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Appreciation for a family’s gift of life after death

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — She wanted to write a note of thanks, a letter about how appreciative she was to be so appreciated for the gift of life her husband had given at his death.

Richard and Nola Jones rang in the new year one last time in 2018. Two weeks later, he passed away at age 91. (Courtesy of Nola Jones)

But a note seemed inadequate, her words elusive. She thought maybe I could help her find the words.

But Nola Jones already had the right words. She just needed someone to tell them to.

And so she did.

And so she is now.

What her husband had done, she thought, had been such a selfless act. Years ago, Richard Jones had told her that when he died he wanted whatever remained of him to be donated to the University of New Mexico’s Anatomical Donations Program, which uses the bodies to teach medical students anatomy and for medical research.

It was, she said, the ultimate gift.

“We figured that at our age our organs might not be able to be used for transplanting,” she said. “But our bodies, his body, can still help medical students learn how to become doctors.”

Richard died in January 2018 at age 91, and she dutifully carried out his wish.

In July that year, she received a letter of thanks from Amy Rosenbaum, program supervisor.

“On behalf of the University, I am appreciative of Mr. Jones’ interest in advancing the goals of increased medical education and better medical services to the communities of the state of New Mexico,” it read.

That made Nola proud.

And that, she said, was thanks enough.

Nola Jones keeps the invitation to a memorial ceremony and reception she received from the UNM Health Sciences community as a reminder of an event she says was “absolutely exceptional.” (Joline Gutierrez Krueger/Albuquerque Journal)

But this year came more thanks via an invitation from the UNM Health Sciences community to a memorial ceremony and reception April 6 to honor her husband and the 45 other people who had donated their bodies in roughly the past year.

“Every year the medical, physical therapy, physician assistant and occupational therapy students write to the donor’s family and next of kin and invite them to a memorial service,” Rosenbaum explains. “We couldn’t do what we do here without our donors. The students learn so much from their gift and we are very grateful for the trust that the families have in us to care for their loved ones while they are with us.”

As near as Rosenbaum can figure it, the memorials have been held annually since 1999.

The event organizers asked families to send one or two photos to be used in a slide show at the memorial, and that got Nola to thinking about which of the hundreds of photos she has of Richard, which moment of his rich and wonderful life, she should share.

“He knew a lot about a lot of things,” she said. “He had lots to talk about.”

Her Cherry Hills home is still filled with lots of reminders of those things: his ham radio hobby, Boy Scouts with their four sons, traveling the country in Airstream caravans, fishing with the grandchildren, square dancing (“from Florida to Alaska,” Nola says), his work as an engineer, his military service, his volunteering with the Democratic Party, his victory over cancer, Nola.

Their wedding photos – they were married in 1952, five days after they graduated from Texas Tech University – still hang in the living room.

She shows me other photos of the two of them celebrating the holidays in 2017. By then, dementia had taken hold.

“In that last year, he didn’t always know us,” she said. “But he could feel the love.”

She could feel the love and care at the memorial ceremony last month.

“Every time I think about it I get teary-eyed,” she said. “It was just, I guess you could say, such an appreciation for our loved ones who thought so much about the future by giving their bodies, the last thing they could give.”

From the greeters who helped the families find their way around the north UNM campus to the soothing sounds of the UNM Health Sciences Center Cello Choir (“Who knew there was such a thing?” she marvels) to the heartfelt speeches to the cookies and sandwiches served at the reception – Nola loved it all.

“It’s hard to say in words how absolutely exceptional the event was, how appreciated and wonderful it was,” she said.

I think she found the words to say so.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to to submit a letter to the editor.


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