When To Have An Open Casket (Drowning, Gunshot, Organ Donor)


Unfortunately, the time will come for us all, when our lives come to an end. Sometimes there can be situations where this passing was rather violent and destructive to the remains.

If a persons’ death was gruesome and the body doesn’t look pleasant, what are the proper precautions at the funeral? How do you respect the dead as well as keep the guests at the funeral comfortable?

Having an open casket funeral for someone is an important decision with many things to consider. This decision will depend largely on the condition of the body if it is appropriate to have the casket open. Also, it will vary based on the religion of the person and the wishes of the family.

At times traditions, pre-planned wishes and practicality will all clash and it’s down to you, the person planning the funeral to take the final decision. Opting for an open casket isn’t a foregone conclusion, and there definitely is more to this choice than what we’ve already discussed.

In this article, I will cover some sensitive but necessary topics when dealing with the issue of when to have an open casket.

Affordable caskets from Titan Caskets

Why do people have an open casket?

At first, it seems like it might be a bit disturbing or maybe even just strange to have an open casket at a funeral when people are there to pay their last respects. However, if you have been to a few funerals, you will see open caskets quite frequently.

A major reason why somebody would prefer an open casket for their deceased loved one is that it could provide a greater sense of closure for the people attending the funeral. Having an open casket gives an opportunity for the people in attendance to have one last look at the person or perhaps say a few words of their own in closing.

If the funeral home has done a good job and dressed the deceased well and brought the body to a decent standard (deceased people are not pleasant to look at without some help), the friends and family of the person are able to see that the person is at peace. While of course, this is just a case of a good makeup artist, in the eye of somebody that is grieving it can make all the difference.

The biggest question you have to ask here is, is the person in good enough condition to be looked at by the people they loved? This would certainly not be the case if the person had a bad head injury or something of that nature. It is very important to be visually pleasing to a grieving audience in this case.

Where do open-casket funerals take place?

If you are not a frequent funeral attendee, hopefully, you are not, then it might seem strange to see an open casket with the dead person exposed for all to see. However, this is a very common practice throughout the United States and it is important to do so for many people.

In the US open casket funerals or viewings will take place inside of the funeral home that is handling the burial. This process can vary greatly for many reasons but mainly depending on the religion of the person being buried or cremated. (Different religious processes will be covered in greater depth elsewhere in this article).

A viewing or open-casket funeral will also be held inside of a church instead of a funeral home. This is usually because of the religion of the person and the community church will usually want to take part in the final proceedings of the person’s life.

Can you have an open casket for someone who has died via……?

Unfortunately, there are circumstances that might make it impossible or highly uncomfortable for somebody to have an open-casket funeral. This could be due to many reasons be them religious purposes (covered in more detail in another part of this article), or due to the physical state of the body. Here are a few possibilities:

Drowning:

If someone has drowned their body will look somewhat bloated. This is especially true if the accident happened with no immediate attempt to save the victiù. The swelling is because the person will have likely been floating in water for an extended period of time after their death.

This causes them to take on a lot of water and they will even weigh much more than they did before due to the extra water weight. Sometimes the excess weight can be so much, that it will even cause trouble for the people fishing the body out of the water.

Given this new condition of the body, post-mortem, it will look very different and bloated compared to when the person was alive. Since it is so different it is NOT recommended that this person should have an open casket. The body may be too grotesque for the attendees to look at in this state.

Something extra to keep in mind, in the case of a drowning-death, is that in these cases an autopsy is almost always necessary. This will delay the processes of the funeral home significantly and the body will be in even worse condition than normal.

Gun-Shot

If a person dies via gunshot, it will be a little more obvious if it will appropriate to have an open-casket funeral. Keeping in mind, the attendees of the funeral will need to be kept as comfortable as possible, especially in this situation where the family and friends will be grieving even more than usual given the sudden cause of death.

The gun-shot wound will need to be somewhere below the neck, not visible if the person were to be dressed if they are going to have a clean looking presentation at their open-casket funeral. For obvious reasons, if the gunshot is anywhere from the neck up it would be highly recommended for the person to have a closed casket.

In the rare instance, but it does happen, that the gunshot has come out somewhere in the back of the head and is not visible in the face; then the funeral home should be able to clean up the body well enough for an open casket.

Organ Donor

In these cases, the family can feel good about the fact that the deceased has helped many others live because of their death. More of us should follow suit, and you can find out more here.

