Two children gently touched the words inscribed on the monument and read softly, "For those who gave unselfishly of themselves to advance medical education and research."
Memories of their grandfather brought them to the 1993 Anatomical Donor Appreciation Day.
"He wanted other people to learn about cancer, so he did an important thing when he died," said Michael Sisson, 12, of Frederick County as he lingered near the fresh gravesite at Springfield Hospital Center yesterday.
"He donated his body to science."
Michael and his sister, Rebecca, 11, were among about 75 guests who, in a brief ceremony, honored the memory of Rollo Sisson and 377 other donors whose ashes were buried in a common gravesite. Since 1974, the Anatomy Board of Maryland has invited donors' families to the annual service. "We come to pay tribute to the members of your families who generously gave the ultimate gift and allowed their bodies to be used in a worthwhile way," said Michael Sheridan, professor of anatomy at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda.
"Without the benefit of their donation, the medical community would be unable to carry out its research and educational mission."
The state's medical and dental schools admit nearly 600 men and women a year, he said. "The donor program is exceedingly important for the continuation of their education. So many medical, dental and therapy programs depend on these gifts."
Ronald S. Wade, the Anatomy Board's director, read from a proclamation by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, which said Maryland "is blessed with a large number of caring residents . . . leaving behind a legacy of hope for the improved health of future generations."
Mr. Wade offered a brief note of levity during the solemn service when he raised his bandaged left hand and said a recent emergency made him a direct beneficiary of the donor program. A trauma surgeon who had practiced for two years at the Anatomy Board re-attached Mr. Wade's severed finger.
"These donations continue on and on, even after the disposition of bodies," he said.
The words of the 23rd Psalm came easily as the mourners prayed together after his remarks.
"Grant us good memories of our loved ones," prayed Carolyn McCracken, the Springfield chaplain.
Through her tears, Patricia Butts said she was proud of her parents, who decided years before their recent deaths to donate their bodies.
"The day my father died, he asked my mother once more if she was sure the donation was what she wanted," said Ms. Butts of Cumberland. "I am so proud of them, but this is still hard for me."
After the ceremony, the Rev. Stanley Janaites prayed quietly with Ms. Butts at the edge of the gravesite.
Rosa Claxton, whose 32-year-old son was among those honored, said she took "some comfort" from the service. "I attended for him, but it helped me," she said.
Others conversed with strangers and found themselves wrapped in a comforting embrace. People took photographs of the monument where floral arrangements, with thank-you cards from area medical schools, stood beside a foil-wrapped bouquet of wild flowers.
"We don't need the memory of these people to remind us of how short life is," said Father Janaites. "We are at the beginning of a wonderful new season. Let's all be young again, and this time enjoy it."