Value of a Funeral Viewing | Remembering A Life | NFDA
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Value of a Viewing

Woman viewing an open casket

Value of a Viewing

When a loved one dies, it is common to experience a variety of emotions, including sadness, anger and fear. It’s also very common to experience denial. Naturally, it’s difficult to imagine our lives without someone with whom we’ve spent time and created memories. As a result, we may think it will lessen the pain if we simply move on, without any ceremony, such as a funeral or memorial service. These feelings can be even more difficult to navigate if loved ones were estranged from the individual who died or had an otherwise strained relationship.

Regardless of the circumstances, it may seem like the easiest thing to do is move on as quickly as possible and avoid the emotions that often accompany a funeral. In addition, the thought of viewing the body of a family member or friend can be uncomfortable for many. That’s understandable. We’re sad because our loved one is no longer with us and it can be difficult to imagine viewing his or her lifeless body.

Often, people say they want to remember the person as they were when they were alive. By all means, this is important. However, viewing the body of a loved one helps family and friends acknowledge the loss and makes it almost impossible to deny the death has occurred. This is the first step in healing.

Viewing a body isn’t easy; however, it can play a very important role in helping loved ones move forward in their grief. There are two kinds of viewing: private and public.

A private viewing takes place in the chapel or viewing room of the funeral home. It gives a small group of family members and friends who may not be comfortable expressing their grief the opportunity to grieve in a more private setting. It can also be appropriate when a loved one dies following a debilitating disease or a traumatic accident, making the family less inclined to have an open casket.

A public viewing gives extended family and friends the opportunity to gather, in a shared environment, begin to acknowledge the loss and take the first steps in moving forward. It also allows the family to share in this communal experience so they don’t feel alone and isolated in their loss. Public viewings may be held at the funeral home, a church, a chapel in a nursing home and sometimes a high school, especially if many mourners are expected. A funeral director can provide you with options.

Embalming is not always necessary, especially for a private viewing, but can create a pleasing appearance for a public viewing. Speak with your funeral director regarding requirements in your state.

What to Expect When Viewing A Body

Viewing the body of a loved one is something most of us will only do a few times in our lives. It is common to have a variety of emotions, including anxiety, sadness, anger or disbelief. Your emotions may be different from those of others who have joined you for the viewing and that’s okay.

Depending on the circumstances, you may want to ask your funeral director what to expect before you go into the viewing room, especially if your loved one experienced traumatic injury. Being prepared will set expectations for how he or she will be presented, positioned and dressed.

When some people see the body of their loved one, they remark that he or she doesn’t look as they remember. This is common because a person who has died will of course never look exactly as they did while alive. Therefore, it’s important to set expectations for yourself that your loved one won’t look exactly as you knew him or her. Others may comment that the person actually looks better than they had, especially if the individual had been gravely ill for a long time. Through embalming, a funeral director can often carefully create a pleasing appearance that is comforting to loved ones, even when the individual had significant injuries or had become very frail.

Children and Viewing

The decision regarding whether children should view the body of a loved one can be a difficult one for some parents and guardians. Parents of course know their children best and the ultimate decision rests with the family. However, being honest with children about death is crucial in preparing them to deal with the grief that will come. While there may be instances when it’s not advisable for children to view the body, when it is an option, a viewing can be very important in allowing them to move forward in a healthy way, just as it is for adults.

More Information About Youth and Funerals

Viewing and Cremation

Families that choose cremation have many options and much flexibility when determining how to best memorialize the life of their loved one. This can include a public or private viewing before the cremation takes place. If you decide to have a public viewing, speak with your funeral director regarding options for a cremation or rental casket.

A Viewing Following a Tragic or Violent Death

When a loved one dies tragically, such as by overdose or suicide, the loss can be particularly difficult and traumatic. It can be tempting to move on quickly, without a viewing or funeral. The cause of death, however, shouldn’t dissuade the family from having a funeral and offering family and friends an opportunity to view the body of their loved one.

Sometimes the decision to have a viewing can be a difficult one, especially if there were significant injuries or the individual’s physical appearance was significantly affected by addiction or illness. A funeral director can guide you in the options available to you through reconstruction and embalming and you can make the decision regarding whether you would like to have a viewing, either private or public.

There are times when a funeral director will advise against having a viewing of the body. In some instances, he or she may give you the option of holding a hand or touching a foot. Doing so can help a parent, sibling, other relative or friend acknowledge the loss. This can be very therapeutic and liberating as it relates to their grief.

A funeral in these circumstances also provides you with the opportunity to bring attention to a specific cause (suicide, addiction, etc.) and encourage open discussion about the issue and how it has elevated the grief experienced by loved ones. This is, of course a very personal decision.