Recently I heard the term: Lying in Repose. I thought it was a redundancy. Doesn't repose mean "lying" already? How does lying in repose differ from lying in state, or lying in honor? What's really going on here?
As an End-of-Life Doula we often guide communities in preparing a deceased loved one to lie in the home for a few hours to a few of days for visitation. We generally use the term: "Lying in honor," referring to the state of the body being lain out for vigil in the home. Family and friends decide whether to have community visitation, or private ceremony. According to the National Home Funeral Alliance, lying in honor in the home is totally legal in all of the United States of America.
A quick online search retrieved the definition of repose: "A state of resting after exertion or strain. Eternal rest." I found this definition interesting because my experience with people in the active dying stage is that dying can take some work and strain prior to the final exhale. Another wiki search revealed, lying in repose is the term used for a deceased person of high social or spiritual importance whose body is prepared to lie for public viewing in a non-government location.
The term: "Lying in state" is reserved for a deceased person lying in a government location such as a state capitol building or the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. Lying in state may include military honors. Interestingly, lying in state in the rotunda is not restricted to presidents or government officials. In 1998 a congressional vote allowed two capitol police officers who died in the line of duty to lie in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, but it was called, "lying in honor." In October of 2005 Rosa Parks was the first woman, (third civilian) allowed the distinction of lying in honor in the rotunda. Rev. Billy Graham will become the fourth civilian to also lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.
So whether it's lying in repose, in state, or honor, it's simply about paying loving respect to one who has died. It gives opportunity for those left behind to pay tribute, offer ceremony, ritual, spiritual acknowledgment, and also time to process the reality of death. Even if someone you care about is not of high social prominence, a government official, hero, civil rights activist, or spiritual leader, you too may pay tribute to your deceased person by preparing her/him to lie in honor for viewing in a special location. You have the right to prepare an environment for lying in honor by washing, anointing, dressing and arranging for visitation within the comfort of your own home. I believe doing death right with dignity, love and respect is our duty as human beings.
One Woman's Conscious Dying Process
It was exactly one year ago when I first met Lynn. The cancer she had been living with was now terminal and she had discontinued treatment. She was at the end of her life and was the embodiment of self determination. Lynn was single, had a grown son with a wife and two small children. She owned her own home. Lynn was an artist, teacher, musician, avid skier, beloved friend, deeply spiritual, mother and grandmother.
Our first meeting was an interview. Lynn knew she would eventually need caregivers to help her through her dying process. So, she set about interviewing local caregivers and contemplating potential future care needs as her dying process would progress. Lynn didn't want her son and daughter-in-law to be "overwhelmed" with her care. She set herself up with hospice care, and soon after, my partner and I became a part of her care giving team.
Lynn was quite organized and demanded everything had its place and a reason for its place. She explained all of her eating habits, daily routines, and self administered her detailed list of medications up until the last week of her life. From Lynn I learned the importance of telling people exactly what you want and expect the best out of everyone. Full communication and pre-planning can eliminate future confusion or questions and can certainly lessen stress for her loved ones and caregivers.
An In-Home Funeral with a three day home wake was an important part of Lynn's after death plans. She told us she wanted cremation and an environmentally friendly cardboard casket to be decorated by loved ones. As her Death Doula, I wrote down all of her detailed wishes for care of her body upon death. We discussed what was most important right now in her life. We made plans for giving away her artwork. She shared her wishes with friends and they offered to help with after death care. Friends sat vigil with Lynn during her last days of life. After she took her last breath her team of friends all gathered. Although they had never done this before, her friends washed her body, held ceremony, played music, told stories, dressed her in her favorite clothes and prepared her to lie in honor in her home for three days. Friends sat vigil throughout the three day visitation after her death so that her body was never alone.
All those who were with Lynn during her dying process came away truly changed. We learned about the ways a community can come together and create a loving good-bye for a dear one. Lynn allowed us to witness her days of "inner work" as she began to let go of her physical body. We felt empowered with creativity and love as community came to decorate her casket and we soon fulfilled all of her after death wishes. We felt completion as we shrouded her body on that last day, lifted her into the artful casket then carried her upon our shoulders out to the mortuary vehicle. As she was escorted from her home a light dusting of snow fell in honor of Lynn's passion for winter skiing. So many miracles, so much love.
Akhila Murphy. I am a trained Death Doula and After Death care midwife. My passion is encouraging and engaging conversations about dying, death, the dead, and what happens after death. Through real life and death experiences I hope to inspire questions, creative ideas, contemplation and a new outlook on what it means to live a full life and die a good death.