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Author Topic: Do You Fear Touching the Dead?  (Read 1179 times) Average Rating: 0
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Justin Kissel
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« on: December 05, 2012, 06:41:53 PM »

I've read that traditionally some Orthodox would kiss their deceased loved ones (e.g. on the forehead or hand). Would you do this? Would you touch the dead (not just to move them, but in a more meaningful way)? Would people you know find this strange? Would you be afraid to touch a dead person, whether alone or among other people, for whatever reason?
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« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2012, 06:48:19 PM »

I've kissed plenty of departed folks at funerals, and I certainly had no qualms in kissing my father on the hands and forehead who had just died in hospital.

We should have no fear of the dead. It's the living we oughta be wary of.  Wink
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« Reply #2 on: December 05, 2012, 06:53:02 PM »

I've read that traditionally some Orthodox would kiss their deceased loved ones (e.g. on the forehead or hand). Would you do this? Would you touch the dead (not just to move them, but in a more meaningful way)? Would people you know find this strange? Would you be afraid to touch a dead person, whether alone or among other people, for whatever reason?

Yes, I would and have done so.

I've no idea what people I know would think, nor care for that matter.
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« Reply #3 on: December 05, 2012, 06:58:00 PM »

We practically danced with 'em.

But it would depend on the degree of decay and corruption I am sure.

The answer is no, but if there are various larvae and the like exiting their ocular obits, I wouldn't fear it, but would find it sorta disgusting.

I don't understand how some people get to a certain point in life without having had to handle a dead person or even feel someone die.

On a side note, the notion of disgust is fascinating and how we experience it.
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« Reply #4 on: December 05, 2012, 07:00:46 PM »

Since I have seen something like this happen at virtually every (open casket) funeral I have been to, I wouldn't think it noteworthy.

I'd have no problem doing it.
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« Reply #5 on: December 05, 2012, 07:03:36 PM »

Since I have seen something like this happen at virtually every (open casket) funeral I have been to, I wouldn't think it noteworthy.

I'd have no problem doing it.

Seen at least two "closed casket" funerals nearly pried open so the departed could be touched.

The fact that I believe one was a euphemistic "gun cleaning accident" and the other was a pedestrian who was hit a high rate of speed by drunk driver didn't seem to deter those wanting to "say good bye".
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« Reply #6 on: December 05, 2012, 07:27:13 PM »

Thanks all
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« Reply #7 on: December 05, 2012, 08:52:48 PM »

If you like a Christian Orthodox perspective, one is not dead, but departed, and the flesh, just as the soul, is part of the Body of Christ.  Thus, it is more or less a blessing to kiss the departed in Christ.

On a humanistic side to it, a loved one, even in death, is still loved, and his/her body is venerated, and kissing it only shows the love you have to that person and the respect you have to his/her body.  Love is a powerful thing, and it never dies, even in death.
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« Reply #8 on: December 06, 2012, 12:42:01 AM »

I have never done it myself.

But I probably would depending on who it was or how close I was to them.
I've lost pretty close people... But I have not touched them.
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« Reply #9 on: December 06, 2012, 12:53:49 AM »

I only fear touching the undead.
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« Reply #10 on: December 06, 2012, 12:59:49 AM »

One of my earliest memories is being about 5 years old and holding the hand of my departed great uncle at his visitation. I did the same for his brother, my grandfather, roughly 10 years later.

Had I been Orthodox either time, I most likely would've kissed them.
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« Reply #11 on: December 06, 2012, 01:29:56 AM »

i've been a nurse for 32 years. i've handled the dead from infants to the elderly. nothing to be afraid of.
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« Reply #12 on: December 06, 2012, 02:06:29 AM »

I do that hoverer I have to admit it does feel awkwardly a bit.
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« Reply #13 on: December 06, 2012, 02:14:06 AM »

I do that hoverer I have to admit it does feel awkwardly a bit.

The cold and clamy aspect is unsettling.
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« Reply #14 on: December 06, 2012, 02:23:23 AM »

I do that hoverer I have to admit it does feel awkwardly a bit.

The cold and clamy aspect is unsettling.

