The removal of Amy Winehouse
Funeral directors have strong and varying views on what families should and should not be allowed to see — in the families’ best interests of course. Some undertakers are heavier-handed than others in the way in which they express their advice. The law is perfectly clear: the dead person belongs to the family, not them. They need to be sure not to infringe this right.
I remember being hurried out of the room when my Mum died by a policeman who wanted to ask questions and chide me for having lifted her up from the floor and put her on the bed. It was a gambit to allow the undertaker’s men to take her away without upsetting me. Whether or not it might have upset me was not discussed. The assumption seemed to be that no bereaved person wants to witness this or lend a hand.
Different undertakers have different ways of talking through with families what they need to do when they come to take someone ‘into their care’. With a home removal there’s a big, stark contrast between a comfy dead person (Mum, Dad, Nan) tucked up in bed… and a bagged, zipped corpse being trolleyed out into the 2am rain. It’s not a good look. For those who were gathered round the deathbed, it takes some taking in. Some undertakers address the aesthetics better than others.
Is this sudden status adjustment something families need to be spared, or is it something they would benefit from witnessing and even assisting in?
There’s an analogy here with CPR, around which a similar debate swirls. Is it better for families to witness CPR, or should they be hurried away where they can’t see? Some new research seems to show that those who stay and witness suffer less psychic distress afterwards.
Responses from doctors are as polarised as would be those of undertakers. If for CPR and ‘resuscitation’ you read ‘removal’, the responses below might have come from undertakers:
I would have hated to watch CPR being performed on [my mother’s] frail body, and I know she would not have liked me to watch either.
It would have been extremely traumatic to have been required to leave her when she needed us the most, as she left this world … I will forever be grateful for not being forced out and for knowing that everything possible was done and done well.
In most cases, I advise that the family leave the room and be attended to by a member of the medical/nursing team.
I believe that there are a lot of people out there who could handle being in the room … On the other hand, there are many who could not … I think that the physician should discuss it with the family and loved ones. This way they will know what is best.
I don’t think family members should witness CPR on relatives first because of my personal experience and second because I think it might impair the performance of the caregivers at some level.
We have offered family presence during resuscitation at our institution for seven years now, and the experience for providers and family alike has been overwhelmingly positive.
In my experience … the family can only be harmed by witnessing what we have to do
Family choice must be determinant.
I don’t find any single reason for the family to be present at that stressful moment that could be of benefit to the patient or themselves.