Lessons about life, from death

5 things I learnt about life from a morgue: Chronicles of a medical student

As I have done before, here’s an audio narration of the blog, for those who like to literally ‘hear it from the horses mouth’!

(I personally recorded it so, do tell me in the comments if I should keep on doing it.😉)

For the readers, do proceed…

Quite the ironical statement huh? Learning about life from a morgue.

Being around dead bodies isn’t the best experience I must say. It, however, is something medics go through quite frequently. Not only in the wards, but in emergency casualty settings and for students in particular, while in the Anatomy and Pathology units.


Pathology happened to be among my last rotations in my 4th year of medical school and boy wasn’t I glad! I needed time to build morale for going to the morgue.

Yes, I had been around cadavers in first year, but this time, things felt different. There’s something about a morgue where different bodies come in each day versus an anatomy lab, where every group is assigned one body for the entire year.

Also, back then we were green, learning about muscles and all…so I don’t think it hit me then as much as now. Another irony.

Oh well, some of my friends who had started with the Pathology rotation came back with gory stories. Stories told over and over again, I wondered whether it was cathartic or whether they retold them for the mere reason of seeing me squirm in my seat each time. The grimace on my face was a grim visual of how I really felt.

They remove the inner organs ruthlessly;they grab the trachea and pull out all the insides.

The sound they make when they crack open the skull, kkk! If that doesn’t scare you!

The worst one, in my opinion, was..

“You know they usually stuff back the organs in no particular order.”

“Wait, you mean they don’t arrange them back into the body ?

” Nope. The brain is shoved back in the abdomen with everything else.”

“Gosh! Must we really go to the morgue?” I asked.

I’d never postponed something like I did entering the morgue. This time, I wasn’t trying to be the ambitious student who went and studied ahead. Nope. This time I waited until it was inevitable.

My day did come, of course. And I tried to be as brave as possible. I, for one, knew that I had to be with someone while entering the morgue. Thankfully, we got in as an entire class, so I wasn’t alone. Praise God!

Besides the fact that I wasn’t doing this alone, I was comforted that I wasn’t the only one who had these feelings. The gentle reassurance I received from the classmates in my rotation was heart-warming.

We found more than 5 bodies awaiting autopsies. I had been in a room full of dead bodies in anatomy, as I said, but this time it was different. These people had just recently died. Their blood was still fresh. Some having died in accidents and had their skulls crushed…hmmm

Amidst all this, my mind was a storm. A flood of many puzzling questions:

How is it that one minute you could be walking, breathing, talking and the next, your heart stops beating, your brain stops thinking and you’re gone?”

Does life really amount to this?

Why such painful death?

Are they really dead? That guy looks like he’s just sleeping.

These and many more questions rung in my mind for the entire 2 weeks while at the morgue. I then purposed to share a few things I learnt about life, while there so here it goes.

1.Our bodies are vessels.

Looking at the bodies lying there, I knew that these muscles, bones, hair, faces..these bodies we have are just a container for our souls and spirits. I finally understood the analogy of the body being a vessel.

Because, as the postmortems went on, it boiled down to so and so’s liver, heart& brain weigh this, this & that… Just organs. And everyone had those. Some bigger/smaller than others depending on the body size, but eventually, those people were more than just their organs.

I can’t look at those organs and say ‘these organs put together‘ is person X. Nope. Person X’s spirit is no longer there. Their body was just a vessel for them while they were here on earth.

2. Life begins at conception.

Seeing a foetus in the womb of their mother was one of the most heartbreaking moments.

Seeing the forming limbs, face and body after cutting open the womb, checking for the placenta attachment and measuring the foetus’ weight…

That, guys, was evidence to me that life begins at conception. The life lost wasn’t only the mother’s. There were two lives lost.

3. There are many questions we may never receive an answer to, and that’s fine.

The cause of death in a postmortem isn’t really ‘this patient was stabbed by her boyfriend‘ or ‘ he was hit while crossing the road’. Pathologists search for the real reason they died. For example, they had an MI( heart attack), broken ribs following trauma, brain herniation after bleeding etc. And the answers may not always be found.

Now, when the postgraduate was doing a postmortem on the pregnant lady , we searched and searched for what could have caused the death since her history was so sudden.

She’d gone to the hospital complaining of abdominal pains and died while at casualty. We didn’t find anything grossly wrong and so we had to take tissue for histology to observe further.

I bet the relatives must have wondered;
“Huh? What do you mean no answer yet?”

Well, I guess the same thing could be said about so many life situations. No answers to what seems like never ending questions.

I’ll never forget this verse my high school Chemistry teacher gave us when we had many questions concerning the death of a classmate.

“There are some things that the LORD our God has kept secret; but he has revealed his Law, and we and our descendants are to obey it forever.” Deuteronomy 29:29 (NIV)

4. Human life is like a vapour in the wind.
A child playing with friends is run over by a car. Dies immediately .

A pregnant lady complains of abdominal pains. Dies while at casualty.

On and on the stories go…

I wonder how pathologists do it. Being around death all day isn’t funny. One day, I got home, opened Ecclesiastes on audio Bible and listened to it. This is the book in the Bible that I’d thought was a bit ‘too morbid’, but trust me, it seemed like the only appropriate thing then.

Ecclesiastes 1:2 The Voice (VOICE)
Teacher: Life is fleeting, like a passing mist.
It is like trying to catch hold of a breath;
All vanishes like a vapor; everything is a great vanity.

Ecclesiastes 12:8 The Voice (VOICE)
Life is fleeting; it just slips through your fingers. All vanishes like mist.

One minute here. The next minute gone. It all made sense now.

That leads me to my last lesson/reminder…

5. Appreciate life.
Your own, and that of those around you, while they’re still around. Having lost a close friend last year, I know this all too well. Treasured moments with her, I hold so dear.

I examined my life and wondered why I would spend precious moments in bitterness, anger, fear, vanity…(You know those things yeah? Enhe.. Add to the list…)

That’s precious life time spent on what is absolutely unnecessary! I’d rather love, laugh and live! (hmmm.. if only I knew what this really meant when I put it as my Instagram Bio @muenimuli)

But guys, isn’t this always our resolve when we go to funerals?

When faced with death, I think the true human response to life is seen. Where we prioritize the basics.But when busyness takes over, we go back into the same cycle of, in a friend’s words “majoring on the minors and minoring on the majors.”

That’s basically what Ecclesiastes is all about btw (so I figured). Solomon had it all (I mean, let’s not even discuss this😂) , and had tried everything, but when he left God out of the equation, nothing satisfied him.

There is purpose in life, and it is found in knowing God and keeping His commands. That’s why he ended his book in this way:

“Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind” Ecclesiastes 12:13 (NIV)

A human life lived to the exclusion of any consideration of God is meaningless.

What lessons have you learnt about life, through death? Either of a loved one, family member, friend or witnessing one happening… Do share it in the comments. I’ll be waiting to hear from you, my dear reader.😊

Also, feel free to share this blogpost. I’m sure there are people in your life whom you have had this conversation about death with(as morbid as it is).

Ps- Do check out this video by the Bible project! They did a great job at explaining our fleeting life, according to Ecclesiastes.

Grace and peace!