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Sitting up with the Body

Sitting up with the Body

(p.61) Chapter Four Sitting up with the Body
Gone to the Grave
Abby Burnett
University Press of Mississippi

The rationale for sitting up all night, next to or near the body, has been lost but numerous theories exist, the most common - fear that animals, especially cats, would desecrate the corpse - is examined here in detail. Prior to the sitting up a number of tasks had to be performed, including searching the deceased’s pillows or featherbeds for balls of feathers, known as feather crowns or angel wreaths, “proof” that the soul was in heaven. The many other parts of the process are also discussed: food for the watchers, the taking of post-mortem photographs, use of ice to delay decomposition of the body, and the custom of wearing mourning garments. Given the short span of time from death to burial there was also the fear of premature burial, or burial of a person in a coma or persistent vegetative state.

Keywords:   Feather crowns, Angel wreaths, Post-mortem photography, Premature burial, Persistent vegetative state

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