Losing a Loved One: Should I Hold a Public Viewing?
When a loved one dies, there are many different considerations that go into funeral planning. Cremation or burial? Which cemetery to choose? What kind of casket? Who should oversee the funeral? When should we hold it?
If you do end up choosing burial, then you will also need to decide whether or not you want to hold a public viewing of the deceased. The practice of a public viewing, once the most common way to memorialize a loved one, is no longer universally done. Many modern families prefer a closed-casket approach or forgo having the body present at all in order to hold a memorial service at a more convenient time.
What is a Public Viewing?
During a public viewing, the body of the deceased (which will usually have been embalmed and cosmetically prepared by the funeral home) is put on display inside the casket. The casket is then put out so that family, friends, and community members can come say their final goodbyes. In some cases, this viewing takes place the day before a funeral during a special visitation time; for most families, it occurs right before the funeral itself.
Why Do People Hold Public Viewings?
In the past, public viewings were simply part of the funeral process. Because most people were buried from their homes rather than through a funeral home, it made sense that the body would be laid out (usually in a parlor or other room) until it was time for burial. Visiting the family included visiting the deceased.
In our modern age, public viewings are a more conscious choice. In most cases, they are done to provide an element of closure. It can be difficult to say goodbye to a loved one—especially someone you were very close to—without actually seeing the body one last time. A public viewing provides a safe space for this to happen. This is also an opportunity for people to place items into the casket to be buried with the deceased.
When Should I Not Hold a Public Viewing?
Certain types of death make a public viewing more difficult, as there is only so much work that can be done to make a body presentable to the public. Traumatic deaths might require that the casket be at least partially closed or for no viewing to be held at all. This does not mean you cannot embalm the body or have your own private moment to say goodbye—just that you might not want to invite others to share in this process.
Public viewings also come with extra costs. Because the body will have to be embalmed, dressed, and prepared, the funeral home will charge for these services. So too may they charge for the extra use of their rooms or for coordinating the viewing before the funeral.
Is a Public Viewing Right for My Family?
The most important question to ask yourself is what the deceased would have wanted. Once you take their wishes into account, consider the additional costs, who would attend the viewing, the emotional toll the viewing will have on the family, and whether or not it is culturally relevant to your way of life.
You should also talk with your funeral director to get a better idea of the specifics. They may have thoughts or ideas about how you can make a viewing special—or about alternatives that will provide the closure you need in a different way.