For me, the fact they do not look as aclose as they did they were alive.
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« Reply #15 on: December 08, 2012, 09:30:22 AM »

I have no fear of touching, preparing,etc someone who has passed.Cant be a nursing tech and have a fear of it, it's part of life. It's some of the living I have more of a fear of Grin. Funny, this thread brought back a memory of when my great uncle passed when I was 7. It was my first funeral/wake that I went to.  We were in the parlor for the wake, and family, friends and some of his patients were leaning over kissing him. I asked my dad why they were doing that if he was already in heaven. He told me it was because they were showing how much he was loved  and respected, and how much he would be missed down here.
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« Reply #16 on: January 14, 2013, 10:56:24 PM »

As a retired health professional and an Orthodox Christian it presents no problem at all. Death is too often in Western society hidden away, referred to obliquely using terms like passed over or passed away, and bodies hidden in closed coffins. In a world were it seems okay to let everything hang out this coyness about death is possibly unhealthy?
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« Reply #17 on: January 14, 2013, 11:10:38 PM »

Yes. But more so out of fear due to the health hazards associated with a dead body.
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« Reply #18 on: January 14, 2013, 11:14:32 PM »

I have in the past avoided touching the dead for fear that it would disturb other people. I now regret those decisions...
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« Reply #19 on: January 14, 2013, 11:17:57 PM »

Indian Shaker funerals freak me out. Not because they kiss the dead. The screaming, stomping, and spinning in circles is disconcerting. So the one open casket funeral I went to was strange to say the least. I think I might have touched my grandmothers hand, but I don't really remember.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Shaker_Church
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« Reply #20 on: January 14, 2013, 11:20:24 PM »

No, I am not afraid of touching the departed.

I am more nervous of the living around the body, to be honest.  At funerals, I'm wary because I want to be as respectful as possible.  I've not had the opportunity to deal with many corpses, so before venerating a departed person, I will feel their hand, to prepare myself for the cold or the texture.  I'm always worried that this will bother relatives or whoever.  

One night I had a very dear friend (and my godfather's godmother so...relative?  I consider her a relative.)  I stayed after at Church with Popadija to read the psalms for her, and I venerated her body.  I had to feel her hand before, however.  

I really have mixed feelings, but I'm not afraid.  There is something about dead animals, though, that I just don't want to deal with.
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« Reply #21 on: January 14, 2013, 11:21:41 PM »

No. I touched my grandmother's hand at her funeral when I was younger.
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« Reply #22 on: January 15, 2013, 12:43:50 AM »

Not afraid at all.  I touched my forehead to my friend Dmitri's forehead as I said my last goodbye to him a few months ago.  Nothing to be afraid of, especially in an Orthodox or even a Christian one.  We are not bound by the purity rules of the Old Testament.  Death is despoiled.  It is part of being human but its close presence does not make us unclean anymore because we, as Christians, know it is a temporary state.  

Americans, in general, have a very screwed up relationship with death, at least since the Civil War.
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« Reply #23 on: January 15, 2013, 01:00:22 AM »

When they sing "Come brethren, let us give the deceased the last kiss..." then you make sure you have some money in your pocket, and then, proceed and kiss the cross and the icon on the casket or even the dead if you so desire and then leave the money in the whatever basket or bowl is by the cross on the casket. That's how I remember it from long time ago.
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« Reply #24 on: January 15, 2013, 07:45:48 AM »

I know of a south american tribe who drinks the ashes of their dead.

Personally, I must admit that I have never seen a dead body in my life. I have been so fortunate (or unfortunate) to have experienced the death of only one close relative and I was about three and remember nothing (I'm not sure if I even attended the funeral).
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« Reply #25 on: January 15, 2013, 08:13:26 AM »

I don't like it, but I don't fear it.  I kissed my mother on her head when she passed; at least I think I did.  I was pretty upset at the time so I don’t really remember.
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« Reply #26 on: January 15, 2013, 08:19:59 AM »

I kissed my father before he was buried. I hope I'm around to do it for my mother as well. I wouldn't mind one bit having to do the washing and laying-out, either, although the undertakers tend to do that. It's a meaningful farewell to someone with whom I've had a meaningful relationship in life.

