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Open vs. Closed Casket: What’s Best for Your Family?

Published: April 15, 2022

There are lots of important decisions to make when planning a funeral, a big one being whether or not to have an open casket at the visitation. When a family decides on a visitation with an open casket, it is referred to as a “viewing.” During a visitation with a viewing, friends, relatives, and acquaintances can view the deceased if they choose to, and also offer condolences to the deceased’s immediate family.

Big decisions can be emotionally charged, and deciding between an open casket versus a closed casket is no exception. Will mom actually look like “mom?” Grandpa was such a private person, would he have hated the idea of people looking at him? What should we do when half our family wants to see Jeff one last time and the other half is uncomfortable with the idea? These are just some of the types of thoughts that infiltrate the minds of those faced with making such a decision.

Through our experience working with families, we’ve come to know this: the opportunity to view a loved one a final time can be a powerful source of comfort and healing for grieving families.

But it’s one thing to be told that something can be comforting and healing, and it’s another to actually understand how that can be. We will try to go below the surface in our explanation.

Benefits of Viewing a Departed Loved One

Family, friends, and relatives are often surprised by the strong stirring of emotions upon seeing a loved one post death for the first time. They often say that, while they understood that their loved one was deceased, seeing this with their own eyes brought on a deeper realization of the loss; it made them begin to process all the ways things would be different from now on.

Families are often comforted by the idea of their departed loved one being present during the visitation, a feeling that can be even more pronounced when the body is viewable, rather than unseen in a closed casket; there is the sense of having extra time to be physically close to their loved one, for just a while longer.

In the case where a loved one has endured a long illness prior to death, seeing them at peaceful rest, no longer hooked to tubes or looking pained, can be healing.

Family and close friends often live on opposite sides of the country, leading busy lives, with visits that have become more spread out over the years. Seeing the deceased again can be a comfort to those that were unable to be close to the loved one before they passed. If the death was sudden or unexpected, seeing the deceased one last time offers an opportunity for closure and to say goodbye.

When an Open Casket May Not Be the Right Choice

Of course there are circumstances where an open casket might not be the right choice. A person’s religious or cultural beliefs may not allow it. Or if the deceased had suffered a long illness and no longer looked like themselves, a family may prefer a private viewing over a public one. In the event of death by trauma or by accident, an open casket may not be possible.

Privacy is another reason. Maybe the family feels the deceased would not have appreciated people other than immediate family viewing their body. Or maybe it is the immediate family concerned with privacy, whereas the loved one may have been indifferent.

Some families just want to remember their loved one as they were in life, not in death. Or they are very afraid their loved one will not look like themselves after death.

A family can only weigh the pros and cons while keeping an open mind, then make a decision based on what’s best for their family, while also honoring the spirit of their departed loved one.

What's Best For Your Family is the Right Decision

The decision of an open casket versus a closed casket is a family’s decision to make alone, and there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to an open or closed casket, but it’s important to remember that decisions made cannot be undone. That’s really where funeral directors and their insight can be very helpful to families making funeral arrangements. Funeral directors have come to know which rituals provide the most comfort and healing to families.

Please reach out to us, Raynor & D’Andrea Funeral Home, anytime at 1-800-737-0017. Thanks for reading our blog.

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