Monday, May 29, 2017

Traumatic Loss: Needing To View The Body

[Reviewed and updated August 11, 2020]

People who suddenly lose a spouse or a child to murder, suicide or an accident often benefit from being allowed to see the dead person’s body, even if it’s bruised or starting to decompose, a new investigation finds.  ~ Science News

A reader writes: I have enrolled in your online grief course and it is a wonderful help. I have spent hours reading over your articles and books, and I am just about to order another book for my son on the death of a sibling.

I don’t know if you remember me, but you helped me in a massive way last June. You gave me instant advice regarding my son who had gone missing in the sea following a climbing accident.
He was 26 and had almost qualified as a doctor.

My son had been deep water soloing when he disappeared, and although large-scale searches were started, there was little hope of finding him alive. Two weeks later we were informed that his body had been found, but the the coroner informed me that I wouldn’t be able to see him, as I desperately wanted to do. He told me he wouldn’t advise my seeing him in his condition, as his body had been in the sea for two weeks. He said he was not recognizable. He suggested that we go ahead and make funeral arrangements

I then wrote to you, asking if you thought I should still ask to see him when he came home to the local funeral parlour. This was your response:
This is a decision only you can make, based on your own needs. You know yourself better than anyone else, and you know what you can tolerate. This should be your decision ~ not someone else's. (Even if you don't think you could bear to see his face, you could ask to see another part of him that you as his parent would recognize ~ his hand or his foot, for example.) See Bereaved Relatives Helped by Chance to View Body after Sudden Loss.
How can I ever thank you enough for the wonderful help you have given me? I have survived off your researched-based guidance at a time I could not go out to ask for help because the world felt like a frightening place for me. I’ve learned to get all the information possible about my son’s death. We’ve therefore already started to raise awareness to prevent further accidents of this kind. You’ve helped me understand why I’m feeling the way I do.

Even though the police, coroners and undertakers were strongly advising me against it, because of your help I was able to go to see my son when they finally found him and brought him on the 8-hour journey home. We felt supported completely by your advice, and the research you pointed us towards. My younger son even decided to come too. The coroner and undertakers tried to put us off by saying my son was in the worst state they had ever seen, with being in the sea for two weeks. But I didn’t care. I didn’t really notice any of that (even though it took 4 days to get the smell out of my hair). He was MY son, he had been FOUND and he was HOME.

I stayed with him for at least an hour and it was probably the most meaningful hour of my life. I held his hand, I touched his fingernails, they were perfect. I could see his left hand and his left leg from the knee down. I could recognize all of this as being my son. His hand and foot looked just like mine. My younger son, who was inseparable from his brother and at the same university, decided to come and see him too, as he had observed the calmness and peace and acceptance and relief that had come over me after seeing him. Anything was better than him missing.

My younger son said to me, “Oh look mum, he’s got my t-shirt on.” Both he and I both said how it was the best decision we ever made in going to see my son against everyone’s advice, except yours and your research. We both said how seeing him, even in the obvious bad state he was in, was not as bad as we had imagined. Not as bad as the undertakers and coroner had tried to portray. We both commented on how it helped us to cope with the thoughts of the cremation. It brought a type of closeness to my younger son and me that no family should ever have to endure. We were even able to share a light joke together on the funeral day: my younger son joking to me and my brother that the smell only reminded him that his brother’s bedroom often didn’t smell sweet.

Also, you pointed me in a direction that I would not have known to go in for help – my local hospice. They are not known in my country to outreach to clients outside of the hospice itself – but following me emailing them for help a wonderful amazing trained councillor asked me to visit her the very next morning! I had great support thanks again to you. She has left it open and I can visit her whenever I feel I need to in the future. She offered to see my younger son as well.

I said it to you at the time and I’ll say it again: How can anyone ever thank you enough for this help you have given us, and continue to through your course and website. THANK YOU! And good luck for the future.

My response: I remember very well the exchange we had some months ago, my dear. Your most recent message just warms my heart, and I'm so grateful to you for sharing these parts of your tragic story with me.

Your experience lends great weight to the need ~ indeed, the right ~ of a family to decide for themselves whether or not they wish to see the body of their deceased loved one.

As a mother myself, I can only imagine how you must have felt in this situation, and how desperately you wanted and needed to see your boy. I admire your courage in challenging all the obstacles that were put in your path, especially when you were already consumed with grief at the sudden and tragic loss of your son ~ and I'm so grateful to learn that anything I said to you helped to strengthen your resolve. From my heart to yours, thank you 

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