Dear Barbara, What is the importance of the family or the hospice nurse cleaning the body, since I assume the mortuary will be set for that. Of course, the body should be presentable for other visitors, if there are any.
You asked about the significance of washing the body following a death when really the mortuary will wash it. Yes, you are right, the body will be washed at the funeral home.
I don't think it is about the cleanliness of the body but of the hands-on ritual of saying goodbye. Bathing is an intimate ritual. It can be a way of saying goodbye through our hands and our tears. Also, guilt can come out through busy fingers.
As a hospice nurse I, personally, didn’t wash the whole body or suggest that the family wash it on every death call. I did have a ritual bathing in my “tool bag” as an option if I thought it would be helpful for the family in their grieving process.
Again, it isn't about the need. It is about the ritual, a way of further saying goodbye. It actually can be very beautiful. If there was stooling or urine I may, without the family, wash that body region to eliminate odors, as I tidy the room.
As part of my guiding the significant others following the death, without a ritual bathing, I would straighten the room, arrange the body with the head of the bed up a bit, and put a clean sheet over the body leaving the head uncovered. I then suggest the family, one by one, come in to say goodbye again.
This is their last opportunity to have a truly private goodbye. It is setting the stage for creating a sacred memory.
Something More... about Ritual Bathing After the Death
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