Introduction to Caring for Our Own
When a family, group of friends, or community cares for the body of aloved one after death, they often experience feelings of deep peace. If theywere feeling some initial fear or discomfort, which is not uncommon, theyalmost always relate that, ultimately, they found the time they spent withthe body to be profound and transforming.
Families are often surprised to see that the body after death does notchange significantly. In a very slow and almost imperceptible way the skinbecomes whiter, the body relaxes until rigor mortis sets in (two to fourhours after death), the body grows cold. Those present begin to accept thetransition from life to death as the natural process that it is.
After death when the body’s muscles relax there is an occasionaloccurrence of fluid being released from the rectum or vaginal area. Aftercleaning the area put on a diaper or Depends for protection. Usually oncethe initial cleaning is done there is no further discharge.
Washing the body is done to remove any residual bacteria that may remainon the skin after death. Most bodies after death do not need more than aritual washing with warm water infused with some kind of aromatic oil(lavender or rose are often used). Gently wash and thoroughly dry all partsof the body.
During this time many families have music playing, light candles, or tellstories. It is usually a quiet, sacred, respectful time to honor the body;to know that these tasks are being done for the last time; and to feel theconnection to our ancestors, who took care of their loved ones in this wayfor generations before us.
There is no need to rush. During the quiet and intimate time of caringfor the body and during the days of the vigil, people often describe feelingthe presence of their loved one. A home wake gives them the time to be withthat presence and to begin to accept that their loved one is truly gone.
You can also view or download guides to caring for our own in PDF format. To download,right-click (on a Mac, ctrl-click) on the links below.