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Open Casket vs. Closed Casket: Which Should You Choose?

The decision to hold an open or closed casket funeral is an important part of the funeral planning process. There are benefits to both options as well as costs to consider. Many families simply decide on open vs. closed based on personal preferences, while others might decide on either option because they’re required to. Below are some of the reasons why families choose open casket funerals vs. closed casket funerals and some points to consider if you’re making this choice.

Open Casket

What is an open casket funeral?

An open casket funeral is one where the body is placed inside of a casket, with the top half of the casket being opened so that mourners can see the body of the deceased. The body has been prepared and dressed by the funeral home and is placed in a peaceful position. The open casket is usually displayed at a viewing, (also known as a wake or funeral visitation). The viewing is a moment for mourners to see the deceased. In some cases, a visitation may or may not have the body present; if there is no body present, the visitation is a space for family and friends to gather and remember the deceased.

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What are some of the reasons to have an open casket funeral?

Believed to help people say their final goodbyes. Some believe that being able to see the body of the deceased one final time will help them accept the death and permanence of the loss. There doesn’t appear to be evidence to support this claim, but the argument could be made that if people firmly believe this to be true, it could help them in their own personal grieving process. Seeing the body of a loved one can also help people accept the reality of death since they have the physical experience of seeing the body of the deceased.

Let’s mourners who haven’t seen the deceased in a while see their face one last time. It’s certainly possible that funeral attendees are friends and family who haven’t had the chance to physically see their loved one for months or even years. Offering the opportunity to see their loved one a final time can offer a sense of closure or connectedness for those who have been far away or out of touch recently.

Bodies often look peaceful. Even though an open casket funeral is a dead body on display, it’s still positioned and dressed in a way that makes the body look peaceful and serene. This can be helpful for those who have painful last images or memories of their loved one.

Personal preference. Some families and individuals choose to have an open casket funeral simply because it fits their personal preferences.

What are some of the services needed for an open casket funeral?

In order to have an open casket funeral, the body usually needs to be prepared for viewing.

Your funeral home will most likely perform the following services:

  • Washing & preparing. The body is washed with disinfectant then shaved (if desired), and the limbs are massaged to reduce stiffening.
  • Embalming. The process of embalming is intended to preserve the body and prevent decay so that the body can be viewed by mourners. Embalming involves removing liquids from the body and replacing them with chemicals intended to preserve the body.
  • Cosmetization. The body is dressed, the hair is set and the cosmetization process begins. Cosmetization refers to the process of applying cosmetics to the body in order to give it a more natural appearance. Bodies can look much different after death occurs and cosmetization helps the body look more natural. After the body is prepared, it’s then placed in the casket of the family’s choosing.

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Closed Casket

What is a closed casket funeral?

A closed casket funeral is a funeral in which the casket is closed and the body is not on display for mourners to see. There are many reasons a family may choose to have a closed casket funeral that are not strictly due to the state of the body.

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What are some of the reasons to have a closed casket funeral?

Let’s people keep their last memories of the deceased. Sometimes, viewing the body can disrupt the image that someone might’ve had of the deceased. In these cases, a closed casket would be preferable as it allows anyone who knew the deceased to hold better images of them in their mind. They’re more likely to think back to the last time they saw them or a happier moment they shared with them rather than seeing their body.

Preserves the deceased’s dignity. If the deceased suffered from an ongoing illness or disease or their body increasingly deteriorated near their death, having a closed casket can preserve their dignity. It’s entirely possible that the deceased would wish not to have their body displayed or that the family doesn’t want others to see the body of the deceased due to this.

Lower cost. Some families simply cannot afford the cost of the extra services involved with having an open casket funeral. The average price of embalming alone is around $500-$700 which is a lot of money that many families simply can’t cover, especially if the death was unexpected and unprepared for. Added to that, the casket itself is often the most expensive part of a funeral, sometimes costing upwards of $2,000. Families who are struggling to cover the costs of even basic funeral services might elect to hold a closed casket funeral to save money on the funeral as a whole. If you’re struggling to cover funeral expenses and are looking for ways to save money, buying you can often save over $1,000 just by buying a casket online, instead of through a funeral home.

Better for those who might not be able to handle seeing a body. In some circumstances, open caskets can cause intense emotional reactions from mourners in the middle of a viewing or service. To avoid this, families can consider holding an open casket for just the immediate family members and a closed casket for the rest of the attendees. Some individuals are ill suited to seeing a dead body and might not be able to hold back their emotions at the services, which can be disruptive.

Cause of death. There are some scenarios in which a body is disfigured or unrecognizable to the point that restoring it isn’t practical or possible. Some deaths happen in tragic circumstances that make a closed casket funeral a requirement when compared to open casket.

Religious reasons. Some religions, such as Muslim & Quaker, do not hold wakes or viewings. Other religions prohibit embalming or preserving bodies in any way. Due to these reasons, an open casket funeral wouldn’t be possible or wouldn’t be acceptable in these religions.

Personal preference. Having a closed casket can simply come down to the family’s or the deceased’s preferences. It’s entirely possible that neither party wants to have an open casket and prefers not to have the body on display. It’s also possible that there is no body to display, in the case of cremation or in other circumstances related to the death.

Timing. While embalming can preserve a body temporarily, it can’t preserve the body or prevent decomposition forever. Sometimes, funerals are held after a long enough period that an open casket isn’t possible due to the state of the body.

Ultimately, the decision to hold an open casket funeral or a closed casket funeral is a personal one that depends on the individual’s or the family’s wishes. It might be a good idea to take your loved one’s preferences into account, the timing of the funeral, the desires of the family members, and the guidance of any spiritual leaders (if applicable) before deciding on an open or closed casket funeral.

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Last updated May 31, 2022
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