Can we please stop referring to the bodies of our dead as ‘Just a Shell’?
The very first thing that drew me to the funeral profession was the idea of working with the deceased… the body… the dead…
I wanted to be an embalmer. I wanted to care for the dead as though they were living; treating them as though they were ‘there’; with the same level of respect and dignity; merely doing for them, that which they were now unable to do for themselves.
I didn’t ever go on to be an embalmer, however, part of my decision in this was the realisation that the embalming process is rarely necessary and that I was able to deliver this level of care without actually carrying out the invasive procedure of embalming.
I am proud to say that I am just as passionate about the care of the deceased as I was 12 years ago and still treat each as though they were actually in the room.
For this reason, (and not this alone) I’ve never believed the phrase ‘It’s just a shell.’
The times I’ve heard people say ‘it’s just a shell’ are usually during moments of guilt, justification or to belittle one’s own responses to the deceased.
The widow in the chapel of rest visiting her husband, feeling teary and overwhelmed having just spent 20 minutes talking to him. ‘Oh, I’m so silly. I know he’s not there. It’s just a shell.’
I’ve had previous members of staff quote this to me upon my expression of dissatisfaction at their conduct whilst in the mortuary. ‘Come on, it’s just a shell’.
But it’s not, is it?
This human body is a miracle. From conception to birth; from life to death.
This body grew and has thrived, was held and held others, survived! Loved, reproduced, picked up tired little legs and kissed better grazed knees, nursed elderly parents, carried the coffins of deceased parents. This human body was a physical, tactile entity.
When someone’s gone, it’s not their soul or spirit that you miss. It’s nuzzling into their neck, holding tightly to their hand… The hugs, the kisses. Having them be there.
When you’ve not seen someone you love in a while, although we are usually able to stay in touch on the phone or via facetime/skype, we still miss them and when we do finally see them in the flesh, our instinctive response is to embrace. To physically touch one another. To kiss and to hug. To love and express joy. All this and you only spoke on the phone an hour ago??
How would you greet your deceased if they were able to come back? In just this way, were it not for the fact that ‘it’s just a shell’.
To call a body ‘just a shell’ cheapens any physical presence that person had.
That physical body will be so missed. Actually leaving behind a physical space; a void where it once stood. No ‘shell’ or hollow entity could ever accomplish that.
On some level, society too doesn’t believe it. If we truly believed that the body were only a shell, would we be paying our dead so much reverence and respect.
So, if you ever catch yourself thinking it, stop for a moment. Remember the true value of that ‘shell’ and ask yourself if you really believe the description you are using.
You don’t love them any less now that their time here is up.