Assisted Family Dress: Helping Families Say Goodbye

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Funeral homes around the country are offering a unique service, which provides cremation or burial families a hands-on way to say goodbye to their loved ones – I call it the assisted family dress experience.

The assisted family dress experience gives the family a way to “do something” for the deceased. Families will dress and cosmetize their loved one as a way to say goodbye.  For some, being able to dress their loved one is extremely personal and a great honor. For others, it’s a helpful, somewhat uncomfortable, way to begin the grieving process. Offering a unique service like this is a simple way to empower the family.

People generally fear what they do not understand, so the success in offering a family this service can be found in educating the family about the process and guiding them through it step-by-step. Here are some important considerations for funeral directors to be aware of when creating a successful assisted family dress experience for families:

  1. Have families sign appropriate waivers such as release of liability for viewing unembalmed remains and release of liability for injury.
  2. Keep families on track by setting time expectations and boundaries and encouraging participation at their own comfort level. Offer your support and pick up where they leave off if emotions begin to take over.
  3. Announce each step before beginning to control the ebb and flow. Keep a mental note of the steps you will be guiding them through such as dressing first before applying cosmetics and hair styling. Nail polish should always be applied last.
  4. Explain industry standards and reasoning such as tailoring of garments, use of identification bands, gloves, head blocks for stability during the dressing, use of adhesives, and cover incisions/buttons for dignity purposes.
  5. Never leave a family alone to dress and/or cosmetize their loved one. Always offer professional assistance with cosmetic challenges such as dehydrated areas, bruising, or postmortem stain camouflage before “everyday” cosmetics of the decedent is applied by the family. Assist them when they begin to struggle with cosmetics and offer your professional expertise using mortuary pigments and cosmetizing techniques.
  6. Offer them a customized guided experience by creating a comfortable environment with soft music, a scented candle, and appropriate lighting.
  7. Maintain the dignity of the deceased by keeping most of the body covered.
  8. Take responsibility for lifting the body during the dressing of their loved one to avoid injury to the family.
  9. View the body prior to meeting with the family and offering this service. Use discretion and common sense when dealing with hard cases such as infectious cases, autopsy repair, MVA, or GSW victims. Use full precaution when dealing with purging or odiferous decedents. These cases and ones involving intense restoration are typically not suited for this service.

Does your funeral home offer services like the assisted family dress experience? If not, why don’t you?


monicaPortions of this article originally appeared in the Fall 2015 edition of OGR’s Independent Magazine. Many thanks to Monica Torres for sharing her knowledge.

Monica Torres is a licensed funeral director, embalmer, and cosmetic reconstructive specialist and desairologist. She is the founder of NXT Generation Mortuary Support, LLC, a progressive AZ based business that offers trade services like the assisted family dress experience, consults with funeral homes nationwide, and engages publicly with death care consumers by offering free advice. For more information on training for your funeral establishment on the Assisted Family Dress Experience, contact Monica Torres through her website or connect with her on Facebook at NXT Generation Mortuary Support Services, LLC.

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