Another decision that we help families in making when planning a funeral is whether or not to have an open casket. Most of the time this is an option that we encourage at least with just the family and sometimes also for the public, there are sometimes when this could actually pose an issue. I want to discuss the value of having an open casket vs. having a closed casket just the same way I would when I’m speaking with a family.
An open casket is a long standing tradition that dates way back to the early funerals. The open casket was actually used to allow families one last time of paying their respect to that individual and the same for the community, this tradition is still alive today. Viewing the body is actually a very important step in the grieving process that most people do not realize. For some families it can be hard to accept the finality of death until they actually view their loved one, this is the first step in the healing process. We encourage families to see their loved one whether they choose a traditional burial funeral or a cremation. On the other hand death can take a serious toll on the human body, depending on the manner of death, and this can play a pivotal role in my recommendation of viewing. Some times it is just better to remember how that person was instead of having that image of seeing their loved one in a distorted view.
Think of someone you are close too and try to envision their face, then imagine how they wore their hair or how they wore their makeup. More times than not you are seeing that person in your mind from the last time that you actually saw them before they passed or you are seeing a picture of them from a major event in your life. An open casket can put that image in your mind and when you remember that person after the funeral you will often see them in that casket as your first memory, this is why we sometimes don’t recommend a viewing. This is also why our job as embalmers and reconstruction artists are so important. Most families who do not want an open casket probably had a bad experience at one time causing them to be against the idea of having an open casket.
Most people who pass usually do in a hospital setting or they are under hospice care, this allows the family time to mourn with their loved one and spend time with them starting their grieving process. An open casket at the funeral home can be comforting to these families by allowing them to view their loved one again in a more comfortable and peaceful setting. I have heard many families tell me how comfortable their loved one looks and they look as if they are not in pain any more. This brings so much comfort to the family not having to remember them in that hospital setting and being able to see that person dressed up in their favorite outfit and looking at rest. People who are taken suddenly either through an accident or an unexpected death are not able to provide this time and opportunity of mourning for their family. This is a time when an open casket is very important, giving the grieving family the opportunity to say goodbye and spend some time with them. Having someone taken so suddenly is very hard for the family to accept and this time can bring a lot of comfort to the survivors.
I have witnessed families who choose not to have an open casket coming back into the funeral home months later still struggling with their grief and often times it’s because they are still stuck in the denial stage of their grief. Facing the realization of a loved ones death is a good way in getting through this stage and moving your grief process forward into a stage of healing. Even when the deceased is not able to be viewed we will still offer maybe just holding their hand or just being in the same room with that person and this can help comfort some families.
When families choose not to see their loved one, we take that with respect and we work even closer with that family to ensure that no lasting effects will harm them from no viewing. I always speak with these families encouraging them to face the realization of death and help them through the stage of denial without a viewing by helping them plan their next few weeks after the funeral and all the friends and family are gone. The weeks following a funeral when everything has settled down can be a very lonely time for the surviving family. I encourage all friends and family to use this time to reach out and offer a supporting hand, this also will be a very important step to help families know that they are not alone and help them accept the fact that their loved one is not here with us anymore.
Take these ideas and use them when planning your own funeral. When asked most people would say “I don’t want people standing over my casket looking at me!” and that is very understandable, but take into consideration what your family will need for them to properly grieve. Understand that there is no “right way” or “wrong way” and only you will know whats best for your family when it comes to your own demise. Our job as funeral directors is to guide and offer all options to the surviving family so that they can make decisions that will provide a safe and healthy healing process. I encourage you to talk with your family and ask them their opinions and use that to make your own funeral plans!