How to Plan an Open Casket Funeral

Open Casket Funerals: Why, How to Plan, & What to Do at One

Last Updated on October 22, 2021

When a funeral is planned, one of the questions the funeral director will ask is, “Do you want an open or closed casket?” As you consider how you’ll answer, there are a few additional questions you will need to ask yourself.

Knowing your loved one’s wishes would be ideal, but what if you don’t know? How do you decide between an open or a closed casket?

Or perhaps you are attending a funeral, and you are concerned about what it will be like to see or be near the deceased with them visible in the casket.

We have put together a very informative article for you. Once you have read it through, you will be able to make an educated decision regarding an open or closed casket funeral.

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What Is an Open-Casket Funeral?

The casket will be open for the public to view the body of your loved one. The deceased’s hair, makeup, and clothing are done to resemble what they looked while alive.

What are some reasons to have an open-casket funeral?

  • Everyone can say their final goodbye.”
  • Allows friends and family to kiss the deceased goodbye.
  • The family can hold the decedent’s hand.
  • Everyone can take comfort in seeing the deceased looking beautiful and at peace.

What Is a Closed Casket Funeral?

At a closed casket funeral, the casket is closed and will remain closed. The body will not be shown throughout the funeral service. Therefore, no one is going to see the body of the deceased.

What are some reasons to have a closed casket funeral?

  • The decedent died a violent death and is not viewable.
  • Instead, the family wants to remember them “as they were in life.” Often, a large photo or poster board is displayed near the casket for this purpose.
  • Seeing a loved one that is deceased may be traumatic to children.
  • In addition, some religions are against an open casket.
  • Some people are simply not comfortable with the idea of an open casket funeral.

Open or Closed Casket: Which to Choose?

Closure

Some people find it consoling to have closure with the deceased. An open casket can offer a chance for some measure of closure.

You can have that last look, final kiss, or whisper something in your loved one’s ear. Family and friends like to place mementos in an open casket. It’s comforting to put a personal item with your loved one.

In essence, seeing the body helps mourners face the fact that the death has occurred. They know that their loved one is not suffering or in pain anymore, and seeing them “at rest” makes that a reality.

In addition, for some mourners having an open casket helps them begin healing.

Condition of the Body

Closed caskets are better if someone passed away from an accident or illness that caused changes in their appearance.

For example, a head wound or sickness that caused extreme emaciation might be the reason for a closed casket. The funeral director will advise you when this might apply to your loved one’s funeral. Be prepared to follow their advice in this matter.

Death, Children, and Emotional Triggers

As a personal choice, you may not want to view the body at the funeral. This could be due to an unsettling feeling you get around the body, or because you want to remember your loved one as they were in life, or because you are concerned that seeing your loved one at the funeral may be too overwhelming.

Whatever the reason, if you don’t want to have an open casket, you’re free to choose a closed casket funeral. That is perfectly acceptable.

Death is scary for some people. Suppose there will be many children and teens attending the funeral. In that case, an open casket could be a shocking experience for them. This is a valid concern.

The flip side is the view that death is a “normal” part of human existence. Some people believe that therefore we should not shelter people from death, but rather accept it and engage with the (often difficult) emotions rather than hiding or trying to subdue them.

In this perspective, if a child is old enough to understand death, they should be told about it and allowed to participate in the funeral and memorial events.

This can include an open casket and seeing the decedent’s body. It may be unsettling, since our culture is not used to dealing with death up close, but sometimes facing a little discomfort head-on is better than creating a taboo that results in an inability to cope in a healthy way.

Your Loved One’s Wishes

Finally, you have to consider what your loved one would have liked best. Did they express a preference? I think it’s always best to follow your loved one’s wishes.

How to Plan an Open Casket Funeral

You will be asked if you want an open or closed casket upon meeting with the funeral director. Your funeral director will advise you if the body is in viewable condition.

  • When you choose the casket, always stay in your price range. Your director will show you a variety to pick from, and you can also order many of the same caskets online for lower costs.
  • Bring in a nice outfit for your loved one. Make sure the clothing is clean. Please include underwear.
  • Choose a date and time for the funeral. Remember, everything from the clergy to the cemetery has to sync up.
  • Will you have a public viewing before the funeral service? If so, will you hold it at the funeral home or your church? Of course, including a viewing with the funeral will cost you extra. This may or may not be an expense you want to incur.

Keep in mind, the further out you schedule the funeral, the longer the body has to be “kept.” Therefore, you will want to have your service as quickly as possible. After all, you want your loved one to look their very best.

