07/22/2014 03:41 pm ET Updated Sep 21, 2014

Where Is the Respect?


Five days after Malaysian Airlines Flight 317 crashed, most of the bodies are finally headed home. It's unclear exactly how long that will take. Families still wait to find out when they will be reunited with their loved ones.

As of Monday, 16 passengers were still reported missing. I'll leave the politics to the politicians, but as someone who has spent a career in the field of grief, I am outraged because the deceased have been treated deplorably. Bodies left on the grass for days. Reports of looting. Remains moved to a fly-infested railway station. That's not how we should treat our dead. I believe that we all inherently know that -- you don't need to be an expert to figure it out.

Murder is a horrific event, but to not respect the body after death is a horrible insult on top of a tragic event. Bodies deserve to be cared for and honored -- and they haven't been.

I've worked on four plane crashes and I know that caring for loved ones' bodies means the world to their families. In grief, families are terribly haunted by thoughts of how their loved ones' last moments played out. A deceased body should be treated with the utmost respect. It should be covered at the scene, protected from the elements and removed by trained personnel as soon as possible. The priority is to get a loved ones remains to the family as quickly as possible.
The human species is the only species that never allows the body to remain where it died. We go to stunning lengths and costs to recover bodies. Think about the Malaysian Airlines flight 370 search and Sept. 11.

I remember being in the morgue tent that was assembled for the bodies recovered at Ground Zero. At one point, the horn sounded. Everything came to a standstill. There was complete silence. That sound meant a body had been discovered. I stood respectfully at the morgue for it to be brought in. There were tears and sobbing sounds, yet there was no other noise. I looked to see the body being carried. But there was no intact body. It was a finger. That is what stopped everything. And we all understood to show respect to this finger, because it was a finger that was all that was left of someone's loved one. It was a finger that was part of a hand. That hand belonged to a mother, father, wife, husband, son or daughter. That finger and hand drove a car, answered a phone and cooked a meal.

It cuts to the core of respecting life. We honor loss by individualizing it. That's what we need to do for each of the 298 souls lost. These events are reminders of how important peace is to us. These bodies remind us of the importance of life.

There are also personal lessons for all of us. As an expert in grief and loss, over and over again I have seen people only realize how much loved ones meant after they die. The tragedy is that we often wait till a loved one is gone to express our love.

We don't have control over the way the bodies are treated in this horrific plane crash, but we do have full control over how we treat our living loved ones right now. What can you do to make a difference? Honor your loved ones today.