Open-Casket Funeral: What Can I Expect?

Written by Fraser Stewart
Reading time 3 minutes
Open-Casket Funeral: What Can I Expect? image

Some people may feel a little nervous when they hear that a funeral of a loved one is open casket. They may be unsure how they feel about seeing a dead body or won’t know what to expect from an open casket funeral or a viewing. If you feel this way, there is no need to worry; we will explain all about open casket funerals and answer some frequently asked questions.

What is an open casket funeral?

An open casket funeral is one where the dead body is displayed to allow mourners to say goodbye or pay their respects. For some, it offers closure and a chance to pay their respects or say goodbye to their loved one.

The procedure can vary for open casket funerals; in some, the casket is open throughout the service and then closed before burial. Other open casket funerals will just have a viewing where the casket is open for an hour before the funeral to allow people to pay their respects, and then the casket is closed for the service.

What will the deceased look like at an open casket funeral?

There is no need to worry that the open casket funeral will be traumatising, the body will only be displayed if it is in good shape. If your loved one died from a traumatic accident or was badly burned, then they will not be displayed in an open casket funeral.

The funeral home will embalm the dead body shortly after death to preserve its condition and ensure there is no smell. Before the funeral, they will dress the body in clothes provided by the family and do their makeup and hair to make the body look more like it is sleeping than dead. The casket will only be open from the waist up.

Do I have to do a viewing?

No, you do not have to. Many people will prefer not to view their loved one at an open casket funeral. This is often why families will offer a viewing rather than having the casket open for the whole service. The viewing is offered for those who wish to get a chance to pay their respects, and it is optional. If you are very close to the deceased, like a family member or a close friend, then you should contact the family to explain that you will be at the service, not the viewing.

If you are holding an open casket funeral or a viewing for your loved one, understand that cultural and personal beliefs may mean that people are uncomfortable with an open casket funeral. Respect the decision of people to attend the funeral, not the viewing.

Should I take my kids to a viewing?

You should give a lot of thought as to whether you should bring your kids to an open casket funeral or a viewing. There are a lot of factors to consider, not just how your kids may feel about it, but also the feelings of the family as well. Remember, the family are grieving the loss of their loved one and do not need to be further upset by loud, inappropriate questions and comments or mishaps.

Think about the maturity level of your kids and their understanding of death as well as their relation to the deceased. It may not be appropriate to bring your children to an open casket funeral if they barely knew the deceased; similarly, an open casket funeral for Grandma might be traumatising for them.

If you do plan to bring your kids to a viewing or open casket funeral, have a conversation with them beforehand. Tell them what to expect and what behaviour is appropriate. Get them to ask questions beforehand and then hold any questions they may have on the day until after the funeral. Making sure they are adequately prepared and have a say in whether they want to see the deceased is key.

How should I pay my respects to the deceased?

That is completely up to you. At the viewing, the next group of people will only be a few steps away, so they will be able to overhear anything you may say to the deceased. Most people will whisper a goodbye or other sentiments to the deceased or talk to them in their heads. It is generally considered inappropriate to touch the body at an open casket funeral. If you want to touch their hand as you say goodbye or perhaps put something in the casket like a note or a small trinket, you should speak to the family in advance. Respect their decision and do not try and slip something in on the day.

The amount of time you have to say goodbye at the open casket funeral will depend on the length of the line. If there are only a few people waiting, you may have a little longer.

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