Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Dressing the Dead
 


Dressing the Dead

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 23, 2008

From the day she learned it was part of her Relief Society calling, my mother lived in dread that she would need to prepare the body of a ward member for burial. The phone call eventually came; her face was gray, her feet dragging as if held fast by mud, as she left the house for the mortuary.

She returned home with a light step and a serene expression. Yes, it had been difficult, she said, but also one of the most awe-filled hours of her life. And so it remained in her memory, as she occasionally told me of her experience.

Sister P. was a late-middle-aged sister who had died of cancer. Her very elderly mother, Sister W., was not up to the heavy physical work of dressing her daughter. She sat on a chair in the corner, clearly wanting to help but too frail for the lifting and rocking necessary. Near the end, Mom had one of those flashes of inspiration that shine in my memories of her. Holding Sister P.’s slippers, Mom turned to Sister W. and said, “You put on her first shoes – would you put on her last?” Sister W. did so, reverently grateful for this last act of service to her child.

****

I have no apology for addressing what might seem a macabre, un-holiday-like subject. Chalk it up to the nostalgic last few days of a dying year.

Most of us are so sheltered from death that our only experience is the sight of elderly relatives already dressed and coffined by the undertaker. It may never occur to us to give that service ourselves – yet in the case of a parent or child, or someone else to whom we are extremely close, we miss a profound opportunity if we do not at least consider dressing the dead. Based on my admittedly limited experience, this is what you might expect:

Undertakers in the U.S. are not used to family members tending to their own dead. You need to speak up if you want to do this – when the undertaker asks about burial clothes is a good time.

You will go to the mortuary to dress your loved one, whose body will be placed on a table or gurney in a private room. The body will be covered by a sheet when you enter the room, buffering the first shock of seeing the body.

It will be a shock, no matter how you brace yourself. Don’t be embarrassed by your reaction. You can do this despite the tears, despite the trembling, even if you need to take breaks to nerve yourself again. Rest your hand on your loved one’s arm for a few moments, to get accustomed to the feeling.

The mortician will have placed flesh-colored bandages over any wounds, even over needle marks from IVs. If there has been trauma due to automobile accident or gunshot, the wounds will be covered, sometimes by a plastic shell or by cotton pads. Don’t remove these protective wraps. Makeup may also have been applied, to cover discolorations. Otherwise, there is absolutely nothing gruesome or gory. (However, in extraordinary circumstances, if the undertaker cautions you that a family member should not assist in a given case, take his advice, or at least have him carefully describe what you face.)

You will need help, either from other family members, or someone from the ward, or the undertaker. Adult bodies, even those wasted by illness, are unbelievably heavy (there is reason for the colloquialism “dead weight”); joints do not bend; and of course you’ll have to do all the work – it isn’t like holding a coat for someone to slip her own arm into the sleeve.

Rocking the body from side to side helps you get the clothing into place.

Mormons who have been through the temple are buried in their temple clothing. While unendowed family members may be present, an endowed member must be there to be certain clothing is correctly arranged. If you need their help, it is the Relief Society’s privilege to help you, or to identify a male member who will help in the case of brethren.

If nonmembers question the use of temple clothing, it may be helpful to read Ephesians 6:14-15 (“Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace”) and explain simply that the clothing is symbolic of how your loved one wished to face eternity.

The Relief Society will assist with burial clothes, if needed. You can use your own clothing, or the Relief Society can furnish clothing that is cut up the back from neck to lower edge, which can lessen the physical labor of dressing a body.

When you have finished, consider spending a few minutes alone. This will be the last quiet moment where you can say anything that needs to be said, or simply to be there. The funeral, with all the relatives and your own duties as quasi-host/hostess, can interfere with those goodbyes.

If you are burying an endowed woman, decide with your family ahead of time who will lower the veil over your sister’s face just before the casket is closed, and make sure the undertaker knows that you want to do that yourself (otherwise, he may do it himself without asking). Generally, the oldest daughter, or other nearest female relative, claims that privilege.

