I kissed a dead body tonight.
No, it is not pleasant.
Yes, it is disturbing.
And yes, your feelings at this moment of either disgust and horror… or morbid curiosity… are perfectly normal.
I pulled down the sheet that was covering her face. People cover the faces of dead bodies, because looking at death is disturbing, sad and disconcerting to most everyone, even if they work in healthcare.
I looked at her face, to see if it had any resemblance to the face that had smiled at me so many times.
It did. It was her face… but now… the life had gone out of her. My Rosalie. My dear Rosalie lying there motionless. No longer really there. It was just an empty shell that her spirited, affectionate soul used to reside in.
Her eyes were still open a little. No one had known they were supposed to close them. I was not there when she died, or I would have done it.
The nurse aides working in that unit must not have known about the eyes, although…the nurse who examined her to confirm the death, should have known. She just did not care enough about the dignity of the patient to take one minute to close the eyes.
The eyes must be closed, very gently, with your hand. You gently brush downward over them, with your open hand and they will usually close …for the last time. But if this is not done within the first fifteen minutes, then they get stuck open, which is very disturbing to the family.
I don’t know what it is.. about the open eyes of a dead body that is disturbing to people. Perhaps the fact that the eyes seem to be staring at some. Or perhaps the knowledge that those eyes are no longer attached to a functioning brain that can process what they see.
They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Therefor if there is no soul residing in the body, what are the eyes windows to? Something other wordly? Have the eyes now becomes windows to death itself?
Perhaps that is what people feel. The eyes of a dead person that were once the “widows to the soul” are now windows to death itself. Most people do not want to look into those windows, for fear of what they might see.
No one wants to believe that death is a reality, except for some. Some who have contemplated taking their own lives. Some who have had close brushed with death. And some others…
Even those people who accept death as part of life, would have trouble looking into the eyes of a dead person. Are we all afraid of what we might see? What secrets do the dead eyes hold that we are afraid of?
Well, I did look into her eyes and saw……
Nothing much. Just no life…
No one had arranged her body position either. For those of you who do not know…hopefully most of you…the body must be arranged into position within a half hour or so, of the death. Usually the arms are placed across the chest, in a cross, with the hands near the shoulders, like a cross shape or an X.
You can also arrange the hands in a position that looks natural and comfortable. What you do not , and should not do, is just leave the body in a random position. It should be in a position that looks like they are sleeping peacefully. In a relaxed sleep position, a person has relaxed arms and hands.
Once rigamortis sets in, the body can no longer be moved into position, without damaging the limbs. It is best to take care of all of these things right away, but the nurse just did not bother to do it. There is a lack of dignity in that.
So, I kissed her and told her I loved her and said good bye. I was done with what I wanted to do and tried to leave the room. I can tolerate that much, but I do not like to watch the body zipped into the bag. I find it very disturbing.
Yes, I said disturbing. Me..the one who kissed the dead body today…has a line … a boundary…of what is too disturbing, even for me,
But yes, the moving of the body off the bed onto the stretcher and then the zipping of the bag…Yes…very disturbing.
But I went back. …I don’t know why, but I did.
I went back into the room and not only watched the body being removed from the bed…but I actually assisted him in lifting the body and moving it. I wanted to ensure that she was treated with the highest level of dignity possible.
Thank goodness, he did not have the zipper bag, This particular company did not do that. I was lucky for that. He had a velvet cloth that he covered the body with. It fitted over the body and around the edges of the stretcher. I did not have to hear the zipping of the bag, which brings back bad memories to me, from an incident in my past.
There are more circumstances surrounding this whole thing, which were even more upsetting and in fact , somewhat infuriating to me. The nurses were very callous, lazy and insensitive to me about the situation surrounding her death and the guy coming in to claim her.
I will write that out in another post. I hope that people headed my trigger warning on this post and that no one read this that should not have. Feel free to leave comments or questions about death and dying, if you have anything I might be able to explain.