life goes on around us. The sun has come out in the last few days, and I felt positive bliss driving home from work today, my window down, my radio blaring. We got sod laid in the backyard, and it's beautiful, and we can't wait to play with the kids out there. We're still planning on selling the house, and we're exited about moving. We smile, laugh, work, fight, and love each other still.
But I can tell Eric is sad. I can tell getting these letters from the lawyers in California is ripping open that wound that had finally begun to cauterize some. Eric is an atheist, and says he doesn't believe in the soul. So all he had at the end was the memory of Sandra's body, and the hope that her amazing generous act would have helped someone to get better or feel better. And Henry Reid and Ernest Nelson messed that up. These things matter, have matter. Our bodies matter. I guess Reid and Nelson didn't get it. For that, I hope they are really, truly sorry. I know we are.