Have you ever seen a dead body? I have.
I remember it was a Monday, the last time I saw her, the last time I saw my mother. And she wasn’t even breathing.
I knew I wanted to go. It was probably one of the first things I was really sure about. That I wanted to see her, one last time. We had to wait seven days before we could go. We had to wait until the post mortem was fully performed. We had to wait until she was moved to the chapel of rest and ready for visitors. I remember feeling nervous as we drove to the funeral home. The closer we got, the larger the pit in my stomach became. I suddenly felt increasingly nauseated by what we were about to do.
The funeral director was brilliant. He was such nice guy. Incredibly patient and understanding. He had to be since it took me at least an hour to walk into the room where she was lying cold in a casket. My dad went first. He had been the one to identify her body the week before so he knew what to expect. He went in first to see if she looked better, looked the same or looked worse. He came out shaking his head, he didn’t want us to go in. My youngest sister had made it clear the previous week she didn’t want to see her. She didn’t want to remember her that way. So, I was shocked when she said she would go in first. My dad said he would go in with her. I was amazed by her determination, she walked through that door with him by her side without hesitation. I sat on a chair with my other sister and we watched the door close. Then we heard the most earth shattering cry. It’s a noise I had never heard from my baby sister before and it’s a noise I never wish to hear again. It’s also a noise I’ll never forget. She was in and out within five minutes. The look on her face was heartbreaking. My other sister went to throw up in the bathroom. And in that moment, I changed my mind. I didn’t want to go in. I was petrified of what lay behind that door. My youngest sister told me not be scared and that it wasn’t scary it just wasn’t her anymore. It was just a body that resembled her. She told me to go in to see her, for then I would know for myself what she was talking about.
I asked a lot about what she looked like. I asked if it still looked like her. If she was pale. If she looked as though she was sleeping. If she looked okay. My sister just told me I should go in to see for myself. I don’t know how long I sat there exactly, deciding what I wanted to do. Deciding if I would regret what ever decision I made.
I can remember not being able to find the strength to stand up. I wanted to get up off the chair but it was as though my body had other ideas. It look a lot of strength to stand and it took even more to start moving my legs in the direction they needed to go. We agreed that my other sister and I would go in with my dad together. The three of us. My dad started walking first, my sister second and I followed. I walked painfully slow. Like, the way a slug or snail would move. I’m the shortest, so as the funeral director held the door open, my sister told me she could see the top of my mam’s head from where she was stood. My dad was in the room now and my sister was standing just before the door way, I remember peering over her shoulder and catching a glimpse of my mam’s nose. But it didn’t really look like her nose. It was nothing like the nose I remembered. Finally, I was in the room. Finally, I saw her and within 30 seconds I was sat on the sofa at the foot of the casket which was so low it meant I couldn’t see her anymore.
I had saw enough. I saw her and the best way I can describe it is that it was her but it wasn’t really. Not anymore. Her face was so relaxed, she had no expression and her hair was pushed back so far from her face it wasn’t natural. I couldn’t see her cheeks and her lips were so thin. She was so pale and she just wasn’t her anymore. This wasn’t the way I was going to remember her. I told her aloud what I wanted to tell her, I told her not to worry, I told her we would be okay, I told her to be happy now wherever she was and I told her I loved her and I said goodbye.
Leaving the room was going to be tricky. I knew as soon as I stood up she would be in perfect view again. I didn’t want to look. So I sat there debating whether it was a good idea to drop to my knees and crawl out of the room. This I decided was not the best idea in the world so I eventually stood and of course I looked again. How could I not? I looked away just as quickly though. My sister and my dad decided to stay in there with her for a little longer. I couldn’t. I couldn’t stand the eerie feeling that took over my insides or the smell of the room she was in. I couldn’t take my dad making small talk over how nice the casket was that we had chose the week before. It was too much.
I don’t regret my decision that day. As awful as it was and as different she looked, I don’t regret going in. I don’t have that memory following me around or clouding all of my other memories of her. I don’t remember her that way. I remember her living and smiling. I remember her laughing instead. I’m glad I went to see her, I’m glad I got the chance to see her one last time, I’m glad I got to say goodbye to her even if she couldn’t hear me. Even if she couldn’t say it back.
I don’t want to put anyone off seeing their own loved ones this way. The circumstances surrounding my mam’s death were different and she wasn’t made up like most people are. She had a post mortem and she was being took back to the mortuary for more tests the night we left her. Not all loved ones will look the way she did. My Grandad went to see his own mother when she died a few years ago and he told me she looked great. Just as though she was sleeping. I hope that’s the case for each of you if you are ever at a crossroads with the same decision as I was… And you make the same decision I did. I hope that all of your loved ones look as though their only sleeping.
Thanks for reading x