The Meaning of an Open Casket Funeral

An open-casket funeral is a service at which the casket is open and the deceased’s body is displayed. When deciding whether to have an open-casket funeral, consider the condition of the body, religious beliefs, the date of the funeral service, the preferences of the deceased and family, and budget.


Open Casket Funeral Definition

The Cambridge Dictionary defines “open casket” as “a funeral at which the coffin is open, and people can see the dead person’s body.”

During an open casket funeral, the casket is typically placed in the front of the room or in a side viewing room so that the attendees can approach the casket, see the body, and pay their respects.

There is no one correct way to run an open casket funeral.

Some open casket funerals keep the casket open the entire service, thereby allowing the attendees to pay their respect to the deceased before or after service.

Others will allow the casket to be open until the funeral, and will then shut the casket for the actual ceremony.

Typically, the casket is half open, allowing mourners to see the head and upper torso of the deceased.

Open casket funerals are said to help mourners find closure with the death of their loved one. Viewing the deceased a last time allows them to come to terms with the death and see that their loved ones are not suffering or in pain.


Open Casket vs. Closed Casket Considerations

The decision between an open and closed casket for a funeral can be a difficult one. Several things to consider when deciding whether an open casket ceremony is right for you include:


1. Condition of the Body:

Based on the nature of the deceased’s death, it is not always possible to display the deceased’s body. Most of the time, the funeral director and mortician will tell you if a closed casket is necessary.


2. Religious Beliefs:

There are sects of Islam, Judiasm and some other religions that do not deem open-casket funerals to be appropriate. So the religion of the deceased and the people attending the funeral are also a factor in the choice


3. Date of the Funeral Service:

If a funeral is delayed for legal or personal reasons, the body of the deceased may no longer be presentable for an open casket. If your funeral will occur at a later date, it is advisable to talk to the funeral director about open casket options.


4. Preference of the Deceased:

It is not uncommon for someone who dies to leave a will that provides specifications for the funeral service. If the deceased has requested an open or closed casket funeral, it is important to honor their request when possible.


5. Preference of the Family:

Open caskets are typically viewed as a way for the family and close friends of the deceased to gain closure when a loved one dies. However, some people prefer to have a closed casket ceremony, so as not to have to see their loved one after death.


6. Open Casket Funerals are More Expensive:

An open casket requires the mortician to spend a significant amount of time preparing the deceased for viewing. As such, open casket funerals tend to be more expensive. If you are planning a funeral on a budget, switching to a closed casket ceremony is an easy cost-saving option.


Etiquette at an Open Casket Funeral

When attending an open casket funeral, you will likely have the opportunity to view the deceased before, during, and/or after the funeral service. It is therefore important to ensure you understand the proper etiquette to use when approaching the casket:


1. Do Not Touch the Body:

Touching the body is considered inappropriate at an open casket funeral. To prevent the body from being touched, many caskets will be covered with a pane of glass during the funeral service.


2. Do Not Make Any Comments on the Appearance of the Deceased:

The deceased’s body will be dressed by the mortician prior to the funeral service. The mortician will also apply makeup to the deceased’s face and style their hair to make them appear lifelike.

However, the deceased will never look exactly the same as they did when they were alive. Therefore, it’s best to keep any comments to yourself.  


3. Give the Family Space:

During the viewing, some family members may need more time at the casket than others. Make sure to give them the time and space they need to say goodbye and grieve.


4. It is Okay Not to Approach the Casket:

While the open casket can provide closure, for others, it can be a source of additional grief or distress. If you feel that seeing the deceased will be emotionally or mentally overwhelming, it is completely acceptable to respectfully decline approaching the casket.


Writer: Taylor Steed

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