****

Despite having heard my mother tell of her experience with Sister P., it had never occurred to me that I would dress my mother. I will always be grateful to my brother, who made the arrangements with the undertaker and told them (and me) that I would be dressing her. I am also grateful to my two sisters-in-law who assisted. One of them had helped to dress her own oldest child less than four months earlier, and offered suggestions from her experience without imposing any decisions on me.

I cannot say that I felt my mother’s presence there, but the experience was still “other worldly.” It was the most difficult thing I have ever done, bar none, yet I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

At the end, as I finished putting on the stockings, one sister-in-law reached for my mother’s slippers. The other, who had heard Mom tell about dressing Sister P., put her hand quietly over the other’s hand, and said, “Ardis wants to do that.”

I did.

45 Comments »

My tears can be my only response for now.

Comment by Matt W. — 12/29/2006 @ 1:46 pm | Edit This

I think this post is beautiful, and essential. Everyone who reads it will find that when they face this situation, and they will someday, they will reach back to where they’ve mentally stowed these thoughts, and then they will move forward with reverence and confidence.

I’ve not dressed a body for burial, but I was in nursing for a time and had the sacred task of bathing and dressing a literally just-deceased person so that their family could come in and spend a few moments before the individual was removed from the hospital to the morgue. The first time that was required of me, I was an 18-yr-old nurse’s aide. I still remember the awe I felt in handling someone’s suddenly quiet earthly temple. The Spirit taught me more that day about the Plan of Salvation then I’d ever known, learnings surpassed only by the day I was endowed.

Thank you for the beautiful post.

Comment by S.L. — 12/29/2006 @ 2:52 pm | Edit This

i spent the last hour of my father-in-law’s life perched at the foot of his bed, rubbing his cold feet. it was definitely not a chore to be coveted (icky old man feet!), but it became such a sacred experience that i haven’t been able to discuss it much since. i felt so in service of him. this post about your mom, ardis, brought such a flood of happy memories. thank you.

Comment by random me — 12/29/2006 @ 3:09 pm | Edit This

wow, you made me cry. thanks for bringing up the topic, it’s something I may have to face someday, but am woefully unprepared, having never even seen a dead person all my life.

Comment by cchrissyy — 12/29/2006 @ 3:41 pm | Edit This

I have had the prilivege of doing this when I was a convert of 5 months. Our R.S. consister of 10 sisters, now one was gone. One of the daughters,the Bishops wife and me and with the funeral directer help, we did it. The rest of the sisters were phyically unable to help. The thing that struck me,was the knowlege, the sisters, I loved would do this for me, sometime in the future.
As I left the Church, I turned and saw the husband kiss his wife and gently place the veil over her face.

Comment by jaysedai6 — 12/29/2006 @ 3:43 pm | Edit This

Thank you, Ardis, for bringing up this important topic, and so beautifully told. I remember when one of my two grandfathers died, I was about 6 or 7 years old. My mother took me to the mortuary. She had to argue with the mortician that I would be allowed in and be confronted, from close by, with his body. It impressed me, yes, but at the same time, my mother, in her own direct way, taught me the naturalness of death and the simplicity of a departure.

Comment by Wilfried — 12/29/2006 @ 3:43 pm | Edit This

I’ve been thinking about this eventual event lately. My brother died this year, and my sister is sick with leukemia. I’m a convert, so it isn’t them that I’m thinking of, but of myself of course (even though I’m in my 30’s, such events make me think of morbid things).

I prefer to go to a ward we’re not assigned to, and that Relief Society president is one of my best friends. I don’t know what made me think of it – oh, I was having a major headache and thought I was having a stroke (not really, but again, I’m morbid these days) – so I told my husband that my ward’s RS president was NOT to dress me if I died, that I wanted Sister R. to do it. He thought I was being silly but I talked to my teenage daughter and told her this was my wishes even if I didn’t die that night.

I didn’t know you had a choice! I just thought the RS president did it. This makes me feel better, that I could have Sister R. do it and it wouldn’t seem so out-of-place, perhaps.

This is a most beautiful post. Thank you for sharing it.

Comment by TAG — 12/29/2006 @ 4:29 pm | Edit This

Oh, and then I e-mailed Sister R. to tell her my wishes – that was a nice Merry Christmas message for her while she was on vacation! (I am a secretary and do not know why every apostrophe on the previous note has a backslash included – I did not type those – could someone fix that? It is embarassing! Thanks.)