I hope I never have to deal with a stranger's death that way, though. A compassionate stranger is better than indifference, but really nobody should die without a loved one by their side.
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« Reply #27 on: January 15, 2013, 11:04:17 AM »

I know I shouldn't be but yes, I do. I've told my husband if I die first not to have my coffin open at the funeral, so as not to scare any kids who might be there, because I know as a kid I found that terrifying!  Shocked
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« Reply #28 on: January 15, 2013, 11:41:43 AM »

I've read that traditionally some Orthodox would kiss their deceased loved ones (e.g. on the forehead or hand). Would you do this? Would you touch the dead (not just to move them, but in a more meaningful way)? Would people you know find this strange? Would you be afraid to touch a dead person, whether alone or among other people, for whatever reason?

I was not raised Orthodox but I had always seen this done and done it myself at Roman Catholic funerals, particularly for my father and my uncle.

At the Orthodox funerals I have attended, not only the family but everyone is invited to kiss the deceased. It is written into the funeral hymns.

I do not fear it or find it strange, though I must admit I don't like the cold feel of the flesh. Nothing announces that the spirit has gone more than that cold touch.
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« Reply #29 on: January 15, 2013, 11:58:09 AM »

I will kiss them, but I really do not want to go any farther than that.
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« Reply #30 on: January 15, 2013, 12:05:42 PM »

As an Irish Orthodox believer who was raised as a Roman Catholic, there is a long standing tradition of the corpse being waked the night before the burial. The casket is in the persons home or these days a funeral parlour, and literally hundreds of people from near and far file past the open casket, and then the seated relatives of the departed. The atmosphere in the room with the casket is usually respectful, but not overly sombre. The atmosphere in the rooms outside where the corpse is laid is easy going and relaxed with people telling amusing tales about the deceased and generally catching up with each other, a certain amount of drink is consumed, as well as copious quantities of tea, sandwiches, and cake. Despite the stereotypical image the 'wake' does not last all night and rarely if ever descends into a drunken revel. It is entirely natural for people to kiss or touch the hands of the deceased. Usually about 9 pm the cover is put on the coffin and the casket and a lot of other people follow down to the Church where the deceased will wait overnight for the funeral the next day. It is quite a big social occasion and the atmosphere is far less sombre or gloomy than at English funerals..One of the things I find most amusing is that people often comment that 'he looks very well' or 'she looks in great health' or even looks 'like he'd sit up at any moment'. If the deceased looks a bit drawn or gaunt or waxy, people will say ' he looks shook' or 'it took it out of him' or ' doesnt look like her at all'.. I have noticed that in countries with a strong agricultural/farming culture with a strong folk religiosity as in Irish Roman Catholicism, the practices and attitudes are much more akin to that found in Orthodox countries. The aversion/fear of the dead is most noticeable in Anglo Saxon Protestant culture...In the UK, sadly even people with families, get a very poor 'send off' by Irish standards, a man I knew who worked for many years in a local college sadly died in his late 50s and I went to his funeral fully expecting a packed Church, as would be the case here in Ireland, I was astonished to find only 20 people there, and not all of his own blood relatives were present, ie 2 of his brothers who lived a days drive away just sent flowers...this would be absolutely unheard of here in Ireland. It is de rigeur to attend funerals or at least the 'removals' (the night before) not only of relatives, but neighbours, and also to attend the funeral of the close relatives of friends and work colleagues...For example it would be unthinkable that I would not attend the removal of a close work colleagues Mother Father or spouse...Subsequently most people in Ireland would see a dead body at least 8 or 9 times a year, hence reducing greatly the fear, which is entirely misplaced..
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« Reply #31 on: January 15, 2013, 12:26:56 PM »


When they are your loved ones...there's no fear, and you don't find it revolting.  When my uncle/godfather passed away, I touched him often before his burial.

My mother and I spent the entire night before his burial in church with him.  Just the three of us.  We read the entire Psalter, we talked to him, of him, about him.  We placed things in his coffin to go with him. 

I do have to agree, they don't look like themselves.  It's plainly clear that they aren't just sleeping.  "They" are gone.  It's just a shell.  Amazing really when you think about it. 

I would have thought I would have freaked out in the middle of the night, in the church, with a body....but, nope.  It was a very special time which I will always fondly remember.

