I had a Valentine's date with my now-husband at a cadaver lab. It was more romantic than I expected and connected us on a deeper level.

I had a Valentine's date with my now-husband at a cadaver lab. It was more romantic than I expected and connected us on a deeper level.
Courtesy of Amanda McCracken
  • For Valentine's Day in 2019, I took my boyfriend at the time on a date at a cadaver lab.
  • The experience of standing over a dead body together actually brought us closer.

Instead of the aroma of an Italian dinner wafting in our direction, the smell of formaldehyde engulfed us. In the basement of the funeral home there were no candles, but rather harsh fluorescent lights. We wore gowns of the disposable paper kind and rubber gloves.

During the week of Valentine's Day in 2019, I was signed up to experience a cadaver lab at the Colorado Learning Center of Human Anatomy. While that particular lab was geared toward bodyworkers — I'm a massage therapist — I decided to ask my boyfriend at the time, a geologist, to join me.

At first, he refused. "I faint at the sight of blood," he told me. That was an exaggeration, but it's true he now cringes when I talk about our daughter's hangnail. He reluctantly decided to join me. We never expected the experience of standing over a stranger's dead body to enrich our relationship.

Seeing body parts made us aware of our time here

Being at the cadaver lab brought up discussions around spirituality and death — not based on our Catholic and Protestant upbringings, but on what we each believed deep down in our core. We talked about things we hadn't touched on before, like whether we wanted to be cremated or buried, if we believed we actually had a soul and what happened to it after we died, and whether there is life after death.

We talked about the bodies of deceased loved ones or those who were soon to die. For him, it was palpating the same organs in the cadaver that cancer had eaten away in his father's body. For me, it was holding the heart of a stranger that reminded me of my 100-year-old grandma's congestive heart failure, a disease that would take her life seven months later.


It brought awareness to ways we mistreat our own bodies and the long-term consequences of repeated abuse. While neither of us has ever been a smoker, unlike the woman whose body we examined, we have physical ways of dealing with stress that warp our posture.

Even two years later we reference that woman's body to remind each other how patterns build and create imbalances both physically and mentally.

It was weirdly intimate

Observing a cadaver whose skin had been peeled away and organs dissected reminded us that despite what expectations we have for each other's external appearance, we are just bodies that will fall apart. But what we experience emotionally transcends death. How we make each other feel has a ripple effect in our community of family and friends.

The woman whose internal organs we studied and held had donated her body to the lab. In fact, she had even visited the lab while she was living. Dave and I later talked about such a sacrifice and even discussed whether we would be willing to expose ourselves like that to total strangers.

When we gently pulled on the fascia that enveloped the lobe of the left lung, we were instructed to notice how it impacted the organ. Everything is intricately connected. We were reminded to think viscerally when we are intimate with each other — to think through to the other side. To imagine when I lovingly touch his chest that I'm actually reaching through to his heart.


What seemed like a morbid date idea turned into one that enriched the vitality of our relationship. After two years of a pandemic, a wedding, a new baby, local wildfires, and a grocery-store mass shooting, I think we may be due for another visit to the cadaver lab.