Hello! Merry Christmas, Ho Ho Ho. What better time of year than to write a blog post about death? I could write one about sparkly candy canes and turkey dinners but, you know me.
This week I'm doing a kind of raw social media week where I accept my mistakes as good things and get personal with the hashtag #nofilter. My project has been about bravery and I'm exploring that via social media at the moment and how 'brag culture' exists & creates a seemingly perfect life. This is a good week for me to be brutally honest and post parts of something that I've been afraid to post before now. Bravery in this case is an 85-year-old lady suffering from early dementia who had lost her husband, wanting to die. That's how brave my lovely nana was.
This is something I've wanted to write about for a while but thought "nope, that's just too weird and people will think I'm either insane or want sympathy". That really isn't the case, I just want this post to help people. The question is, why do people think it's weird to talk about death? Maybe everyone's scared of the inevitable, surely discussion with people in the same boat would help this fear?
Death is a hard, natural process but something that has to happen. If you're waiting for it to happen the only thing you can do is to try and make it as dignified as possible, because that person deserves it. It's hard to leave a hospital, say goodbye as if it's the last time and then come back the next day and do it all over again, it's something that so many people have to go through and it's even harder when people are terminally ill. C'mon euthanasia law, be legal already?
There came a point where I was almost wishing death upon her, because it wasn't her anymore and she didn't deserve this long undignified process. Remembering her lying in a hospital bed waiting for her body to give up, is the main part that makes me cry now. It was like she had already gone at that point and we were grieving in front of her still-alive body.
Before I continue to ramble on about emotional stuff, I'm going to start talking about post-death, because I wanted this to be informative. I went to view my nan's body and d'ya know what? I had no clue what to expect. It was such an eerie thought and kind of exciting in a curious way (as bad as that sounds). We get such little information about death and I think that's what makes it an intriguing subject. It certainly intrigues me and I follow morticians and pathologists on Instagram – I find the subject so strange and exciting that I think I could (with a little bit of training) stomach the job of a pathologist (if I was brainy enough).
You can google 'What happens when you go to see a dead body' over and over but no one will be able to tell you how you'll feel (Not even me). What I can tell you is how I felt and what I wish I had known beforehand:
1. When you walk into the funeral home you won't see the body straight away - (I thought you would, so I was freaking out). In our case we sat at a table with a lovely funeral director, who had an amazing top hat, which I really wanted to try on. She told us exactly what to expect, she even pointed out the bad things which I thought was very brave considering we were sniffly, grieving family. It's so easy for people to sugar coat bad experiences, but this wasn't the case at all. She told us it would be cold in the room and that this was needed for obvious reasons. My mum and dad went in first to let us know what to expect and me and my sister sat and flicked through casket catalogues, OH HOW MORBID.
2. When you walk into the viewing room it will be freezing – this can be quite eerie in itself. In my case I couldn't really see my nan until we walked a little further in, but as soon as I did I felt relieved because I was expecting so much worse. You're left alone, or with your family so you can have a few last moments with your loved one.
3. Coffins are really fancy – I had never seen one inside, but they look cosy and they're also really compact, I thought they'd have a lot more room inside.
4. Your loved one will look different, and it's strange - Things that used to exist will be taken out and replaced with padding, like a weird human version of The Bear Factory. The mouth will look strange for this reason and eyes kind of do too even though they're closed. After seeing my nan in pain feeling horrible and groggy in a hospital bed, seeing her with makeup and looking peaceful helped. I'm sure she'd be happy to have 'a bit of slap on' too!
5. Seeing a dead body helped me accept it - It gave closure that I needed and helped me see the body as a shell. It depends if you're into all this spiritual stuff, I'm not quite sure personally.
6. You can touch them if you like – I was EXTREMELY hesitant about this, but my curious side made me in the end. I touched her hand and I stroked her head and it felt strange. Her head was rock solid and freezing, her hands felt waxy with each vein and wrinkle more prominent. I believe this happens because of the preservative used to replace the blood.
7. Some parts might not be perfect, but it won't smell - The lady warned us that some discoloration had begun happening in places like her hands. This was mainly on areas where she had blood taken from in hospital that had begun bruising after she died. You might also see an incision where the jugular vein is in the neck, where embalming fluid may be injected.
8. Psychologically you will feel really weird – my feeling for that whole night and a few days after could only be compared to the scene where Lady Macbeth keeps washing her hands of invisible blood. TAKE HAND SANITISER (I didn't and felt SO conscious of the fact that I had touched a dead body). Dead bodies are clean and are hardly different to an alive body, but death has been portrayed as a scary and smelly kind of thing, so it's only natural to feel this way. When you're in a funeral home as well, if you're like me all you'll be thinking of is "what's in that cupboard", "what's down those stairs?" and "how many bodies are there that could chase me?"
9. You can take things to put in the coffin with your loved one – we took photographs but having known this earlier I would probably have written some kind of letter, because it would've felt nice, as lame as it sounds.
10. Finally, you will feel like you can do anything else life throws at you – not only after going to see a dead body, but after dealing with everything that death brings with it. Lots of people around me have died, but I've never visited for so long and watched it happen daily and I had never viewed a body until then. Now I feel stronger and my outlook on death has kind of changed a little bit, although it's still a little bit scary.
I hope that this post helps people who are a little bit curious and has been personal enough (I don't know how more personal I can get). I hope I haven't offended anyone with my weird humour or beliefs, but everyone is entitled to their own spiritual or non-spiritual thoughts on the subject.
If you have any questions then feel free to post in the comments and I will happily answer, not that I am a death guru or anything.