When someone you love dies suddenly, deciding whether or not to view their body is a big and often difficult decision. So what can you expect when you see a loved-one for the last time? Read on to find out more.
Embalming and presentation of the deceased
If you've never seen a dead body before, the experience can be rather daunting. Most bodies are embalmed in order to preserve them for viewing prior to burial or cremation. Unembalmed bodies decompose rapidly and are therefore usually cremated very quickly after death without a viewing, in compliance with state public health laws.
Embalming is carried out by a specialist embalmer at the funeral home. During the embalming process, the blood is removed from the body and replaced with the preserving chemical, formaldehyde, which retards the decomposition process.
Hair styling, make-up and dress are all attended to by mortuary staff in order to make the body resemble the deceased's appearance in life as closely as possible, and your funeral director will consult you on this. Sometimes a recent photograph of your loved-one may be requested to help the mortuary staff achieve the best result.
Although morticians and embalmers are highly-skilled, there is a limit to what they can do if the deceased died in very traumatic circumstances, such as in a road accident or a fire. Your funeral director will answer any questions that you have about this and may even recommend that you don't have a private viewing or an open casket if the damage to the body has been very severe.
Viewing the body at a funeral home
Many people opt to 'say goodbye' to a deceased relative and find that it gives them comfort and closure to do so. Your funeral director will discuss arrangements for viewing your loved-one's body with you.
Some families ask for an open casket so that the body may be viewed at the funeral home or even during the wake. This is a very personal choice and often depends on the religious or ethnic background of the deceased and their family, and the condition of the body at the time of death.
You may choose to view the body alone, or you could arrange for a group viewing where you and your relatives can sit, undisturbed, with the body for a while in a private viewing room.
Some people like to say goodbye to a deceased loved-one by stroking their hair, holding their hand, or kissing them on the forehead. This is all perfectly normal and permissible. Although the body may look 'lifelike', the skin will feel cold and waxy to the touch. The fingers will move as they would have done in life, because the stiffness caused by rigor mortis soon after death will have passed off naturally.
The decision on whether or not to view the body of a deceased relative is a very personal one that requires much thought. Some people find the experience comforting and achieve closure in this way, whereas others may prefer to remember their loved-one as they were in life. Although your funeral director will be able to discuss a viewing and offer advice, the final decision is really up to you.