Visiting someone in Poppy’s mortuary — your questions answered

Thank you cards to Poppy's, funeral directors London
Thank you cards from people who have visited friends or family at Poppy's

Six minute read

Providing a welcoming place where you can visit a friend or family member after they have died is one of the most important things we offer at Poppy’s. Not everyone will want to visit. But, for many people, visiting provides an opportunity to come to terms with someone’s death and to say goodbye.

In our experience, people often have lots of questions about visits. We got our team together to answer some of the most common.

Is it normal to visit a person who has died?

Yes, we have people of all ages and backgrounds who visit friends or family members. It’s not at all unusual. During 2021, we facilitated over 200 separate visits.

You may have been told before that you can’t visit someone — maybe because of how they died or because they haven’t been embalmed. This is not the case at Poppy’s. We will never stand in your way if you want to visit, and we will prepare you gently for what to expect.

What will the person who has died look like? Will their appearance have changed?

We always see the person on the day of the visit, and take time to make sure they are looking their best. Then we can explain to you clearly and thoughtfully how they look and if their appearance has changed.

What happens on a visit?

This is entirely up to you. One family brought a cream tea to have in the Friends and Family room with their mother present in her coffin. One woman spent each visit singing to her partner who'd died. It was absolutely beautiful and extremely moving to hear from outside the room, knowing that she felt safe and supported enough to do this.

You can wash, dress or do the hair of the person who has died. We can help with this if you would like. Drink, food, candles, creative projects, music are all welcome.

You may want to spend the visit decorating the coffin or arranging flowers. Or you may simply want to talk to or sit with the person who has died, whether with a closed or open coffin. Whatever feels right for you.

Will the person be in their coffin when I visit?

The person may be in an open coffin or resting on calico on a tray. If you have given us something to keep with them (such as clothing, a blanket, keepsakes, flowers or jewellery), they will have these items with them.

Let us know if you want to add anything else during the visit, so we can make sure these items can be safely cremated or accommodated in the coffin.

How long can I visit for?

Each visit is for up to an hour, but you don’t have to stay for the full length of the visit.

Can I touch the person?

Yes. You can touch them or hold their hand if you wish. You can still hold someone’s hand if the rest of their body is entirely covered.

Where does the visit take place?

Our beautiful old chapel mortuary at our Tooting HQ has a private Friends and Family room for you to use. There are comfortable chairs and the room has its own loo.

Inside our Friends and Family room at poppy's, London funeral director
Inside our Friends and Family room

Can I visit with someone else?

Yes, up to six people can fit in our Friends and Family room at any one time.

What if I change my mind or feel unsure about visiting once I arrive?

You can change your mind at any time and you don’t have to see the person at all if you don’t want to. If the person is in their coffin we can put the lid back on for your visit if you prefer. We can remove it again later in the visit if you change your mind.

You can have a breath of fresh air outside or wait outside the room in the lobby whenever you need to during the visit.

Angie, one of our client support advisers, talks about recently supporting someone to visit their parent: “They asked me to come into the Friends and Family room with them. We just sat and chatted, until she felt that she could be in there alone. I was the person who collected the person from home when they died. I felt a real connection to the family and was privileged to support them during the visit.”

Read more about what happens at a home collection

Can I visit someone who has died with Covid-19?

We offered visits during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic when most funeral directors wouldn’t. With extra precautions, it is absolutely fine to visit someone who has died with Covid-19.

Neil, who works in our mortuary, remembers two women who came several times to visit their mum who had died with Covid: “They had not been able to see her at the hospice before she died, so they valued spending time with her here. They talked to us a lot as well. They were so interested in what we did and how the mortuary worked.”

Will it be scary or upsetting to visit?

Some people worry that they will find the visit frightening or upsetting. But we have found that by preparing you for the visit, answering any questions you have and taking things at your pace, a visit can be a positive, healing experience.

Sarah, one of our client support advisers, explains what this meant for one of our recent clients: “She had recently visited her mother-in-law in our Friends and Family room and told me that, as a result of the visit, she no longer felt fearful about her own mother's imminent death. She said it was a beautiful, calm experience to see her mother-in-law. She was surprised by this — it wasn't how she expected to feel. It lifted a sense of dread about her own mother dying.”

Red ribbon on door of Poppy's mortuary to show that a visit is taking place
A red ribbon on the door shows that a visit is in progress

Is it okay for children to visit?

We have found that children value visits as much as adults do. With the right preparation, they are often less anxious about visiting than adults may be.

Client support adviser, Sarah, explains: “I organised a visit for a woman’s husband and her two young girls, aged about five and eight. I explained to them all what to expect. I knew their dad had already prepared them for the visit and I was really conscious not to talk down to them. They ran in ahead to see their mum and I just stepped back.

“Their ease and fearlessness at being around their mother blew my mind. I had made wrong assumptions about how they might experience the visit. I realised that given the right support and expectations, visits can be essential for children.”

Are there any circumstances in which a visit wouldn’t be possible?

No, if you wanted to visit someone, we would do everything we could to make it happen.

For example, we offered visits throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. We also offer visits for clients who are having a simple cremation. In fact, other funeral directors, who don’t offer these services sometimes refer people to us.

We give you information about what to expect — but the decision to visit is always yours. Amy, one of our funeral directors, explains why this matters so much. “A woman came to visit her sister in our Friends and Family room. Her sister had scoliosis and her body was curled over, it couldn’t be straightened out. The hospital was concerned about this and said that she couldn’t visit, but her sister didn’t want to see her looking any different from how she’d looked in life. She came out of the visit so grateful, saying that her sister had looked calm, peaceful and beautiful, just how she remembered her. She was so glad she’d come.”

Read more about what happens on a Poppy’s collection and what it’s really like working in a mortuary.

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