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Bereaved Relatives Helped by Chance to View Body After Sudden Loss

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posted on May, 12 2010 @ 11:54 AM

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.
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Viewing a loved one’s marred body in a morgue or funeral home triggers distress at first, say Alison Chapple and Sue Ziebland, both medical sociologists at the University of Oxford in England. But those people who choose to do so rarely regret their decision, especially as time passes, Chapple and Ziebland report in a paper published online April 30 in the British Medical Journal.

“We were surprised that many people expressed such an intense need to see, touch, hold, talk or sing to the body,” Chapple says.

Getting up close one last time drove home the reality of loss for some relatives, helping them to move on with their lives, the researchers propose. Other survivors cared for the body in ways that allowed them to say goodbye or to forge a continuing bond with the deceased person.

Relatives who had mixed feelings or regrets about seeing the body said that authorities coerced them into identifying the deceased person, or failed to prepare them for what the body looked like.

Little is known about how relatives respond to viewing the body of a person who has died violently. Chapple and Ziebland’s study highlights the diversity of reactions to this tragic situation, remarks medical sociologist Glennys Howarth of the University of Sydney in Australia.

The question of how to best deal with such tragedies arises often: In the United States alone, 173,472 people died in accidents, killed themselves or were murdered in 2006, the latest year for which federal data are available.

“People seem to be able to tell whether it will be beneficial for them to view the body,” comments psychologist Camille Wortman of Stony Brook University in New York, a bereavement researcher. Requiring someone to look at the body against their will or rejecting a relative’s request to view the body can inflict emotional damage that lasts for decades, Wortman says.

Chapple and Ziebland focused on 80 bereaved British citizens from different social and ethnic backgrounds. In 2007 and 2008, Chapple interviewed participants in their homes about deaths that had occurred from four months to more than nine years earlier.

Half of the bereaved suffered losses due to suicide; half had relatives who had been murdered or killed in other violent ways.

Of 49 people who chose to identify or view the body, 35 said it was the right thing to do. Another nine had mixed feelings, two regretted seeing the body and three had no comments about how they felt.

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I have lost two brothers and didn't feel inclined to see the body as I don't think it would be appropriate. I guess it all depends on the person and situation. I'm sure there are many here on ATS that have lost loved ones so I thought this would be appropriate in regards to your own feedback and what you think about this.

[edit on 12-5-2010 by Crossfate]

posted on May, 12 2010 @ 02:05 PM
reply to post by Crossfate

It's highly personal and individual, imo. We're told repeatedly via Tv-programmes that relatives of missing but presumed dead individuals seek 'closure' via some form of contact with the human-remains and for this reason beg the murderer to disclose the body's location. Words to the effect, ' We want to bring him/her home' and 'We want the chance to bury them with dignity' are generally included

Only those who are, or have been, in that situation could understand or explain. The rest of us must assume the grieving family and friends know they will continue to hold out hope, no matter how irrational this might seem to others, until they've physically witnessed their loved one to be dead. And this might be the reason also for the wish to see the human-remains of those in the studies, i.e., those who've died suddenly as result of suicide, accident, murder

One of the more extreme cases occurred some years ago in Australia: a woman died in one of the more remote areas in the Northern Territory (as result of crocodile attack, I think). The body was recovered and stored above deck, but crocodiles were attracted to the body (which was rapidly decomposing in the heat) and succeeded in pulling it back into the water after several attempts. This further damaged the body, which was recovered by those on board

The woman's fiancee, in the US, was advised of the death. He insisted on travelling to Australia although he was strongly advised this was not necessary and numerous attempts were made by officials to dissuade him

The woman had been very beautiful in life, but her body had been rendered virtually unrecognisable by the assaults to which it had been subjected by the crocodiles, heat and rapid decomposition

Her boyfriend, still suffering shock and after a lengthy international flight, insisted on viewing the body as soon as possible, as was reported by the media. It was reported that he had (understandably) been deeply distressed upon viewing his girlfriend's human remains

The reader was left to assume that the boyfriend -- despite all he'd been advised by officials -- was unable to accept or believe that the woman he'd loved was dead; was gone permanently. Maybe his mind refused to accept this. And maybe he believed that his presence would give lie to the reality. Or perhaps he believed that his presence would restore her to life. Maybe he'd had no previous experience of death and believed the person he loved would have remained as beautiful in death as in life, apart from a few superficial scratches

Unfortunately, he was deeply traumatised by the viewing of the body. It's to be suspected that had he been interviewed by the researchers in the OP, he would have been one of those to say they 'regretted' doing so

Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean friends have told me that as children, they were forced to view and even kiss the body of deceased persons, per their parents' culture. One of those compelled to do so struggled even as an adult to deal with the issues of death and bodies. Another jumped into the grave of his deceased father during the funeral. At the time he was 16, of Lebanese, Maronite Christian descent. The death of his father was a highly dramatic event: his mother, aunts and other relatives had reacted very dramatically, according to their particular culture (which included the belief it was necessary to demonstrate uncontrollable grief). They had torn out their hair, lacerated their bodies and screamed for several days, prior to the funeral. The boy's emotions, in addition to his deep sense of loss, resulted in his throwing himself headlong into the grave and onto his father's coffin. I met him when he was 18. His hair was approx. 50% grey and his face was so creased and aged, I judged him to be in his 40s. It was explained to me that his accelerated ageing was the result of the experience told above

It's claimed that our Western culture 'distances' most of us from death, these days. Undertakers now remove and prepare bodies. We are spared the distress. Some believe this prevents us from daily awareness of our own and others mortality and that this takes-away from the rich fabric of life itself

Only if placed in the position of those in the studies detailed in the OP, could we be in a position to say if the viewing of the human-remains of those we might lose to accident, murder or suicide was ultimately of benefit ... and even then, each circumstance would be unique to those involved

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