Viewing the Body

Viewing The Body

When faced with the decision of whether to view the body of a loved one, some people find it too painful and prefer to remember their loved one as they were in life, while others can find comfort in being able to say a final goodbye.

Deciding whether to see the body

Experiencing denial at the loss of a loved one, especially if the death was sudden, is a very common and normal emotion. Viewing the body is sometimes helpful as a way for family members to acknowledge the reality of their loss. However, in circumstances where the body is injured or damaged, viewing could be very distressing. It is a good idea to seek guidance from those who have seen the body, such as police or medical staff, so they can help manage your expectations and help you make the best decision for you.

Ultimately, the decision to view the body or not is incredibly personal. In some cultures, it is very common to have an open casket and for family and friends to spend time talking to, touching, and sleeping alongside their loved one’s body, which in other cultures closed caskets and immediate burials are common. Some members of the family may think it is important to see the body of their loved one, while others find it too distressing and choose not to. Whatever you choose is okay. Sometimes, a funeral director may advise against a viewing, however you will usually be given an alternative option such as holding their hand.

If you have your loved one at home, it is a good idea to have them in a room that is close to the main gathering area, so people can come to the house to visit, and then decide to spend time with the body if they feel that is right for them. Having your loved one at home gives you and your family and friends more flexibility to spend time with your loved one as and when you would like to. If you would like further support to help you make the decision on whether to view the body or not, it may be helpful to speak to a counsellor.

Should children view the body?

Deciding whether a child should view the body can be a difficult decision for parents and guardians and every circumstance, family and child is different. Different personal, cultural and religious beliefs may also affect this decision.

Seeing the body and having the opportunity to say goodbye, and leave drawings or cards can help children accept that the death has occurred so that they can begin to heal. Sometimes children are much more accepting of seeing bodies than adults and it is an important part of helping them work through their grief.

Parents and guardians should decide what is appropriate for their child, and offer support to help them to understand what they will see. There are a number of useful books and resources that can help adults talk to children about death.

When can you view the body?

Viewing of the body depends on the type of farewell a family has planned, as well as personal cultural and religious beliefs. Depending on the circumstances of the death, sometimes viewing the body is unavoidable. Family members may be with their loved one when they die, or be the person to find their loved one following their death. One member of the family will usually be asked to identify the body, such as if the loved one dies in an accident. However this will not necessarily be in the mortuary, sometimes photographs are used.

If a person’s body is being cared for by a funeral home, there will be further opportunities for families to see the body of their loved one either in a private or public viewing. Private viewings, usually for a small number of immediate family members will often take place at the mortuary or funeral home. A public viewing allows extended family and friends to gather around the body and say their goodbyes. Sometimes caskets are also kept open during a funeral or farewell service.

If your loved one is being cared for at home, the family can decide who has the opportunity to view the body, and when. It can be a good idea to have a roster, to ensure someone is always with the body, and to also manage this so the number of visitors don’t become a burden to the family. However, some families encourage an open home and welcome visitors at any time.

On marae, it is common for bodies to be in open caskets at the back of the wharenui, surrounded by close whanāu and their tupuna (ancestors) on the wall above. Visitors are called onto the marae and have the opportunity to acknowledge the deceased as well as pay their respects to the whanāu.

What to expect when viewing the body

Before you view the body of your loved one it can be helpful to speak to your funeral coordinator or director, other medical professionals, about what to expect beforehand. They will be able to set your expectations about how the body may look, especially if there are visible injuries. For some people, seeing their loved ones is a critical part of their acceptance and healing, while for others, they find the experience uncomfortable.

Take your time and decide if spending time with your loved one's body is going to be a positive experience for you or not. It is important to listen to your own instincts and follow your own personal, cultural or religious beliefs.