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Should You View Your Loved One in a Coffin?

Should You View Your Loved One in a Coffin? | After the Heartbreak
Should You View Your Loved One in a Coffin?

Such a personal decision! There is no way I would tell somebody else what they should do, but I thought I’d share my own feelings……because despite being adamant that I would never do this (it’s better to remember them as they were etc etc), I changed my mind. I thought I’d tell you why.

It was the Funeral Director who said “Do you want to come in and spend some time with your husband?” Good grief! Absolutely not! For my entire life this was something I knew I could never do. I wanted to remember Norbert as the warm (and alive) man that he was when I said goodbye to him the day he went off to the gliding course which took his life.

Read: The Day My Heart Broke

The Funeral Director wasn’t taken aback at my adamant response. Instead, he looked calmly at me, smiled, and said “Why not?” I stammered and tried to explain but ended up just saying “I can’t do that.” Patiently he said “OK“, but then explained that he would have Norbert all ready for viewing on Sunday morning, and I was welcome to come in and see him….but if I preferred, he would have the lid closed so I could just sit next to the coffin and ‘talk’ to him.

OK, I could handle that.

I thought about it over the next couple of days and rang my sister. My sister’s daughter had died in a car crash and I knew that she had ‘seen’ her afterwards. I really wanted her thoughts. She told me that seeing her daughter in a coffin was devastating, but it helped to accept the reality of the situation and she had no regrets. In fact, she gently suggested that it would be a good idea for me to see Norbert because as he died 1,000km away, the finality and reality of his death would be easier to accept.

I arrived at the Funeral Director’s premises on that Sunday morning, absolutely terrified. This seemed surreal and so scary. The minute I opened the door though, things seemed to change. The Funeral Director welcomed me with a grin and said “Norbert is all ready for you! He looks really good.”

I was not expecting that. I was with my daughters and step-son, so we agreed that we would go in together. The Funeral Director quickly asked if we wanted to have the lid closed….but at that point I felt I could handle it. We went through the door.

I admit that I was momentarily startled to see him lying there, just like he was asleep. I’m not sure what I was expecting but it was a relief to see that apart from some bruising to his neck and hands, my beautiful man looked the same and was not ‘broken’ and damaged. Of course I knew that he died from internal injuries, but it helped that I could clearly see that everyone was telling me the truth.

Coming in the door...coffin in front.

We left the room and my family took turns to go back in to say their private goodbyes. When it came to my turn, I was ready this time and slipped quietly through the door to see my husband for what I knew would be the last time.

I was able to talk to him, and tell him how much I loved him. I told him that I would do the best that I could to survive by myself, but that I would miss him forever. I touched his hand…but it was icy cold. I had been told that I could kiss him but I knew his lips would be cold and I contented myself with simply stroking his hair.

A few days later I was sitting in the front row at the funeral, and I knew then that seeing my husband one more time was the absolute right thing to do. The coffin in front of me held no surprises or shocks. I knew exactly how he looked inside…the clothes he was wearing. It felt familiar and not scary.

So for me, it was the right thing to do and I am eternally grateful to those who advised me to take the opportunity to see Norbert one last time. I do remember how he looked in that coffin, but it doesn’t detract one bit from all my memories of his beautiful, smiling face. 🙂

What is your experience?

Marlene is an Australian widow who has written about all the good, bad and ugly stuff that happened after her husband Norbert died tragically. Marlene responds to all comments.

  • Coco says:

    I have seen my sister and Dad in a coffin. Of course, I felt the same as you: Reluctance, because you don’t want to alter the image you have of them. Secretly, even though we all stand around and say “Oh, she looks good.” Or “Oh he looks good,” my thoughts were-“Oh, good-that’s not Really how he looks” so my image was not marred. Also, I am a nurse, and have been beside many people as they passed. Once the soul leaves the body, the body immediately transforms. It truly is that smile, the twinkle in their eyes that keeps them alive to us..Fortunately, I am not widowed and I think you are an incredible soul to reveal your heart like this and to share your story. It is so hard to imagine life without our loved one, but Someday sneaks up on us, and any of us will be either side of the casket. I think you will be an anchor for many as they go through the motions after loss and bring a promise that we can make it! *Also, I need help sleeping, so I will be trying out the meditation site! Wishing you the best with life and your blog!

