Ownership after death

Ownership your loved ones body after their death 

It can feel like our loved ones remains no longer belong to us after their death, they may be removed from our care by hospital staff , funeral directors, even our well meaning family or friends. For some hospitals, time constraints and  bed shortages ,may mean that the deceased might be moved quite soon after death to the hospital mortuary or chapel ,where, from therein, our access is limited to when staff are able to arrange viewing appointments. It’s similar with Funeral directors.

A mother told me that after her sons death she had wanted to take his  piercings  out to keep but felt that ‘they ‘( the hospital staff ) might not let her or might think she was strange. ” My husband mentioned the piercings to ward staff and they said we would of course get them back, but we wanted to take them out ourselves , it was like he wasn’t accessible to us any more. They did give us a short time alone but it was short and then they pulled the curtains around him and there were lots of nurses doing stuff – I don’t know what, but it felt like I was excluded .”

Mothers of babies that die before birth or during birth tell me how hard it was to leave their child at the hospital, they would have liked to take their child home but felt they couldn’t ask . There is it seems a sense of restriction a feeling that the deceased is no longer  theirs but has become the property of the Hospital or  Funeral Director.

Sometimes well meaning hospital staff take care over the deceased to present them looking tidy and will wash change them and even put flowers on pillows or in hands. I wonder who this preparation is actually for ? Is it a final act that gives the care staff the ritual of an ending and shouldn’t the family be asked whether  they want it and if they do , Whether they would like to be part of it ,either in an active way or to observer?

In some religions the deceased is taken to the place of worship soon after death and washed and cared for by family and friends.In many countries this act is seen as a part of the process of grieving.

The sense of loss of ownership or of intrusion may also be experienced  where there may be media interest and coverage.Families often tell me that although they want to tell their story they also feel something is taken from them when others read it and know their personal lives.Once told a feeling that they have given  something  more away .The sense of nothing being their own any more, of loss of privacy ,of choices -being able to do things ,of not knowing what others say about them and of being observed .

Sometimes decisions are made on behalf of the bereaved by well meaning family or friends ,at the time to the bereaved these may feel okay, on reflection a feeling of  -I wish they hadn’t said or done this or that . A sense that choice was not theirs  that things were not within their control or ownership .
If you are experiencing this there are a few things that you can do.
Firstly ask questions , don’t be afraid to tell those involved with you what you want and what your needs are .
If you are involved with media pre plan any statements you may wish to give .( There is an article about media and press on the website )
When people ask about your life , experience etc think about how much you want or don’t want to say and if you don’t want to share then don’t .

Ideas for management of conversations

Q     I heard what happened …… How are you ?

A      Thank you for asking , .I don’t feel like talking about it right now 
perhaps we can talk about it some other time 
By doing this you regain control of who, when , where you choose to talk . You are not rejecting those that ask,you are simply saying, another time.

Sometimes people try to protect us by making decisions based on information and from their own frame of reference. Of course what one person thinks is dreadful another may not and we should remember that the deceased will not be seen by us, as those who are closest and love them see them . In my experience one of the commonest occurrences is when those less connected decide that a deceased person shouldn’t be viewed by family . This can be for numerous reasons but it really is ok to ask .


I advise you not to see the deceased    A well meaning person may feel they are protecting you. ,Here are ideas for responses
I realise you are trying to assist me 

Can you tell me why I shouldn’t – share your concerns with me ?

I understand your concerns but I would still like to do this 

I hope you will assist  me to do this.
There are also support agencies and individuals that are there to help , these include , your G.P , Police Liaison Officers, Hospital Clergy ,Counsellors, Hospital Bereavement Supports , Agencies such as Cruse and Victim support. Never be afraid of asking for help .

Sometimes we just need to know that we can do whatever we wish to and to feel that we do have choices .

I remember a couple whose child died in a road traffic collision .The child’s body was extremely damaged and the parents knew this but still needed to have that close personal and private time with the child. The mother said that she had this driving need to bear to be with her child , she couldn’t fully find words to explain the need.

It didn’t matter , shouldn’t matter to those less involved , she had a need and thankfully with the assistance of a innovative, sensitive funeral director she was able to achieve her wish . The child’s body was wrapped and laid on a trolley the parents were given access and privately.

Sometimes such care and presentation is taken over the body that the immediate family feel restricted for fear of disturbing the presentation.

It’s so important that we all communicate about these sensitive areas and that the fear of being thought of as morbid be diminished in place of knowledge that so many of our thoughts and feelings when we are bereaved are normal

If you’d like comment on this article or you have a story or experience to share please contact us  info@bereavement.co.uk

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