ASK THE DEATH LADY: Learning About Death And Grief
by Franne Whitney Nelson, EdT., CSDS


Q. Does grieving ever end?

Melissa, PA
A. Grieving lasts for as long as you love the person who died. However, the most acute grief lasts from two to five years, depending on the manner of death, the person's age and their relationship to you.

Q. When did it become customary for mourners to wear black?
Sociologist, VA
A. It began in the 15th century when Anne of Brittany wore black after her husband, France's King Charles VIII, died.

Three out of ten people who are in counseling suffer from unresolved grief over a loved one's death.

Q. Do the terminally ill prefer to die at home?
Jacob, MS
A. Some do not. Those who don't sometimes feel their dying at home will somehow "contaminate" the house and that their family will forever associate it with the death and not want to live there anymore.
    I was privileged to have hands-on experience with 542 dying people through my association with

hospice. The majority of them wanted to die at home in their own bed, surrounded by their loved ones, amid familiar furniture, books, paintings, views and beloved pets. 

Q. What, in your opinion, constitutes good postmortem care?

Nursing Home Administrator, IL

A. Wash the body, apply lotion, comb their hair, clean the fingernails and toenails and put on a clean garment. Close the eyes and mouth and place the hands on the chest in order to minimize lividity (setting of the blood), which stains the skin and is difficult to cover up during the embalming process. Never tie the wrists or jaw - this can cause marks on the skin which do not disappear and which greatly upset the family. Placing a small rolled towel under the chin will keep the mouth closed.
   Meticulous postmortem care is good for the morale of the staff, patients and families, to say nothing of your facility's reputation. I know funeral directors who have made hospital and nursing home choices and recommendations based on the quality of the postmortem care they see in hospital patients and nursing home residents.

45% of men and 6% of women don't shed tears during any given month.

Lenin's embalmed body has been on display in Moscow's Red Square since 1924.

Q. Is it ever appropriate to ask a family if they would like to participate in the postmortem care of their loved one before the funeral director comes to pick up the body?
Nursing Home LNA, AL
A. Because a crucial part of the journey essential to healthy grief resolution can begin at the death bed, I believe it's not only appropriate, it's eminently desirable to ask the family if they would like to perform these last, loving tasks. However, be sure to give the family a choice of doing it on their own or having a staff member or volunteer assist them.

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