The following is a short essay that I wrote for one of my clients who was struggling to explain the importance of having the body present at a visitation. I eventually sent it out to my entire email list (3,500+) and it turned out to be the most popular email I’ve ever sent.
Seeing is believing….
Most people have heard the old saying “seeing is believing”… but many people have also lived through a life experience which gave them a deep, emotional understanding of this simple phrase.
Consider what happens when a parent receives call from their child’s school saying that their child has been hurt on the school yard. They’re told that the child is ok but still they’ll spend the rest of their work day counting the minutes…waiting to see their child….because seeing is believing.
Consider what happened to our entire society when the planes flew into the twin towers on Sept 11th 2001. Within minutes of hearing the news over, televisions across the country were turned on as people watched the videos over and over again. They have estimated that over 90% of American’s saw the videos the first day. Many people had the TV on all day watching the videos over and over again, trying to grasp the magnitude of the moment, trying to come to grips with the trauma…because seeing is believing.
The burning desire to See is the natural human response to any traumatic event. Seeing the event, or seeing the aftermath of the event, makes the traumatic event real. It’s already real on an intellectual level as soon as we hear about the event, but to make it real on an emotional level we must See.
Psychologists tell us that all traumatic events introduce a certain amount of chaos into our lives and that the lingering effects of chaos is what most people refer to as grief. They also tell us that the need to See is tied to our need to bring order out of chaos and in doing so to minimize the long term grief that is associated with the traumatic event.
Back in 1969, Elizabeth Kubler Ross in her book “Death and Dying” described 5 stages of grief. The 5 stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. These widely accepted stages are now taught in every psychology program in the country.
We can try to deny the stages….but we cannot avoid them. The 5 stages are fundamental to our human nature. We move through these stages so that we can bring order to chaos and begin to accept the event. Seeing the outcome of a traumatic event is a critical component of Acceptance. In fact, without Seeing it is extremely hard to get to the point of Acceptance or ever move to the point of experiencing emotional healing.
Consider the difference between the painful death of a loved one versus the disappearance of a 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.
But with a disappearance there is no closure. You will experience grief but you will never reach Acceptance, instead you will be bogged down in Depression….sometimes you will stay there for the rest of your life.
A common point of debate in our culture today is whether or not there should be a public viewing of the body after the death of a loved one. Some people think that the viewing makes it even harder for the family. In fact, viewing the body plays an extremely important role in moving a person through the five stages of grief in a healthy way.
If someone you care about passes away you can never avoid grief you can only move through it. Seeing the remains of a loved one is an undeniable confirmation of the death. For those who are stuck in the first stage of grief (i.e, Denial) it empowers them to move forward through the grief process and to eventually heal from the loss.
Seeing the final disposition of the body is also critically important because it brings closure to the traumatic event. Whether it be the lowering of a casket into a grave or the scattering of cremated remains, it is important for everyone who had an emotional connection to the deceased to witness the final ceremony. Only by experiencing this final goodbye ceremony firsthand can we find closure and begin healing.
Some people who are preplanning their own funerals wrongly assume that they are making it easier for their family by requesting no viewing of their remains. Sadly, they are actually making it harder for their family. Allowing their body to be present is actually the last meaningful gift that they can give to their loved ones. Their soul may have departed but their earthly body will help those who remain accept the loss and begin their journey through the natural grief process towards emotional healing.
Always remember…if someone you love passes away you cannot avoid grief. Instead you should reach out to others who can help you navigate this difficult time so that you can honor their life, accept the loss and begin emotional healing.
Seeing is believing.
And believing leads to Emotional Healing…..