Why should we have a visitation and viewing?

Many individuals and families choose to set aside time for a gathering of family and friends following the loss of a family member. This is quite often referred to as a visitation. We all benefit from a time when friends and family gather around us to help or support us. This is true in many instances throughout our lifetime; however, its benefit is most noticeable at the time of a loss.

Many people experience a sense of numbness, disbelief, and sometimes isolation following the death of a family member. When people gather around to assist in some of the chores or daily tasks this can be physically and emotionally helpful. This is similar to the idea of people gathering at the funeral home for visitation. During this time, these people are helping to emotionally support the family. This is accomplished through the sharing of stories and memories of the deceased and their interactions with other members of the family and community. This helps lift the sense of isolation that many bereaved experience as it points out that there are others who share a sense of loss. The family is not alone.

Presence of friends and family at a visitation time also helps the bereaved by providing a sounding board or a listening ear to hear the family repeat the story of the deceased illness or the details of the accident that may have tragically taken the life of their loved one. This helps bring about the true realization that the person has died. This may sound somewhat unbelievable, but it is hard for a human being to accept that a loved one has died, because they have always thought of them in terms of the things they have done or the activities they have shared over the years. The psychological side of our mind needs to hear these details of the death over and over to convince itself, because it is so foreign to think of this live person as now being dead. This helps in the transition from a relationship of presence to a relationship of memory.

Viewing the deceased is also a benefit for the same reason. The psychological part of the human mind needs hard physical proof that the live person they have been so involved with, is now dead.

Good information is the basis of good solid decision making. When a loved one dies we all know, intellectually, that they really have died. But people regardless of how bright or sophisticated have strong feelings which are not logical when a powerful emotional issue is involved. Seeing the body as the focal point of a ritual (The Funeral Service) is a powerful form of reality testing.

Social scientists who study grief and the serious psychological problems it can cause consistently find value in viewing and the funeral. We all know instinctively how bad not seeing the body would be when a person goes missing, soldier dies overseas, plane crashes or a bombing occurs. Thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent searching for lost bodies, and we all understand why. Most of us were taught from childhood that the polite and proper thing to do was to say “Hello” when we meet someone and “Good-Bye” when we departed their presence. In the Western Culture we acknowledge contact with another person with a hand shake, hug, high five, smile or a nod of the head. And finally when we leave the presence of another person we shake hands give hugs but most importantly we say Good-Bye. This was all taught from childhood. Thus, when someone suddenly dies the family and friends have the basic, and very distinctive human need to say “good-bye”.

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