    • Marlene says:

      Thanks Coco for your lovely comments…I feel like you truly understand where I am coming from. It wasn’t frightening seeing my husband in that coffin because, as you so rightly point out, he wasn’t there. In fact, at the time I actually said that because I was speaking to him in the room, and not there in the box. I hope the meditation helps with your sleeping as it is a big help for me. Thanks again for connecting. It’s what makes blogging so worthwhile. 🙂

  • RWKW says:

    My husband died in a tragic drowning accident. I saw his body in the ER room shortly after he had been declared deceased by the ER doctors and it was horrific. I often wish that they had not called me and allowed me and my young child to see him in this condition. He was then transported four hours away to our local funeral home who prepared the body for the funeral. The funeral director called me and asked if I wanted to spend some time with my husband prior to the cremation. She said that he looked good. What ever that meant… So, I went there on an early Saturday morning with my child. I was scared when I walked into the funeral home and I immediately regretted my decision. The funeral director was very warm and comforting and she escorted me to the room where my husband’s body was waiting for me. The room was warm, friendly with beautiful flowers and soft music. She held my hand as we approached the casket and at that very moment, I was glad that I went to see him again. He looked peaceful and handsome, like he was sleeping. I touched his skin and his hair and I told him that I loved him so much and that I would take care of our child and continue with life. I am not religious, but I asked him to send a sign to us if he is there. I stroked his beautiful hair and then I went to get my son. I told him that it was okay to see Daddy one more time if he wanted to and he nodded. He proceeded to tell me that he wanted to go in alone and my heart almost stopped. He was so brave. He opened the door and I held his hand and we walked together towards the casket. He took one look at his father and then told me to leave. I left the room and watched him closely from a small window. He stood there for a while looking at his father. He then checked his father’s pulse on the side of his neck and he took off his eyeglasses and held it under his father’s nose. Then he pulled up a chair and sat next to the casket. He sat there for about 20-30 minutes and just talked. Then he got up and touched his father one more time and he closed the casket. He exited the room and told me that he had told his father goodbye. My husband was cremated that same afternoon. I am glad that we went to see him again because he looked so different than he did on that metal stretcher in the ER shortly after being pronounced deceased. When we saw him at the funeral home, I could tell that he was at peace and his soul had left the body. I don’t know where he went or where he is, but I’m confident that wherever his soul went, he is at peace.

    • Marlene says:

      Oh Katja, thank you so much for sharing your experience. I know that writing it down must have brought fresh tears to your eyes, just as writing the post did for me. It was interesting that your son felt the need to check that his father was indeed dead, but then was content to talk to him and say last goodbyes. There was a time in my past when I would have said it was not a good decision to allow children to view the dead, but that was back when I was ill-informed and had no personal experience. Now I understand life (and death) differently…and I’m sure you and your son do too. I appreciate you taking the time to write your experience, and I hope you are slowly crawling forward toward what everyone seems to refer to as the new normal. Not sure what that is either, but I guess forward is the only positive direction. Look after yourselves. 🙂

    • Lara says:

      My dad was killed in a work accident 3 weeks ago today, I was unsure whether to go and visit him as my last encounter with him was at my university graduation a few weeks prior to his death and I’ll never forget how proud he was of me. Marlene, reading your post has really helped me decide that I am going to see him tomorrow as I too feared that I would regret seeing him and not remember how he was. But now I see it from a different perspective and will definitely be going to say my final goodbyes. I agree there is definitely no right or wrong answer it is person to each person that loses a loved one. But thank you so so much for this blog post it has really helped. May Norbert Rest In Peace. ❤️

      • Marlene says:

        Hi Lara,
        Thanks so much for your post, and I’m so sorry to hear about your Dad. By the time you read this, you will have most likely have already seen him in his coffin, and I sincerely hope it went OK for you. As I explained in my post, seeing my husband this way has not detracted from all the wonderful memories of the smiling. very alive man. I hope it is the same for you.
        Much love and virtual hugs,

