I’ve always regretted not seeing my grandmother’s body in her open casket at her funeral.
It’s not a sharp, overwhelming regret. It doesn’t keep me awake at night. But it’s there, a small pang, every time I think about her.
At the time I didn’t want to see her like that. I wanted to remember her as she was in life, feeding us savoury mince and treats and then more (oh, way too much) savoury mince.
Now, I wish I’d done it differently. Seeing her body would act like a snapshot in my mind, a piece of evidence to prove to myself she is no longer the happy, cheeky, savoury mince-loving person that she was in life.
I needed a way to transition from the last time I saw her – eyes alert and twinkling behind her too-big-for-her-face glasses – to what there is now – absolute nothingness. Only now do I realise seeing her body would have completed this transition.
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My story is very different to that of Ilse Fieldsend in the UK, who lost her three-year-old daughter Georgia to an unexpected brain aneurysm. It’s different again to Russell Davison, who lost his 50-year-old wife and “soul mate” Wendy to cervical cancer.
Both Ilse and Russell have been in the news over the last week for not only viewing the body of their loved one, but taking that body home with them. Sleeping next to Wendy. Washing Georgia’s hair. Holding their hands. Stroking their foreheads.
It’s unconventional in a society that finds it so difficult to talk about anything that has anything to do with death.
The headlines – ‘I kept my daughter in her bed for 11 days after she died‘ and ‘Man who slept next to his dead wife’s body for six days‘ – hit us in a place we don’t expect. They make us cringe, squirm, feel uncomfortable. But the concept is the same as an open casket at my grandmother’s funeral.
It’s about saying goodbye. Acknowledging the transition between life and death. And providing evidence to the mind for what the heart can’t accept.
Both Ilse and Russell said the time they spent with the body of their loved ones was invaluable.