However, I am not so keen on touching people I don't know.  I often go to funerals of family members of friends or coworkers.  I never met the person  while they were living, why would I "shake" their hand, touch them or kiss them?  It seems hypocritical to me.

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« Reply #32 on: January 15, 2013, 12:36:29 PM »


When they are your loved ones...there's no fear, and you don't find it revolting.  When my uncle/godfather passed away, I touched him often before his burial.

My mother and I spent the entire night before his burial in church with him.  Just the three of us.  We read the entire Psalter, we talked to him, of him, about him.  We placed things in his coffin to go with him.  

I do have to agree, they don't look like themselves.  It's plainly clear that they aren't just sleeping.  "They" are gone.  It's just a shell.  Amazing really when you think about it.  

I want to be clear I'm not trying to argue with you (or anyone) but just responding.

I've always hated the idea of a corpse being "just a shell."  It's not.  That body is part and parcel of the person who is dead.  It will rise again on the last day, perfected, but it is still a part of that person that, because of the Fall, has been wrenched away from the spirit.  It seems fairly Gnostic to me to cling to the belief that a body is "just a shell" and the real person is just a soul/spirit that is now in Heaven, free from this corporeal existence.

I also firmly believe that most people "do not look like themselves" because of the great disservice the funeral industry has done to our (read American) perception of death, dying, and how dead people are supposed to look.  Every "naturally" dead body I've ever seen (there has been more than a few) has looked far more alive than any embalmbed body I've been around (again, more than I want to think about).  But that's another rant for another time.

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However, I am not so keen on touching people I don't know.  I often go to funerals of family members of friends or coworkers.  I never met the person  while they were living, why would I "shake" their hand, touch them or kiss them?  It seems hypocritical to me.

Again, not trying to put you on the spot, but I tend to think of touching/"greeting" the dead as a means to a) remind myself that I will be like this some day (an often incredibly hard thing to do) and b) to remind myself that, even in death, we should show some affection to everyone, even those we don't know.  
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« Reply #33 on: January 15, 2013, 12:51:52 PM »


I'm not offended.  I agree with you.

I didn't mean disrespect when I said "shell"....but, it's simply not "whole" anymore.  My uncle was not embalmed.  We refused it.  Therefore, for the public he had a closed casket - per law.  However, we, in private, could open the casket....which we did.

I just meant that it's amazing what a difference the lack of a soul makes to the body.  He was definitely not merely asleep.  Granted that the muscles sag, and the skin loses it's pallor....but, it's more than that.  It's just too still.

As for touching strangers that I have never met in life, I simply cross myself when I pass them and murmur a prayer for their peaceful repose.  I never met them in life, and it just seems a bit late to be "meeting" them now.  Smiley

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« Reply #34 on: January 21, 2013, 03:19:42 AM »

I've read that traditionally some Orthodox would kiss their deceased loved ones (e.g. on the forehead or hand). Would you do this? Would you touch the dead (not just to move them, but in a more meaningful way)? Would people you know find this strange? Would you be afraid to touch a dead person, whether alone or among other people, for whatever reason?

It depends on the person.  One person I kissed my fingers and touched her, others I've kissed.  Others in the future I may not touch at all.  Some I'm just not sure they'd want me to do that.  Some people prefer to kiss an icon or cross that may be in the casket, I've seen some that could barely draw near. 


I've given up on caring whether people think I'm strange, so I might not notice it if they did.

We do all night reading of the Psalter, and have a sign up list and anyone in the parish can sign up. 

A few times, it was a little spooky with one certain person, alone in the darkened nave at 2 or 3 in the morning.  Then of course the building creaks or something and I start wondering what's going on. 

Somewhere I read that Orthodox shouldn't be embalmed, but some states require it.  I don't know how much that is enforced.  There is one funeral home nearby that knows how to prepare an Orthodox person for burial, wrapping them in muslin (?) and not embalming.

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LizaSymonenko
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« Reply #35 on: January 22, 2013, 05:31:35 PM »


In Michigan, if you do not embalm, you must have a closed casket.

We settled for the closed casket.

....although the priest did open it briefly to lay the wreath on his forehead and the prayer of absolution in his hands.
« Last Edit: January 22, 2013, 05:32:19 PM by LizaSymonenko » Logged

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