The Body Present 3/22/2023

The funeral with the body present is not an American phenomenon. This practice has existed since time immemorial. And there are many reasons for it.

Why the Body Present?

When someone dies, a life on earth ends. What remains is the body of a man, woman or child who once was loved and who loved in return. And when we remember that person we often think of them in terms of their physical being ó their body. 

     That is why it is difficult, if not impossible, for most survivors to disassociate themselves immediately from the lifeless body. Our mind requires evidence that life has ended. The presence of the body gives this evidence, It also provides opportunity for recall and reminiscence. It offers testimony and tribute to the life that has been lived.  

     In most events and ceremonies there is a meaningful symbol or person upon which to focus our attention; At a wedding itís the bride and groom. For the pledge of allegiance itís the flag. At a birthday party it is the person whose birthday is being celebrated. And at the funeral itís the body of the person who died.

Just as there are important reasons for the body to be present at the funeral, there are important reasons for viewing the body. The first step in starting the process of healthful mourning is to acknowledge that the death has occurred. Nothing confirms this reality like viewing the body. Seeing is believing. It is the first essential step toward managing oneís grief. 

     Viewing has taken on greater importance today than ever before. More people die away from home.  There are more deaths following long and devastating illness. There are more people whose lives end under tragic circumstances, Several helpful purposes
are served by viewing:

     The moment of truth comes when living persons confront the fact of death by looking at the body.  This is particularly true after a sudden or accidental death or one which most, if not all, of the family did not witness. This confirmation is vital. Often much effort is expended to recover a missing body, basically to confirm the fact that death has occurred. 

     Proper preparation and sometimes restoration provide to the bereaved an acceptable recall image of the deceased while confirming the reality of death.  The effects of a devastating illness may change a personís appearance considerably. An accident may disfigure the entire body. Removal or modification of the marks of violence or the ravages of disease help provide an acceptable recall image.
     Viewing is considered therapeutic for people of all ages. It is especially helpful for a child who has lost someone loved. Instead of fantasizing, there is the opportunity to realize what has happened ó that the life on earth has ended for the dead person.

In many instances of loss, an immediate response to comfort those involved is not essential, Death is different. Time is both an urgent and steadying factor. Many find it difficult to express themselves it they donít do it right away. Thus the body present and viewed during the visitation provides an immediate and proper climate for expression. 

Organ and Body Donations

When an organ or body part will be donated to medical science, there is no problem concerning the availability of the body for the funeral. The uniform donor card or driverís license points out that anatomical gifts must be medically acceptable and needed to take effect upon death. Anatomical gift laws say that when the gift is of a part of the body that after removal of the donated part, custody of the remainder of the body vests in the surviving spouse, next of kin or other persons under obligation to dispose of the body. Thus the body can be present for the funeral.  

     When an entire body is given for anatomical study, most medical institutions will permit the use of the body for funeralization after which it is delivered to the medical institution.  
     There need not be a choice between an anatomical gift or a funeral with the body present. With few exceptions both are possible.

The Value of Viewing 
Most psychiatrists agree that viewing the body has therapeutic value for survivors. The late Dr. Erich Lindemann, who pioneered wise ways of coping with grief, declared that viewing was the most important part of the whole funeral process. He emphasized:  ďPeople tend to deny painful reality . . . but when they experience that moment of truth that comes when they stand before the dead body, their denials collapse . . . Grief is a feeling. If you deny it, you have difficulty coping with it, but if you face it you start the process of healthful mourning.Ē  
     One inescapable conclusion can be drawn from this brochure ó for most people the funeral with the body present becomes an experience of value as they work through the sociological, psychological and many times religious needs that are a part of the grief experience.




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