Care of the Body

There are considerations regarding care and preparation of the body after someone dies. Traditionally this task was performed by families, but nowadays much of the preparation of a body is done by nursing staff or undertakers. The required procedures are often included in an organisations’ procedures manual or there may be local requirements regarding preparation of a body.

After a person dies it is important to give the family the time that they need with the body. Some family members might like to lie in bed with their loved one who has died, while others might like to be involved with washing the body. Others may not want to be there at all. Washing the body is particularly important in paediatric palliative care, as often parents feel it is a special ritual to have washed their baby after they are born, and it is the same after they die. It is important to discuss rigor mortis with families as people are often unaware of this.

Every death and every family is individual. It is important to talk to the family and make them feel they are in a safe space to talk or to be with their loved one. It is important to respect cultural considerations or requests whenever possible. One study found that in some cases it was appropriate and helpful to play music not only when preparing the body after death, but also when the family are viewing the body, although again this is an individual choice. [1]

The care of the body after death is considered one of the last things that a nurse can do for their patient. In one study of the work undertaken after death, the care of the body is described as an essential, hidden and generally unacknowledged element of palliative care. [2] It is not a consideration when looking to bed occupancy in inpatient units, or in the time required if supporting families at home.

  1. Holm MS, Fålun N, Gjengedal E, Norekvål TM. Music during after-death care: a focus group study. Nurs Crit Care. 2012 Nov-Dec;17(6):302-8. Epub 2012 Aug 5.
  2. O'Connor M, Peters L, Lee S, Webster C. Palliative care work, between death and discharge. J Palliat Care. 2005 Summer;21(2):97-102.

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Last updated 21 January 2017