An Unimaginable Decision: A Funeral Director’s Reflections on the Sandy Hook School Shooting
Today is the day that some of the obituaries for the victims of the Newtown Shooting will begin to be published. You can view some of those obits here. Grab a box of tissues before you read them.
What isn’t seen in those obituaries is that in order for them to be published, the parents and the families had to make one of the most difficult decisions of their life: to view or not to view.
As the details of the shooting were coming out over the weekend, I was particularly struck by one piece of information: the shooter had shot each of his victims multiple times (3 to 11 times). Many will interpret such information as farther evidence of Adam Lanza’s psychosis (and that would be a correct interpretation), but we funeral directors see it from a different perspective.
When there’s a tragic, sudden death, when there isn’t an opportunity to say one last “good-bye”, it’s a natural, innate response for the family to want to see their deceased one last time, just to see them face-to-face and say that final parting gesture. No matter how opposed you may be to viewing the deceased, those walls are torn down in a tragedy and “we just HAVE to see our little angel.”
As a funeral director, it’s often our job to let the family know just how bad the deceased is mangled. We then have to be honest with ourselves, “Can we reconstruct the severe trauma? Can we make this look somewhat normal?
The conversation goes something like this (and it assumes the family wants/needs to view):
Funeral director: “Your loved one experience physical trauma. I will do everything I can to make him/her viewable. But, you have to decide what you want.
One. You can have a private viewing at the funeral home and then cremate after you view. We can have a memorial service whenever you want.
Two. You can have a private viewing and then have a closed casket for the funeral service.
Three. You can have a private viewing and if you feel comfortable with the way he/she looks, you can have a public viewing as well.
What follows is the beginning of one of the toughest decisions of their life. They want to view, but do they really want to see their child with ….
Gun shot wounds are unpredictable creatures. They can be utterly destructive or they can be so small you wouldn’t even know the wound was there. My guess is that the wounds at Sandy Hook were of the former and not the latter.
And this is the nature of evil. It keeps taking and taking and taking. Not only was your son or daughter taken, but now – because of the trauma of these deaths, you have to make a decision you NEVER, EVER could even imagine. You could never imagine your child would be taken in this manner. You could never imagine that you’d have this insatiable desire to see your child. And you never thought you’d have to confront this unimaginable reality: your child may be too distorted to be viewed.
This shouldn’t be happening. This should never happen. But, over the past weekend this decision was made 27 times.