Comment by TAG — 12/29/2006 @ 4:30 pm | Edit This

My Auntie passed away last year, and one of my most vivid memories of that period, was the interaction of my mother and her sister and close friends shortly after they’d washed and dressed my Auntie for burial. They had clearly bonded with each other in grief, and in humor, over the task. It was so unexpected and touching to hear them to remenice about their lives together, and about their interaction with her body in death. Crying and laughing and saying goodbye, it was the first time I’d ever considered how important the task might be.

Comment by fMhLisa — 12/29/2006 @ 4:38 pm | Edit This

Profound and beautifully shared, Ardis. Thank you. All the mentions of temple clothing (I’d never heard of the veil before) bring up a question. I’d like to be cremated when my time comes but I wonder about the propriety (if that’s the word I want) about burning garments and temple clothing. Can anyone help me figure this out?

Comment by Proud Daughter of Eve — 12/29/2006 @ 4:44 pm | Edit This

PDoE (#10),
The Church’s Handbook of Instructions says that if an endowed member is to be cremated, their body should be dressed in their temple clothes for the cremation.

Comment by Capt. Obsidian — 12/29/2006 @ 5:12 pm | Edit This

Both my Father-in-law and Mother-in-law passed away this year. Seven months apart. My Father-in-law was the first to go. I did have the priviledge of assisting in dressing him. I must admit that I was very apprehensive about participating; however, I am very glad that I did.
As we arrived it was raining very hard, and the skies were very dark. This greatly increased my anxiety. Once we were escorted into the dressing room, thankfully, I calmed down. The room was cold, but nicely arranged and decorated. My job required me to stand at his feet. Standing at that position offered me a great vantage point to observe the process. I was truly touched as I watched my two Brothers-in-law handle their fathers body with love and care. Words really cannot do justice to what I observed that day. It was a very personal, spiritual experience and I am pleased that I was able to participate.

Thank you for your post.

Comment by Craig W. — 12/29/2006 @ 5:12 pm | Edit This

I’ve been asked to participate in dressing two different sisters for burial. I really appreciated the experience. It was quite sacred, and not at all morbid, as one might expect. The one thing that touched me was when the RS Pres spoke to the sister as if she was in the room. It takes both strength and gentleness to dress the body, as it is heavy but fragile. I loved watching these qualities shine forth from the sisters who participated.

Comment by Bored in Vernal — 12/29/2006 @ 6:03 pm | Edit This

Let me add my thanks for this post, Ardis.

My maternal grandfather, Joseph Arben Jolly, was a mortician in Vernal, Utah for many years. My mother grew up around the dead in the family funeral home, and one of her brothers followed for a time in his father’s profession. While I can’t claim the same experiences with dressing and observing the dressing of the dead as she can, I’m grateful that his legacy of undertaking in a small Mormon town–a combination of unfearful no-nonsense regarding the subject of death, and a deep reverence for the little rituals that people engage in (whether dreamed up on the spot or handed down generation to generation) to help them through times of pain–has at least somewhat been passed down to our own family. I hope, though I am now even further removed from that source of knowledge and experience, to do the same for my own children. This post is a great help in that regard.

Comment by Russell Arben Fox — 12/29/2006 @ 7:21 pm | Edit This

A lovely post, Ardis; thanks.

Comment by Kevin Barney — 12/29/2006 @ 7:46 pm | Edit This

russell’s comment reminded me of elijah abel’s experience as nauvoo’s undertaker; how reticent he was to accept his calling and yet how sad he was to have left, if only because he was no longer able to properly provide for those he loved so much.

