I’ve been reading many news stories lately about funeral homes in trouble with the law for mishandling human remains – hiding them on the property rather than keeping them in refrigeration, usually because the families cannot afford to pay for the cremation or other arrangements. In my opinion, disrespect of a human body and refusal to perform your duties as a funeral director should be grounds for permanent loss of one’s professional license and closure of the facility involved. Some of these individuals are getting away with only a loss of license for 90 days.
In spite of the importance I place on the presence of the body at the funeral and on all families choosing viewing, if possible, there was one family – mine – who was uninterested in either of these things. The following link describes how my younger brother was among one body found underwater using specialized SONAR equipment.
I understand that most parents would want their son’s body recovered so they could proceed with arrangements. My mother did not want this. Our family figured that Harley had been lucky enough to die while having fun with his friends in his favorite place, and we had no desire to disturb that. It was a nice place to be buried. We were assured that due to the depth and temperature of the water, it was physically impossible for a human body to resurface. I obtained a copy of the police report describing the accident and my mother’s wishes were clearly outlined.
There was no doubt he had died, so we didn’t need to see the body or have him recovered to know he hadn’t survived the accident. There were witnesses who saw him sink and not come back up. However, the only reason they had called off the search was because they did not have the technology necessary to recover a body at those depths. They had police divers search for a week and found nothing. But later, when they were able to obtain the technology, they went back to the lake and found Harley.
This was sixteen months after his death. At that time, our family was just getting back to normal…normal meaning we were assimilating the loss into our lives. Having it literally dragged back up was like having him die all over again.
I was not working in the funeral industry at that time, and I had no desire to see the body. A situation like this is one where I would strongly recommend that a family not view. Harley and I had a great last day together and that will be my final memory of him. There is not one skilled mortician in the world who could have made what was left into something that remotely resembled how I remember him on his last day.
I wish our family’s desires could have been respected. I understand this was not legally possible; I only wish they could have left everything as it was. Recovery of this particular body served no purpose and caused as much distress to our family than losing him in the first place.