When a loved one passes away, the family planning the funeral may decide to have an open casket. This is up to the discretion of the family and their cultural and religious beliefs.
What Does Open Casket Mean?
An open casket means that the casket is left open, so the deceased individual's body is on display. The person's hair, makeup, and clothing are done so that they closely resemble what they looked while they were alive. Usually the casket is only open from the deceased individual's waist up, rather than the entire body. Legs may be covered with a blanket.
What Is the Purpose of an Open Casket?
An open casket is usually done to give family and friends a final moment of closure with the deceased individual. They get to see their loved one a final time before saying goodbye or offering up a prayer.
How to Decide on Open vs. Closed Casket
People who pass away with pre-planned funeral directives in place may have included instructions for their body and casket. The family should honor the deceased individual's wishes regarding the open or closed casket. If no plans were left regarding open vs. closed casket, there are some considerations before making a final decision.
Before deciding to have an open or closed casket funeral or visitation, consider the following:
- Cause of death - Depending on the cause of death, the embalmer may have a difficult time preparing the body. Discuss options with the funeral home and embalmer if this is a concern.
- Religion and culture - In some cultures and religions, open caskets are not practiced. For example, Jewish funerals do not have open caskets.
- Visitation and funeral date - If the visitation and funeral are not held close to the date of the death, it will be more difficult to have an open casket due to the deterioration of the deceased's body. How long you can wait to have an open casket funeral depends on the condition of the body and whether it is embalmed.
What Can Go Wrong With an Open Casket?
An open-casket visitation and/or funeral is not without a few potential problems. These might include:
- People may touch the deceased individual's body, disturbing the makeup, hair, and clothing.
- The deceased individual may not look the same as they did when alive, causing distress to loved ones.
- People attending the visitation or funeral may have more emotional responses to an open casket.
- Something may be spilled or dropped into the casket.
What Is Open Casket Funeral Etiquette?
When you are invited to a visitation or funeral with an open casket, you should be aware of a few things before attending.
What Happens at an Open Casket Funeral?
When you are at an open casket visitation or funeral, the most important thing is to be respectful both of the deceased individual and their loved ones. Most funerals and visitations have receiving lines. This may be before the casket or after, where you greet the immediate family of the deceased individual. To view the open casket:
- Wait until the previous person or group has moved away from the casket before approaching.
- Take a few moments to compose yourself and then walk up to the casket.
- Take in the deceased and say a small prayer, poem, or other remembrance to yourself as desired.
- If no one is waiting, you can stay with the deceased longer. However, if there is a line of people waiting, then take just a couple minutes and move on.
What Not to Do
Avoid doing the following when viewing an open casket:
- Do not disturb the body.
- Avoid making references to how the deceased individual looks.
- Do not place anything in the casket, including gifts or notes, unless you have permission from the family.
- Keep food, drink, and other items away from the casket.
- Do not take photographs of the deceased individual in the casket.
- Once the casket is closed, do not attempt to re-open it.
Should Children View an Open Casket?
Parents are the best gauge of whether children should be allowed to view the person's body. Younger children may not understand what is happening, and school-age children may be scared. Discuss the open casket with your children before visitation or the funeral and make the decision together. If children are uncomfortable with the open casket, have them sit with a trusted adult when you approach the casket to pay your respect.
What Is the History of Open Casket Funerals?
In the United States, people historically sat or viewed bodies in the deceased person's home (or relative's home) before burial. In the 1800s, President Abraham Lincoln died and was one of the first people to be embalmed, and the practice continued at funeral homes since.
Open Caskets and the Funeral Industry
Trends in the funeral industry help shape what happens at visitations and funerals. The common practice of having an open casket funeral is a tradition that so far, remains unmoved by the times.