Luckily, in this case, the wounds of the person will have been done surgically in a large X pattern from their shoulders to pelvis. This gives the surgeons access to all of the vital organs without causing damage to the neck and face. This makes it a prime candidate for an open casket funeral.

However, be aware that there are additional body parts that can be donated nowadays beyond internal organs. Cornea and skin are also in desperate demand, so check with the doctors performing the procedure to double check whether an open casket is really an option.

Burn victim

When a person has been badly burned, there can be several different outcomes as to the condition of the and whether it would be fit for an open casket funeral.

It is not uncommon for many burn victims who have died in a house fire to die from internal burns to their lungs from inhaling hot flames or smoke. In this case, the person might be in good enough condition to be shown to a congregation at their funeral.

Sadly, in the case, that the person was burned to death by the flames, they need to be kept in a pouch during the funeral proceedings and also need to have embalming done to help with the smell of the decaying, burned flesh.

Sometimes even special powders and a rubber-seal on the casket are necessary to keep the odor from becoming too unpleasant. For more details, you can check out this article. Someone that has died in this manner would certainly not be eligible for an open casket.

Are open casket funerals more expensive/longer?

When considering an open casket funeral there are going to be several extra things that the funeral home will need to do vs. a closed casket. Having the person look visually appealing during this ceremony is very important as you do not want their loved ones to remember them in an unpleasant way.

These extra steps will include, embalming (so the body won’t start to decay too quickly), dressing the body, makeup, and even styling the hair of the person. Anything that would be needed to make the dead person look appealing to the attendees of the funeral or viewing is done.

Given that there are so many extra steps involved, this is going to cost significantly more than simply a closed casket funeral. The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) conducted a survey to calculate the median cost of a funeral in the United States. The median cost was around $5000 USD for a closed casket and upwards of $8800 USD for services with an open casket.

For more details and specifications on these numbers and a list of things needed to be paid for, you can look here.

Do you need a special type of casket for an ‘open casket’?

The casket at any funeral will be one of the most important and expensive decisions to be made. You can get a massive variety of different sizes, styles, and qualities. Ranging from very cheap, brittle wooden boxes, to the finest polished and handcrafted comfort-vessel to welcome the after-life in style.

See my suggestions for much more affordable caskets from Titancaskets.com below

If you are planning to have an open-casket funeral, you will want to make sure that you have something that looks decent enough to have your loved one represented in a respectable way during the viewing.

Other than that most caskets will come with the half-open top that is required for people to view the top half of the body only. This is the most common way to hold a viewing or carry out an open casket funeral.

The average casket will cost you around $2,000 to $5,000 but can go well over $10,000 if you want to find something exceptionally nice. But remember, that’s if you buy directly from the funeral home!

For a further breakdown of these costs and the different kinds of caskets available, you can look at the following section of this article. These will help you understand which casket might be a better option for you.

Buying an open casket online

Unfortunately, funeral homes have quite a monopoly on the funeral business and really do charge much more than is needed to respectfully dispose of the deceased. Now, I don’t want to bad mouth these people as they do have a business to run and provided an excellent service

. The real issue is that grieving families who may never have had to organize a funeral don’t realize there are other much more viable options.

My friends over at Titancasket.com are just one of many sites that build and deliver high-quality caskets straight “to your door” at a fraction of the price they are sold at in funeral homes. What’s more, because of new laws in the USA, funeral homes can no longer charge you exorbitant handling fees to accept them.

Metal Open Caskets

These caskets are high quality and prices start at $999, which is half the average cost of a similar casket.You can find similar steel caskets on Titancaskets.com.

Wooden Open Caskets

Due to the more expensive material, the price on these types of caskets are slightly higher at $1,699, but they are still under the average funeral home price.

If you want a more traditional type of casket, then check out the range that Titancaskets.com has to offer.

Cloth-covered Open Caskets

Although perhaps not the first material you think of, a cloth-covered casket can be both affordable and extremely environmentally friendly. You can find out more by going to the site, Titancaskets.com, and taking advantage of the low starting price of just $699.

Military Open Caskets

If you are honoring a veteran, or just a staunch patriot, then you may wish to view the miliary range of open caskets offered by Titancaskets.com, starting at only $1,299.

How should the body be prepared and what are the costs?

No matter the condition of the body after someone’s death, there are a few procedures needed if you intend to have an open-casket funeral.

