By: Rick Allen, Allen Family Funeral Options, for SENIOR Magazine (Collin edition)
In our culture today there are those who would argue that viewing the body of a person who has died has little to no positive impact on family and friends. Others contend that viewing the body can have an altogether negative impact because it makes a difficult situation even harder. And still others believe that viewing the body plays an extremely important role in moving a person through the five stages of grief in a healthy way.
Back in 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described those five stages of grief in her book On Death and Dying. As she listed them, the five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Today these five stages are widely accepted and taught in psychology courses as fundamental to our human nature to be successfully navigated so that we can bring order to chaos and ultimately accept the traumatic event we have experienced.
Seeing or viewing the outcome of a traumatic event is a critical component of reaching and moving toward acceptance since seeing helps us understand the reality. Reaching acceptance helps bring a person nearer to the point of emotional healing.
Consider the difference between the pain associated with the death of a loved one versus the disappearance of that same loved one. With a death and the reality of saying goodbye to your loved one you can eventually move through grief, reach acceptance, and on some level heal from the hurt. But with a disappearance there is no closure. You will experience grief but you may never reach acceptance. Instead you will be bogged down in depression and sometimes wind up staying there the rest of your life.
The desire to see and understand is a natural human response to any traumatic event. Seeing the event or seeing the aftermath of the event makes the traumatic event real. It is already real on an intellectual level as soon as we learn of the event, but to make it real on an emotional level we must see. It is estimated that 90% of all Americans saw the video of the planes being flown into the twin towers in New York on September 11, 2001. Many of those people had their televisions on all day and into the night watching the video over and over again. This repetitive watching of the same thing over and over again is an effort to grasp the magnitude of what had happened and to come to grips with the tremendous trauma, because seeing is believing.
It is important for everyone who had an emotional connection to someone who has died to witness a final ceremony. By experiencing this final-goodbye ceremony firsthand we can find closure and begin healing. Unfortunately, some people who have pre-planned their own funerals have wrongly assumed they are making it easier for their family by requesting no viewing of their body. In the long run, this may actually make things harder for family members. Although our souls will have departed, seeing our earthly body will help those who remain accept the loss and begin emotional healing.
Seeing is believing. And believing leads to emotional healing.
Rick Allen owns Allen Family Funeral Options and may be reached at 972-596-8200.