Comment by random me — 12/29/2006 @ 7:46 pm | Edit This

One thing not yet mentioned is hair and grooming. I sometimes accompany my wife to perform this service, to assist her and to take part of the sweet spirit that resides there as we trim and curl hair for the clients my wife has long served. Especially if the deceased paid a lot of attention to hair and grooming this becomes an important part of dressing the dead. Family may consider asking the deceased’s regular cosmetologist to come in and make their hair looks like it did in life – she knows better than anyone how to comb and curl it just right. Morticians are able to do this, but they usually don’t have the background, even with pictures, to do it the way the deceased would have presented themselves in life. The mortuary is generally used to outside cosmetologists coming in to help prepare the body; it is not an unusual family request. Usually grooming occurs after family has dressed the body The cosmetologist will likely pay much more attention to grooming details than would the mortuary staff; she will pay careful attention to eyebrows, and ear or nose hair, and may even wish to personalize the makeup. When someone has been sick for a time, these areas may have become a bit neglected as other priorities took over. If it was important during life, it is also nice to clean and polish fingernails. One dear sister for whom we assisted in the preparation, un-characteristically neglected her nails during her cancer. The family dressed her but wanted to tuck her hands under a lace thing. However, after we had cleaned under the nails and applied her regular polish, the family changed the hands so the now pretty fingers were visible. As a final service, we often will arrive at the viewing early to provide touchups that will be necessary after the mortuary moved the body into the casket. The over flowing gratitude my wife receives from families at the viewing and funeral demonstrates to us how helpful this service is.

As a note to those with ill loved ones, when the final days draw near, and a lot of visitors are expected at the hospital or home, please ask the cosmetologist to come to the hospital and wash and curl hair so the ill family member will feel more presentable for visitors. Clean hair always makes one feel better. Hospitals will often have a hair sink somewhere on the floor.

Comment by Burke — 12/29/2006 @ 8:41 pm | Edit This

Ardis,
A beautifully written post. My mother died ten years ago. My parents lived with us. Mom died
at home. The whole experience was sacred. My children, father and husband were present. The
death was a beautiful lesson in end-of-life process. I had the priviledge of dressing her. I asked
a former RS President to help me. Performing that last service for my mother was healing for me.
I will always be greatful I had the opportunity. I don’t know who will dress me when the time comes, as my children aren’t active. The reminder of this special chapter of my life was welcome.
Thank you.

Comment by Remembrancer — 12/29/2006 @ 8:44 pm | Edit This

Beautiful. Thank you, Ardis. I have never had this experience, but I fear it is not too far away.

Comment by Margaret Young — 12/29/2006 @ 8:48 pm | Edit This

Thanks for sharing this. My mother died this past summer, and I was there with her when she left. The experience of having parents die and dealing with their remains is difficult to explain, but you’ve got the sense of it in this article. I did help dress my dad when he died ten years ago, and, while it was difficult, both physically and emotionally, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Mom’s birthday was yesterday. My first Christmas as an orphan. It’s been okay.

Comment by Blain — 12/29/2006 @ 9:15 pm | Edit This

A wonderful post, Ardis, you should send this in to the Ensign. Really.

Comment by annegb — 12/29/2006 @ 11:39 pm | Edit This

Thanks for posting this. I have spent more than a couple minutes thinking about my own requests for when I die. As of this moment, I don’t think I would trust the Church to be involved in the procedure except for people to attend and speak. As a Freemason and a Latter-day Saint, I think I will be requesting a formal Masonic funeral performed by my Lodge, and I will have a Mason verify that the burial clothing is per my requirement: I will request garments, black slacks, white shirt, black tie, black jacket, white temple slippers, robe, sash, cap and temple apron with my white masonic apron placed on top of the coffin, and a coin in my mouth. I just can’t see people on duty from the Church honoring these requests. I’m a peculiar person among peculiar people.

Comment by Jeff Day — 12/30/2006 @ 12:32 am | Edit This

Wow, Ardis. That’s some story. Both edifying and educating. Thank you for sharing the story and relating the traditional procedures.

Comment by DKL — 12/30/2006 @ 3:10 am | Edit This

As a convert, I did not know about this ritual. What an amazing and totally loving thing to do for your loved one. Thanks for sharing.

Comment by tracy m — 12/30/2006 @ 3:53 pm | Edit This

Thanks for sharing such a personal post. I recently learned from my wife that endowed members are buried in their temple robes. This doesn’t sit well with me and I don’t desire that for my own burial. Maybe I don’t understand the principle behind it. I see the robes as symbolic and didactic in nature, not the required garb of dead mortals or even resurrected or celestial beings. Temple robes as we know them were notable absent from Moroni when he appeared to Joseph. I also don’t see any scriptural precedent. Therefore, I understand it to be no more than Mormon tradition.

