Bereavement due to traumatic death

Identifying the body

After a death the body must be formally identified. Often a close relative is asked to do this, but this is not a requirement. When someone dies in a fire or explosion, dental records or DNA may have to be used for identification.

Martin saw his wife’s body seconds after the fatal accident in which a bus ran her over on a pavement. Two days later he was asked to identify the body at the hospital.


When Dave, Rachel’s son, was killed by a bomb in Iraq he was flown home. The next morning Rachel identified his body at the funeral home. Neither Rachel’s husband nor her daughter wanted to come, preferring not to see the body.

Some relatives had no access to the body. Matthew could not see his brother’s body after Timothy was killed in the Bali bombing. A few days after it happened, the authorities in Bali and the foreign office no longer permitted visual identification because the bodies had deteriorated.

A few people chose not to identify the body. Karen’s mother died in a fire and was identified by dental records though she says that ‘half of me wishes I had gone and done the ID myself’ because she felt that only by seeing her mother's body could she satisfy herself that she had died in peace. Rosemary could have identified her son’s body after the London bombing in 2005, but decided that it would be better if he were identified using DNA.

Sarah’s husband died in a road crash. Initially she did not want to do the identification, preferring to wait until her son-in-law (a doctor) arrived so that he could do it. But when the boyfriend of another of her daughters offered to do it for her she was very touched and decided to do it herself.

Sally and her brother were asked to identify her mother’s body. Initially she said that she did not want to but her brother said that he could not recognise the body so Sally had to do the formal identification.

Last reviewed October 2015.

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