Carrying out the arrangements yourself when someone has died

Laying out the body

Laying out ensures that the deceased goes on to the next stage of preparation in the best possible condition. It also enhances the presentation of the body, should relatives wish to pay their respects.

If the person has died at home the body should be laid out as soon as possible after a doctor has confirmed that the person has died. In cases of uncertainty, it is wise to leave the deceased "in situ" until the doctor is satisfied as to the clinical cause of death.

If the person has died in hospital, a nurse will usually lay out the body but where it is possible you can help.

Laying out is done by washing the body, stopping the natural orifices with cotton wool and cloth, and dressing the deceased. The head can be supported by a pillow, eyelids closed, the jaw supported and the arms and feet straightened. The deceased's general appearance can be tided, for example: false teeth put in place, hair brushed or face shaved.

If the eyes are difficult to close or will not stay closed, do not pull or glue the eyelids. This causes damage to the delicate tissues, which can be difficult to disguise.

If the teeth have been removed before death, then it is advisable to try and reinsert them. This gives the face a more "lifelike" appearance. Great care must be taken so as not to damage the lips. The task may be made simpler if some Vaseline is applied to the lips before insertion of the teeth. This also retains moisture and so retards shrinkage of the lips due to dehydration. Alternatively, if difficulty is experienced, then it would be advantageous if a small pillow or amount of soft material is placed under the chin, resting on the collarbones, to keep the lower jaw supported. This helps to prevent unnecessary stretching of the facial tissues.

Removal of a ring(s) is sometimes difficult. Vaseline or suitable moisturising agent massaged into the area of the ring and over the whole finger may aid removal. If the ring is too tight, then forcing it may cause damage to the finger and you may need to seek the assistance of a nurse or funeral director.

Arms and hands, ideally, should be elevated so they rest on top of the chest or abdomen. If the arms will not stay in place, then a pillow placed under each elbow will help. This position enables good blood drainage, resulting in less discolouration due to "hypostasis" or the gravitation of the blood to the lowest dependent parts of the body with the cessation of circulation.

Unless rigor mortis is very pronounced it can generally be broken down by gentle massage and flexing of joints such as fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders etc. The head may be supported and gently turned from side to side so it will lie in a straight position on a pillow.

It is advisable to gently place a handkerchief or similar over the deceased’s face in between visits when the deceased may be left unattended.

If the above points are observed you can rest assured that you will have done the best you possibly can for the deceased to ensure that the care you have given to them in life is carried over into death.