Comment by jose — 12/30/2006 @ 4:14 pm | Edit This

Jeff Day, and jose, and others who might be thinking along the same lines: I recognize your sincerity and thank you for not being openly mocking of matters so closely associated with the sacred. However, your comments suggest an inadequate appreciation for those matters, in ways that I am not capable of dealing with myself.

Readers, please refrain from posting further comments on individual plans at variance with standard Mormon temple dress for burial/cremation. If we go any further along that path, I’ll take down the two earlier comments and anything else like them. Thanks for your cooperation.

The majority of comments have been moving and enlightening — thank you all for sharing your experiences, advice, and feelings. I hope that, as S.L. said (#2), the ideas we’ve all shared will be somewhere in your memory when you are faced with all the decisions that have to be made so quickly.

Comment by Ardis Parshall — 12/30/2006 @ 4:32 pm | Edit This

Ardis, thank you for this post. While serving as RS president I was very apprehensive about the thought of dressing anyone, even though our ward was relatively young and the chance remote. Still, when a woman with no local family moved in and died within a from Lupus, it actually became a possibility. Family did arrive in time, however.

Nearly three years ago, my own mother died and my sister and I dressed her. I still wasn’t looking forward to it, but felt it a service I could perform for her. I think the most difficult part was walking into the room and seeing “her” so pale and stiff and cold and…well…so unlike herself. All I could say was, “Oh, Mom, you’ve looked better!”

Still, dressing her turned out to be a rather moving and lovely experience. My favorite part was instructing the mortician’s wife (who did the hair and makeup on the bodies) on how my mother liked her hair and how she did her makeup. And we asked her to remove the bright red nail polish that the kind volunteers had put on her. Before her illness she was a fabulous pianist, so we asked them to cut her long fingernails and paint them a pail pink–as she always preferred them.

When the entire process was complete, she looked beautiful. I don’t generally say that of bodies, but she has been so ill for so long, that she looked more peaceful and more like the mom I knew than she had in years. It was something of a relief to be able to better imagine her as she had been.

Comment by Alison Moore Smith — 12/30/2006 @ 6:52 pm | Edit This

Dressing my grandfather was a wonderfully intimate experience and reinforced for me the almost overwhelming ties between the grand mysteries of the temple and the almost incapacitating power of the separation of the spirit from the body. It was Lester Bush I believe who noted that we as temple-going Latter-day Saints wear our burial shrouds throughout life as a symbol of our victory over death, and since dressing my grandfather, I have had renewed appreciation for this physical emblem of the grand scope of temple Mormonism.

Comment by smb — 12/31/2006 @ 12:46 am | Edit This

We lost my wife’s mother in May. It was sweet to have her dressed by my wife, one of my daughters, a sister-in-law, and our relief society president (whom I had called when I was bishop and worked so closely with until my release). Four women whom I dearly love, working together to dress my dear mother-in law. Her husband, sons, and I had joined to give her a final priesthood blessing not long before her passing, and now these four women were dressing her for the final time. Even though I did not participate in the dressing itself, knowing it was being done by four such loving women with whom I was so well acquainted made the event seem to be something special for me, too.

I was afraid my daugher would balk, but she embraced the opportunity. Someday she may be dressing my wife. Will one of the priests I worked with as bishop eventually be called upon to dress me? Or preside at my funeral as bishop? Only the Lord knows, but the mere possibility gives me a warm feeling.

Ardis, thank you so much for such a touching post.

Comment by Nehringk — 12/31/2006 @ 10:56 pm | Edit This

Thank you, Ardis for this post.

I hope what I’m about to say doesn’t cross your “inappropriate” lines, because I really, sincerely would like some guidance on this.