  • Subi says:

    I am 30 and it’s not yet a year that has passed after the day I saw my husband not alive. He left me in an accident right infront of my eyes. I sat next to him waiting for the ambulance to arrive, hanging on to the false hope that he could still be alive. So after that, seeing him before the cremation was the day was the scariest thing I could think of. I remember how I needed to pull every cell of my body to enter that room where my husband was. As I pulled myself and neared him, I couldn’t help but burst out into tears. But amidst all that, all I could do was to look at him and think how beautiful he looks… I was looking at those facial features which I have always admired. That moment stays fresh in memory triggering streaks of tears yet it gave me a chance to see him and understand that it was all real.

    • Marlene says:

      Oh Subi, the first year is so very tough. My heart goes out to you but all I can offer are virtual hugs. 🥰 Being with your husband at his death must have been so traumatic for you, but I can understand your decision to see him again in his coffin. With the trauma of the accident in the past, perhaps he looked at peace lying there. I don’t know…I’m completely guessing but I know for me it was a pivotal moment when I understood that my husband was gone and my life had changed permanently. That was just over 3 years ago for me, and if it helps, it’s not so raw anymore. You will learn to smile again…I promise.

  • Alice says:

    Thank you so much for this post. It’s not about a husband, but it’s about me. This really resonated with me, coming up on the 10th anniversary of my best friend’s death. Call her “Nicole” She died a little more than a month after turning 23.

    About two days after it happened her mother said at a home visit, “Nicole is ready in her chapel of rest to see you, you can say goodbye.” I got immediately that she’d be in a coffin, and I steeled myself up to go on the third day. I was scared but I needed to see her and I did.

    The funeral director invited me in but didn’t really accompany me, which I appreciated as it was a very individualistic thing for me. There was a coffin, and there was Nicole in it, and I took a moment to look at her. She was wearing a silk dress that I remember she loved, and the interior of the coffin was lined in very shiny, plush white satin with pillows for her head and her feet (she was barefoot. I looked under the lower lid. She hated shoes and had big feet, and that she had free toes was respectful and loving to me)

    I took that moment and sat in a chair for 15 or 20 or so minutes, occasionally looking at the polished oak wood and brass handles on the coffin and sometimes away. I felt perfectly comfortable as best friends can spend hours together in silence, like we did. I got up and looked at Nicole. She looked like she was before. Beautiful, tall (5’10” in feet and inches) and athletic, like herself, but turned off. Like literally, someone flipped an off switch. Otherwise like herself. I kissed her forehead and went home. It was cold, but it was still her forehead. For me, seeing the casket closed would have been the traumatic part.

    • Marlene says:

      Hi Alice, and thank you so much for sharing your experience. It’s not the ‘society norm’ to discuss stuff like seeing our friends and family in a coffin, but it is so very much a reality. Stories like yours will help to open the conversations.

      I smiled when I read that seeing Nicole was a positive experience for you. Like you, I really wasn’t sure I could cope but it’s OK, isn’t it! Not nearly as scary as the stories that go around in your head. It’s actually quite peaceful to see them, and be able to say a personal ‘goodbye’. We’ll always remember them.

  • Debbie says:

    Ah Marlene, my new facebook friend……I have known you for 3 years now but don’t really know you at all do I. Absolutely take the chance to spend visual time with your loved one. My Dad died in 2003 and in the 24 hours before his funeral I was left to read the Eulogy. I didn’t know how I would do this without breaking down, when the funeral director suggested that I visit him. I then decided that if I could read his Eulogy to him, and survive, then I could do it in front of the 100’s of people who would be attending his funeral. I did well and I have this memory and the clarity of his funeral that lives on with me. Sharing love is done in many ways and I absolutely am happy that I took this chance.

    • Marlene says:

      Hi Debbie, thank you so much for sharing your experience with your Dad. I know how hard that must have been for you at the time, but it is wonderful to hear that it both helped at the funeral, and has given you a more gentle memory than might otherwise have been. It was a brave thing to do.
      Cheers, Marlene

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