Should you view your loved one in the Chapel of Rest?

May 11, 2017   //   No Comments

SAIF’s Past President Paul Allcock reflects on issues facing funeral directors:

One of the most frequently asked questions a Funeral Director hears from a family is whether or not they should come to see a loved one in the Chapel of Rest.

For what it is worth, my opinion is that there is only one person that can ever make that decision, and that is the individual who asks the question. The only words of guidance I tend to offer are that if the memory of the person who has died is a good one, is there any point in jeopardising that memory? Likewise, if the last memories aren’t great, then a visit to the Chapel to see a loved one at peace and to be allowed the time to spend with them and often to say what needs to be said, can be hugely beneficial.

This is fine in general terms, but what about the tragic circumstances that can leave someone losing a loved one without warning, perhaps as the result of an accident of some kind? Not only does this often leave so many things unsaid, but it may be felt by some that to see the deceased, perhaps in an unrecognisable state would be wholly inappropriate. Today, there is often the capability to literally rebuild someone’s features to create the opportunity for loved ones to at least be able to accept that the person that left for work on that fateful morning, was indeed the person who died in the accident. The acceptance in these circumstances has an irreplaceable value for the bereaved in coping with such an unexpected tragedy.

But what if nothing can be done, perhaps as the result of a fire? Many years ago I was faced with this predicament, and the learning curve for me was one which I will never forget. A mother had lost her son in a fire and over the weeks that followed she asked to see her son on numerous occasions. On each occasion she asked, she was refused. Due, I have no doubt to how everyone else felt she would react! Having sat with her for a few hours, she made it quite clear to me that she was going to be unable to move on without being able to confirm to herself that her son had indeed died in the fire. Having explained to her at length that her son wasn’t recognisable, she quite rightly advised me that she would be able recognise any part of his body. When I checked, one of her son’s hands had not been burned, and so she came to our Chapel with her son completely covered apart from his left hand. She proceeded to sit and hold his hand for 3 hours, saying everything she needed to say, and confirming the tragic situation she found herself in. As she left she thanked me for allowing her to sit with him, and felt that she was now able to proceed and arrange his funeral. This we duly did, and a more moving service I have never been involved with before or since.

This experience taught me never to make any assumptions about what is the best course of action for another individual, regardless of how I thought it may affect them. I share this with the understanding that none of us can or should dictate to another what is the right course of action for them!