I have no plans for alternate dressing at my funeral, partly because I don’t really believe I or my requestee(s) would get away with it, and partly because I don’t want myself or my requestee(s) to get in trouble with the Eternal Powers that Be (and I haven’t yet found an answer that would persuade me to confidence that this isn’t an Eternal Powers that Be issue). But here it is: I really, really do not want the veil lowered over my face. Once I discovered that it was done and what it was related to, I have recoiled at the thought. But I’ve felt helpless about it. It’s even led me to wanting to hope (but not really hoping) to die in some way that my body would be unavailable for covering–you know, in an explosion or something. I know, morbid and misguided. Sigh. But if anybody has some insights, info. or advice that would be helpful to me, I’d love to hear it. If it’s of the “don’t want to publish it to the entire world” kind, you’re welcome to email me at artemis at feministmormonhousewives dot org.

Thank you.

Comment by Artemis — 1/2/2007 @ 1:25 am | Edit This

I am a bereavement counselor and am soooo pleased to hear some talk about death and the process of dying and the day-to-day realities of our physicalities. The most touching story of preparing one\’s loved one for burial comes from a man I dated–he went and removed his Mother’s chipped nail polish and put a fresh coat of nail polish so her hands would be as beautiful as they were in life.

Comment by LAGirrrl — 1/2/2007 @ 2:58 am | Edit This

Artemis (30): Your comment has me thinking about another post I intend to write. Rather than responding here, I’ll wait a few days for another more relevant thread.

Comment by Ardis Parshall — 1/2/2007 @ 10:36 am | Edit This

I am saving my first temple dress, which I was married in, for my mother to be buried in. My sister made it and I was small then. My mom hasn’t been to the temple and I am looking forward to fixing her beautifully for her funeral.

One of my biggest nagging regrets is not dressing my little son when he died. I was heavily medicated and out of it and I didn’t see his body until the funeral and they’d combed his hair wrong. I was too young and ignorant to ask if I could re-do it. It’s always bothered me.

When James died, my sister and I went in and fussed with his hair and his clothes. We needed to. We took Sarah and showed her her brother’s feet so she would know the rest of his body was there.

I have left strict instructions about who is to do my hair when I die. Although now it occurs to me it will be covered.

Ardis, this is a very important and worthy post.

Comment by annegb — 1/2/2007 @ 12:47 pm | Edit This

I have read all the above comments with a great deal of interest. Here in England ‘death’ is still something that family and friends are often very involved in – things are less grand than in the US.
Even though members are few and far between all the undertakers that I have visited when dressing sisters have been aware of our requirments. Without exception they have commented (which they need not have done) on the special relationships we seem to have one with another within the Gospel. I work in a very specialised area of education where it is almost impossible to be ‘off site’ during the day – even for a funeral, I have been blessed however, that each time that I have been asked to take part in preparing a sister or child for burial that I have been able to do so – even if I couldn’t make the actual service.

Comment by Bryher — 1/2/2007 @ 6:51 pm | Edit This

Wow… Thank you for this post.

Comment by Connor — 1/2/2007 @ 7:35 pm | Edit This

I\’m not certain why I\’m crying…perhaps because you captured death and the procedures following so eloquently? I experienced two deaths last year, my beloved grandmother and a friends young brother. I was present in the room years ago when my grandfather died and it was an awe inspiring experience to watch him pass from this life into the next. There is a part of me that hopes I never have to dress a member of my family or a friend in death…but with this post I am not afraid to face that time when it may come.

Thank you Ardis – wonderful post.

Comment by Chloe — 1/3/2007 @ 2:25 am | Edit This

I so appreciate this post and the oppurtunity to share my own experience with dressing a loved one.
I lost my beloved mother 6 months ago tomorrow and as Iam reading your comments that beautiful memory of dressing her comes flooding back to me.
The mortician was so kind. He asked if I and family members who could would want to do this. He said yer it may be uncomfortable but look at it as being able to assite and pay honor and respect one last time for your dear mother.
I know this nexted comment my sound like Imay be alittle off but it is how I feel.I jumped at the oppurtunity to this for my mom because 1.She loved the gosple with all her heart and loved and respected her temple ord. And secondly I loved her with all my herat and to beable to do this for her out of love and respect meant the world to me.I would do it all over again.
Before we dressed her the mortician asked if we couldstart with a prayer, I offered the prayer and I felt the spirit with us -I felt it any way.- The person who made the comment about the veil being pulled over the face may I say after the veiwing of my mother\’s body and before they closed the casket my sister pulled her veil over her face, I had never seen my mother look more beautiful and serene then at that moment. It mde me think of my father-who passed away for years ago-I could see him looking at his bride and eternal companion with aheart full of love and gratitude.
I am sorry if this went on and on, because I could still go on and on at how beautiful it was and to feel the spirit once again bear wittness of the truthfulness of the gospel and the sacred temple ord. we do was the icing on the cake. I miss her dearly but I know we will be together again one day soon. Thank-you

