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What Is a Closed-Casket Funeral?

Mary Gormandy White
closed casket with flowers

A closed casket funeral is one in which the casket remains fully closed throughout all services leading up to the burial, including a wake or memorial service. With this type of funeral, mourners are not able to view the body of the deceased individual during any services that are held.

Who Decides if the Casket Is Closed or Open?

The decision regarding whether a person's casket will be open during services is up to the deceased individual or the family member(s) or other loved ones who make the funeral arrangements. When people pre-plan funeral arrangements for themselves, they can specify if they prefer an open or closed casket. In situations where a person dies without having made pre-arrangements, the decision will be made at the time arrangements are made with the funeral home, church, or other facility where the service will be held.

Reasons to Hold a Closed Casket Funeral

There are a number of reasons a person or their loved ones may opt for a closed casket funeral. For example:

  • Illness: A person who experiences a long, debilitating illness may want people to remember them the way they looked before they got sick. This is especially true in situations where an illness caused significant changes in a person's appearance.
  • Injury: In cases where a person's death involved a head or facial injury due to an accident or act of violence, closed caskets are common. Such circumstances often cause physical damage that would make open casket viewing difficult, if not impossible.
  • Privacy preferences: A person may feel uncomfortable with the idea of people looking at their body or the body of a loved one in the context of a funeral service. Some see such viewing as a privacy violation and so opt to keep the casket closed.
  • Avoid Embalming: While embalming is necessary for open casket services, it is generally not required for closed casket funerals. (Note: There are a few exceptions.) Some people object to embalming for religious or environmental reasons while others consider it an unnecessary final expense.
  • Religious beliefs: Open casket funerals are inconsistent with some religions. For example, closed casket funerals are the norm in the Jewish, Muslim, and Amish faiths.

What to Expect at a Closed Casket Service

At a closed casket funeral, a large spray of flowers is typically displayed at the top of the casket, over the portion that would be open for viewing at an open casket service. The family typically brings in a portrait style photo of the person who passed away and places it near the casket. In some cases, multiple photos or a collage may be on display. Attendees are typically still invited to walk up to the casket to say their final goodbyes if they would like to do so, during either a wake or visitation prior to the funeral service (or both).

Planning Ahead

Both open and closed casket funerals are common in the United States. If you have a strong opinion about open or closed casket services, you may want to explore how to pre-plan a funeral so you can be sure that your wishes will be honored. It's also a good idea to encourage your family members to do the same. It can be very stressful to be in the position of having to make final arrangements for another person if you don't know what their wishes are.

What Is a Closed-Casket Funeral?