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Closed casket vs. open casket

Things you should know before you go:


By Andrew Hodges
April 2006

Having a viewing of the body will be a topic of discussion either when the family initially calls the funeral home or during the arrangement meeting. In this article I will touch on some reasons for or against a viewing.

Regardless of the type of service selected, the funeral home will offer the family the choice whether or not to view the body. If a direct disposition with no service and no embalming is selected, a viewing may be possible as long as it is done relatively soon after the death. This may not be possible if the person's body is unrecognizable due to reasons such as advanced decomposition or a serious accident that caused the death, for example, in which case embalming may be necessary to restore a recognizable appearance.

There are valid reasons not to have an open casket, often rooted in cultural beliefs, as certain religions forbid preparation of the body. They may also be due to personal beliefs, such as the family wanting to remember the person only as alive, or they may have had a past experience at a funeral with an open casket that was negative and vowed never again. A closed casket, in some situations, may be the only choice if the person's body condition is such that hours of embalming and restoration work could never return the appearance to a recognizable state.

As for reasons for an open casket, some readers may believe that whatever I am about to write is biased in favour of funeral directors. Well, it's pretty much true. There are situations when I know an open casket will not be possible and I will explain that as clearly as possible to a family. But when it comes to viewing the body I will admit I am biased because I am passionate about allowing people the chance to face death in the hope of coming to terms with it. Regardless of whether embalming is done or if only the eyes and mouth are closed and the body is washed, it allows people to see that, without a doubt, death has occurred, thus facing the problem, and eventually realize there is no longer any physical pain or discomfort. For the dead, there is peace. For the living there is still much to feel. And when people come together to face death they realize that the focus is now on each other; trying to figure out how to carry on in life without the physical presence of their loved one.

Some may say that embalming only masks the dead body, because things have been done to make the appearance more lifelike. But my answer to that is instead of seeing a person for the last time, perhaps in a hospital room, hooked up to machines, they are instead cleaned up, dressed in their own clothes with some natural colour back in their face to add to that peaceful look. Sometimes that appearance may be less than perfect due to the funeral director doing the embalming or because of the person's body condition to begin with. But, of course seeing a person's body will not be the only way they will be remembered; it is only for a moment.

In most situations there is a choice and there are many reasons for and against. To be able to make an informed decision an understanding of the process of embalming is necessary, which is what I will discuss in next month's article.



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Proudly Serving the Communities of St. Marys, Thorndale, Kirkton, Embro, Woodham, St. Pauls, and Lakeside
519-284-2820 Andrew L. Hodges Funeral Home Ltd.
47 Wellington Street South
St. Marys, ON N4X 1B2
Email: andrew@hodgesfuneralhome.ca
519-284-2820 Andrew L. Hodges Funeral Home Ltd.
47 Wellington Street South
St. Marys, ON N4X 1B2
Email: andrew@hodgesfuneralhome.ca
519-284-2820 Andrew L. Hodges Funeral Home Ltd.
47 Wellington Street South
St. Marys, ON N4X 1B2
Email: andrew@hodgesfuneralhome.ca
519-284-2820 Andrew L. Hodges Funeral Home Ltd.
47 Wellington Street South
St. Marys, ON N4X 1B2
Email: andrew@hodgesfuneralhome.ca
519-284-2820 Andrew L. Hodges Funeral Home Ltd.
47 Wellington Street South
St. Marys, ON N4X 1B2
Email: andrew@hodgesfuneralhome.ca