About Those Bodies…

I love them.  I just do.  Doesn’t matter whether somebody’s still inside them or not, I’m grateful to them for however long they manage to keep working.  After all, they’re the things that allow us to do what we love most; whisper, cradle one another, laugh.  Think, wiggle, climb, and make love.  Have babies, go barefoot, gaze up at the stars…and on and on.  None of it would be possible if our bodies weren’t willing to step up to the plate and do it all–plus the dirty work–for us.

I fell even more in love with bodies after watching them dying.  I had no idea how much they do to try and shield us from the pain involved in the journey.  How many natural protections there are built into the physiological functioning of the body itself…neat little tricks like shock, saline imbalances in the blood, lack of oxygen and appetite among others…all things that can help filter, decrease, or numb the suffering involved.  These efforts looked beautiful and compassionate to me, kind and loving.

Eventually I realized that bodies don’t die because they fail, they die because they’re designed to die, as intelligently and mercifully as possible, in order to save us from the far greater and unendurable levels of suffering we’d be stuck with if they didn’t.

Anyway, here are a smattering of posts about these dear, generous friends who transport and shield us through our many adventures.

It’s OK To Still Love Their Bodies Once They’re Gone

Just before leaving, I returned to the bed, leaned over, and laid my cheek against Mr. B’s, whispering “I sure do love you, sir. Have a safe journey. Knowing you was an honor and a gift.” Then, unexpectedly, I started to cry.

Their Body: It’s Not Them Anymore But It Still Deserves Our Thanks

Mr. B no longer looked even remotely lifelike–on the contrary, he looked unearthly. His skin was white and flawless, like fine porcelain. As though an artist had slipped in during the night and shaped an exquisite replica of Mr. B’s face down to the tiniest, loving detail, kissed it, and then left it there against the pillow before slipping away again.

The Jewish Do Not Leave Their Dead Bodies Alone

Jews do not leave dead bodies alone. Communities appoint people called “shomrim” — protectors — to watch over the deceased from the time of death until the funeral. It is considered a “mitzvah” — a commanded act — and a holy thing to do…

Of Troughs, Wombs, Longing, and Loss

On the morning that she died my sister and I gathered water, soap, and washcloths by her bedside. We closed the door to the room and together bathed her for the last time, gently touching her arms and legs, her face and hair, all the intimate, beloved parts of her body that had granted us entrance and life so many years ago.

Death With Dignity? (…and they all burst out laughing.)

The most dignified people I helped care for weren’t the ones with the best medical care, or the clearest minds, or those who displayed the most control over how they were going to die.

Buoyancy, A Curious Japanese Ritual, and Admitting Confusion

There was a powerful insight I had while watching the Japanese film “Departures” a couple weeks ago but the problem is, I’m still not exactly sure what it was. (Actually, I feel kind of like a quote I found once in a whole oats forum: “The answers we found only served to raise a whole new set of questions. We’re as confused as ever, but we believe we’re now confused on a higher level and about more important things.”) Please bear with me here while I struggle to explain this.

Teaching Stories and Working with Dying Bodies: Context Helps A Lot

Watching a body separate from the life it’s been housing takes some getting used to. It really does. As graphic processes go, dying has to be up there around the top, and the sights, sounds, feelings, and odors involved require some aggressive acclimation.

Sky Burial

Griffon Vulture at Oakland Zoo Photo © Ingrid Taylar Today is the ninth anniversary of 9/11 and, judging from all the anger boiling up in the last month, it seems as a nation that we’re still pretty raw. Forgiveness is…

8 responses

  1. It is still hard for me to accept that the coroner would not let me come to be with my (24-year old) son after he died. He died on a Saturday morning at 11:15 or so, competing in a triathlon. I wasn’t notified until about 3 pm. by a friend of my son’s. I of course was in shock and grief, but had the presence of mind to call the coroner and he told me I couldn’t see my son until Monday evening at the funeral home! I begged and pleaded, and tried to call in favors from people who might sway the coroner. His excuse was, “We aren’t set up for a viewing” to which I said, “I don’t need a viewing, I need to be with my son!” “We are short staffed on week ends.” I said, “I need to identify him.” He said, “He had a race number.” (No wallet as he was in a race) I thought, what if the numbers got mixed up and it was someone else? In addition, I needed to be with my son to help reality set in. The coroner responded ,if I didn’t want an autopsy he could be released to the funeral home right away. I wanted the autopsy because I had to know what happened. (Later we found he was born with an undiagnosed congenital heart defect). So his father and I drove to the coroner’s and sat outside the locked building, wishing we could be there for our son. I finally saw him at the funeral home Monday night. I worried that his spirit couldn’t hang around that long for me to come see him, touch him and talk to him, but I know he was there. The waiting was tough, and made a devastating life experience even more difficult to bare.

    • I wondered what the process was for notification in a situation like the one your family found yourself in. That’s seems awfully hard that you weren’t allowed to come in and even verify that it was your son. That’s a little scary actually. And to have to wait a days like that? The insensitivity is staggering, like being short staffed is somehow more important than the fact that someone just died? But I wonder what the environment was like where your son’s body was being held. Would it (could it) have made it even worse to walk into the cold, graphic horror of an autopsy environment and find your son there?

      This all makes me so sad. I hate that bodies get treated the way the do. They’re still so beloved, even after the person inside has left. I hope that someday this will change.

  2. That would have been awful. But I think they could have rolled him out to the foyer on a gurney with the sheet down to his shoulders. It was not as if his body was damaged in a bad accident. He had no injuries what -so -ever. They could hire a social worker (I say that because I am one) to meet with the family and help them in their grieving process. A few weeks after it happened I wrote a letter to the editor about it, but I don’t think it was ever published. A friend of mine had the same situation, son died the day before David and she couldn’t get in to see him until he was released to the funeral home. Thanks, Dia.

    • I think a trained liaison between the coroner’s office and the families of the deceased is a brilliant idea. If only we had more of a societal mind towards preventing additional trauma…but we’re nowhere near that currently.

  3. My brother died in a car accident, and I swore I wasn’t going to see the body at the viewing. I didn’t think I needed to see it. I had my closure. He was gone, who needs to see the flesh?
    I did. I looked, and the reality overwhelmed. It wasn’t until then that I truly said my goodbye.

    • The first time I attended a viewing I had a similar experience. I had no idea how powerful it would be. I guess it’s the difference between thinking it and knowing it. The body seems to need something more visceral than just facts.

      I’m really sorry about your brother. A sudden, unexpected death like that can be so much harder to come to grips with.

      • The body is more than just the bag of meat (to put it bluntly) carrying our soul around. We interact with it, it’s the only way we know how to connect with each other on an immediate level. I didn’t realize that until the viewing.

        It was hard, but I think all endings are hard, no matter what they are or how they happen. Good hard and bad hard, but hard for everyone.

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