Comment by P.J.S. — 1/7/2007 @ 11:04 am | Edit This

P.J.S., and all others who have shared their personal experiences here — Since I’ve never heard this topic discussed in a Relief Society meeting, or even in gossip with LDS friends and extended family, I never dreamed this would connect so well with so many. These personal stories combine to form a shared testimony that goes beyond what any of us have written in plain words.

I don’t care how old this post gets — whenever anyone discovers it in the archives and wants to add their own personal experience, please do.

Comment by Ardis Parshall — 1/7/2007 @ 12:26 pm | Edit This

When I attended a small branch several years ago, I was once asked, because the RS pres was nine months pregnant and thereby incapacitated, to help dress the body of a sister who had died and had no living family members. I had never met her in life, but the branch president\’s wife had, and as we wrestled to perform our task she was able to tell me what she knew of her.

It is an intimate service, to be sure, and one I greatly appreciated having the opportunity to undertake. Not that I would want to do it regularly, certainly, but I think it was good for my first experience to be with someone I wasn\’t mourning.

There were two things from my experience that I don\’t think you mentioned, Ardis. One is the inevitability of humorous moments. I don\’t think there\’s really any way to avoid them, and I also think that\’s okay. The other thing goes along with your notes about dead weight and stiff joints: humans are animals, and like all other animals our fat is solid when refrigerated. We are also subject to gravity, and the shape of a person (particularly a woman) on the heavy side who has been in the cooler for a while is not and won\’t be the shape that same person would have had when alive and standing. This can complicate or even render impossible putting on certain items of clothing (I hope that\’s helpful without being too graphic!).

Comment by JaneAnne — 1/9/2007 @ 1:41 am | Edit This

what a beautiful post. I was a RS President when a sister without family died in our ward. It was the first time I had ever seen a dead body, let alone dressed one. However I was guided by several older sisters who attended and gently showed me what to do. The whole experience was a beautiful one. I was interested too to watch one of the more experienced sisters produce a little workwallet, which contained needles, thread,scissors, velcro, stitch remover. When we experienced difficulty with one particular item of clothing, the sister was able to deftly and quickly alter the clothing to enable us to complete the task.Just a little hint which might help others in future.
thank you.

Comment by tuckbox — 1/17/2007 @ 4:14 pm | Edit This

in a small alabama branch you get to do this sometimes. as a piece of advice… for endowed members … go and buy a one piece garment and a white jumpsuit to be buried in. a stiff body is quie hard to dress in two piece and shirts but a one piece and jumpsuit slide right on. the idea of clothes slit up the back to make it easy repulses me

Comment by shawn cordner — 1/26/2007 @ 1:10 am | Edit This

Ardis- Thank you so much for this beautiful site. A few years ago I lost my 24 year old son and then two weeks ago my daughter lost her 12 year old daughter. I was so touched by all that was said, one thing we did with our sweet 12 year old was stay in the hospital room when the staff had cleaned her up, it was so sweet to stay there for several hours. With my son they said they would clean him up but really didn’t and I found that really made the time sweet with the 12 year old. Because they took all wires, and what ever she didn’t have on when she came in, off. That didn’t happen with my son, they left a tube in his mouth and such. And we didn’t stay long. I now would ask the hospital staff to do this, clean them up, because there was real sweetness with being with the 12 year old as she moved on to heaven.

Comment by Dawne L. Hole — 3/14/2007 @ 7:00 pm | Edit This

Dawne — My sympathies for your losses. I’m glad you had the cooperation of the hospital to spend that time with your granddaughter, at least, and I hope it eased the transition a little. Sitting with my mother alone for those few minutes helped me calm down and get used to the idea that the day for saying goodbye had really come.