More funeral info: Funeral Planning Guide

Open Casket Funeral Etiquette

Attending an open casket funeral will require a few more rules of etiquette.

  • Viewing the body is optional. If you’re not comfortable with seeing the body, you do not need to go in the viewing line.
  • Try not to touch the body too much. Cosmetics have been applied, and you don’t want to rub any makeup off or get it on your clothing.
    • Unfortunately, it is very common for the body to be touched and kissed. And because of this, the cosmetics have to be reapplied.
    • It isn’t necessarily impolite to touch the body, but please keep in mind to be respectful at all times. This is to honor the family as well as the body of the decedent.
    • Be gentle when you kiss or squeeze the hand of the body.
  • Sometimes people’s curiosity gets the better of them. I have actually had to stop people from trying to remove a wax plug from a bullet wound. That is absolutely forbidden. So please, be kind and respectful at all times.
  • Ladies, wear pants or a longer skirt. No mini-skirts; I’ve seen too many women bend over the casket with a short skirt on. Just don’t.
  • Give the family space. Don’t spend all of your time at the casket.
  • The processional will occur when the service is complete. The funeral attendees will be ushered out by walking past the open casket.

What to Expect at an Open Casket Service

The open casket will usually be at the chapel’s front, and the body will be dressed and made up. Thus, giving it a life-like appearance. If you prefer not to view the open casket, walk past without looking or take a seat. No rules say you must look.

It is important to know that the body will look different than how the person looked while alive. Therefore, be prepared for the emotions you may feel upon viewing the deceased. It is common to become emotional; if you don’t want to view alone, take a friend up to the casket with you.

It is never appropriate to try to embrace the body. It is ok to give a gentle kiss on the cheek or touch on the hand.  Keep in mind though that the body will feel cold and hard to the touch.

Prepare your children to attend the viewing. Most kids have never seen a dead body. Let your child know that if they don’t feel comfortable being close to the body, it is ok to stand further away.

Open vs. Closed Casket FAQ

Here are a few things you may or may not know about an open or closed casket.

Are open casket funerals common?

Yes, open-casket funerals are common. Many families choose to have an open casket during a funeral, a wake, a viewing, or a vigil.

What religions and traditions have open caskets?

Most Catholic and Protestant religions have the casket open, at least for some portion of the service.

Open caskets are allowed in both Buddhism and Hinduism. Despite this, there are some regulations of custom and aesthetics.

In the Muslim tradition, the deceased is buried without embalming. Therefore, no open casket services are possible.

Can you have a closed casket viewing?

No. When the casket is closed, it will remain closed, which means no viewing will be allowed.

You can, however, have a closed casket funeral with a separate viewing service in which the casket is open. See here for more information about viewings.

How long after death can you have an open casket?

The primary factor determining when an open casket funeral can be held depends on whether the body has been embalmed. Upon death, decomposition of the body begins right away. 

When storing a body in proper refrigeration, it can be shown at an open casket funeral for approximately two to three days after death. However, most funeral homes recommend having the open-casket funeral within 24-hours of death. This is to ensure the body is acceptable for viewing.

And honestly, the funeral home probably won’t allow an open casket viewing to the public without embalming.

Related: How Long After Death Is a Funeral Held?

Why do they cover the legs in a casket?

Most caskets are a “half-couch.” A half-couch casket is the most common type of casket available in most parts of the world today.

The lid is made of two separate pieces. That is the defining feature of a half-couch casket: the top half opens, and the lower half remains closed. This type of casket allows the top half of the body to be shown while covering the bottom half.

Why is the head always to the left in a casket?

The caskets are hinged this way, for starters. But it is a tradition to have the head of the body facing the east; the east-facing placement has religious reasoning.

Matthew 24:27: “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be …” thus for the Christian believer in the resurrection of the dead, placing the body facing east will allow the dead to see the Second Coming of Jesus.

Most churches and funeral homes are built facing east.

Many Decisions: But We’re Here to Help

It can be a personal decision, the decedent’s decision, or perhaps a religious one to have an open or closed casket. In the end, you have to make your decision using your best judgment.

Continue browsing our many articles for more information about funerals. We have an excellent Funeral Planning Guide along with an extensive FAQ section. You can contact us with additional questions.

If you need help finding a cremation urn for your loved one, you’ll find the best collection in the world at Urns Northwest. With our superior products and family-first customer service, we’ll take good care of you as you seek to honor your loved one.

Start with our 12 most popular memorial urns.

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