Many families choose to have the body of the deceased present in an open casket during a visitation or funeral service. For them viewing the deceased might be a part of their religious belief or a part of their family’s tradition. These families embrace the opportunity to see the deceased family member one final time. They appreciate the opportunity to quietly whisper a few parting words or leave a memento in the casket. For some seeing the deceased at peace after a difficult illness and death is a comfort. For others seeing helps them accept the reality of the death.
If you attend a funeral or visitation with an open casket you can choose to approach the casket, or if you are not comfortable doing so, you can take a seat in another part of the room. Most often the casket containing the person who died is in the front of the reception room or in a quiet alcove. Guests are not required to approach the casket.
If you do choose to approach the casket, you can expect that the deceased will be dressed in street clothes. The hair will have been styled and make-up will have been applied. Still, you should anticipate that the body will look different than it did in life. Often people want to reach out and touch their loved one. If you do so you should expect that the body will feel cool and firm.
People who choose to come up to the casket will usually quietly say a brief prayer or a personal message. For some this last farewell is a very emotional experience. If you think that you will be emotional you might ask a close friend or relative to accompany, you as you approach the casket. If you are a guest, you should understand the emotions of other attendees and expect tears. Funerals are, as they should be, a safe place for mourners to cry.
As a guest at a funeral or visitation you always want to be mindful and respectful of the surviving family. Your presence can be a huge comfort. It shows you care. You either care about one or more of the survivors or you cared about the deceased. This is a time to share how you knew the person who died. “Your mother was a wonderful teacher, and she made a big difference in my life,” or “I worked with your dad. He was such a nice man. On my first day at work, he made me feel right at home.” Do share your stories, offer your condolences, and use the deceased’s name. Don’t monopolize a family member, make it about you, or be loud, rude, or judgmental of the deceased or other mourners.
If you are part of a family group charged with the responsibility of arranging a funeral, you may find that making the group decision about whether or not to have the casket open for viewing or closed with a picture of the deceased displayed is difficult. From time to time it happens that one or more members of the family would like to have the deceased present in an open casket at the funeral or visitation or both and other family members feel just as strongly that they prefer a closed casket. Fortunately, your funeral director can and will help your family find a solution that respects both points of view and meets everyone’s mourning needs. The owners and staff of your local family funeral home are funeral experts. They will always do their best to accommodate the needs of the immediate family members - even when they are different. Always be open and honest with your director. Let him or her help you.