Comment by Ardis Parshall — 3/14/2007 @ 7:35 pm | Edit This

I am the duaghter of Dawne Hole, who left a comment earlier. Thank you so much for sharing your story with, us my daughter was only 12 year old when she passed and you sharing your story with me is the first time i have really cried since she died. Thank you for helping me to let out some of my greif. i miss her so very much and your story is helping me in my healing process. Thank you so very, very much. Her spirit was stong in the room that early morning and i miss not having it with me all the time.

Comment by Alexandria Curtis — 3/15/2007 @ 12:07 am | Edit This

Hello, I was wondering if I could help prepare the deceased because I have my cosmetology licesnse. I plan on being a corner so I think it would be a good experience for me. Plus I want to open my own family mortuary. If your interested please reply back that would be great. Thank you.

Comment by Cristina Porto — 11/4/2007 @ 11:17 pm | Edit This

This was originally posted at another blog on 29 December 2006



10 Comments »

  1. I to cried reading your article. I am so grateful that I was able to dress my mother in her temple clothes after her death. It was so healing for me. A loving way to say goodbye. I could tell right where her spirit was standing in the room the whole time we dressed her. I know she was pleased.

    Comment by Renee Zamora — January 30, 2009 @ 8:43 pm

  2. Thank you, Renee.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 30, 2009 @ 8:44 pm

  3. Thank you…I was undecided as to what I should do, my father passed recently and my older brother (31) and my mother can not bear to dress my father but thanks to you I will be doing so. From reading what you have wrote I have some idea on what to expect and after doing so I know that I will appreciate having had this to help me make my decision. Thank you again.

    Comment by Rita — February 19, 2009 @ 2:13 am

  4. It will be hard, but you will be glad you did, Rita. Best wishes for this sad time.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 19, 2009 @ 3:47 am

  5. What beautiful postings.

    I am not a Mormon but did take notice of their practice of dressing deceased loved ones. When my dear father died I asked the funeral home if I could dress my Dad. I explained that I’d been a “caregiver” and that I wanted to be involved in his care until the end.
    They were wonderful! Both the funeral director and his assistant were in attendance when I dressed my Dad. (They happen to be two young brothers …their parent’s must be very proud of them.) It wasn’t morbid, my Dad was my Dad and he looked so particulary handsome when all was done. The experience I had was beautiful. I can’t compare it to anything else in my life that’s brought me so much happiness. Odd as it sounds, I know. I’m placing this post for other’s who might have an elderly Dad pass away. Maybe one they’ve cared for and need a way to say a gentle, loving goodbye. Just for now.

    Blessings to all and especially those who have had to endure the loss of children or the young. My thoughts are for you.

    Comment by Allison — May 5, 2010 @ 11:31 pm

  6. Thank you for your comment, Allison. Anyone who has ever done this last service for a loved one completely understands your “it brought me happiness, odd as it sounds” reaction. You’ve described it all beautifully. May your memories of your care of your father continue to bless your life.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 6, 2010 @ 7:33 am

  7. Dear Ardis,

    Your kind words have touched my heart as have the words from many of these postings.

    By chance I stumbled upon this web site. I’d been searching for people (to communicate with) who’d had this most profound experience. The circumstances being right, such a joyous experience to be able to groom and dress a deceased loved one.

    My heart goes out to those postings where someone has lost a child or a young person. They must have extraordinary strength to endure such a loss. I couldn’t fathom expecting anything more.

    Thank you so very much for the privilege of taking part in this website.

    Blessings to all.

    Allison

    Comment by Allison — May 6, 2010 @ 9:03 pm

  8. […] the deceased will handle dressing the corpse in that clothing. There's a great blog post on that, here (some of the comments to that post are very good as well). __________________ Eisenheim: Are […]

    Pingback by Latter day saint funerals - LDS Social Network Forums — December 11, 2010 @ 4:48 pm

  9. Finding this years later. I am the oldest daughter and was just now informed that I have the sacred privilege of doing this on Saturday for my mom. Just so grateful to have found this beautiful writing and become prepared!

    Comment by Steph — October 15, 2014 @ 6:59 pm

  10. Bless you, Steph.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 15, 2014 @ 7:19 pm

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