These things need to be done to keep the people in attendance comfortable while attending the service. Luckily though, the funeral home will typically be a one-stop-shop for all the necessary processes.

As the body will always be quick to decay, It is an important first step for the funeral home to embalm the body (around $700). After this, the funeral home will have a specialist (sometimes the same person as the embalmer) collect photos of the deceased person and style the hair and put make-up on the person (a dead person does not glow very nicely). Along with other preparations, such as cutting the nails or hairs and dressing the body, this will cost on average around $250.

After this, the body will be placed into the selected casket of the next-of-kins choosing and should be somewhat pleasing to the eye of the funeral attendees for their final goodbyes. You can find a further breakdown of these costs and others in this consumer reports article.

Should children go to an open casket Funeral?

If you are planning to bring a child to a funeral, especially an open casket funeral, it is very important to do an assessment of whether the child will be able to handle it. You can see my article here for even more information on making your decision

On the one hand, many children can have a wild imagination and may become very afraid of the dead person. Then there are many children that may be completely fine with the open casket.

As a general rule, it is best to air on the side of caution and keep most children from seeing the dead body. When you are attending the funeral you could have another adult take the child outside while you are paying your last respects or leave the child elsewhere while you are at the funeral.

However, if you feel that it is important for them to see the body in this way, you can start by asking the child if they are comfortable doing so. This is assuming they are already capable of sitting and reacting appropriately at regular family events already. The first step to this is to explain what a funeral is, and I have an article on this topic here if you’d find it useful.

If you are looking for further insight you could consider asking any other caretakers of the child, especially a teacher, for their input about your child’s overall character. For more professional insight you could look at other online articles like this one from Psychology Today.

What to do if you don’t want to see the deceased?

In the case that you do not want to see the deceased body, it will be important to contact the family or the funeral home and find out if the funeral will be open or closed casket.

If the funeral does happen to be open casket you could try to arrange to only attend a portion of the funeral where the body will not be visible.

Generally, as the friends and family of the deceased will want to make sure everybody has a chance to say good-bye and for the protection of the deceased, there will be some flexibility for when the body will be visible.

For the most part, the viewing of the body will happen before the funeral or the body will be visible only at the beginning, so if you do not want to see the body you could plan to arrive after these portions of the funeral have finished.

In the rare occurrence that it is not possible for you not to see the body, you could arrange a “visitation”(see the part of this article on visitation), depending on the religion and have a separate ceremony.

If you are thinking about skipping the funeral altogether because of this issue but are worried that it may be seen as rudeness, please read my article here for more details.

What part of the ceremony is the casket open?

If you have never attended a funeral, it might not be obvious at what point the body will be available for viewing and final goodbyes. Typically it will be seen at one of two points during the proceedings.

One being, before the funeral if some of the attendees are not comfortable or want to see the body; this is called a viewing. Or, two, the entire funeral before the actual burying of the body, will be held with the casket open and body available for viewing.

What is the difference between a viewing, wake, and visitation?

The funeral home will have a few different terms for the pre-funeral ceremonies. What they are called and what occurs within them will vary depending on the choices of the next-of-kin of the deceased and the religion of the person.

A “viewing” and a “wake” are generally the same. Within these ceremonies the body will be on display in a casket, either open or closed. They will take place before the funeral itself either at the funeral home, your home, or place of worship. They will have the option to be open to the public or family and friends only.

In some cultures, the “wake” will also continue after the funeral as a form of party in order to celebrate the deceased’s life.

During a “visitation” the body will always be in a closed casket or sometimes not even present at all. It will take place at the funeral home or place of worship and can even happen after the funeral has occurred, although, typically it will happen before the funeral proceedings.

What are the different procedures and restrictions for open-casket funerals and viewings based on religion?

Jewish

In the Jewish faith, there is, for the most part, no viewing or visitation of the body. Before the funeral service, the family will gather and participate in a rite known as a “keriah”. In this ritual, there is a visible piece of clothing torn, like a shirt or lapel, as a symbol of mourning. During the funeral itself, the casket will be closed.

Buddhist

Within Buddhism, the funeral and viewing is called, as it is in several other religions, a “wake”. The body will be placed in a simple casket with ordinary clothes with the casket remaining open for the duration of the wake. Typically in Buddhism, there will be chanting either performed or recorded with incense, flowers, and fruit surrounding the body. This will be done prior to the actual burial ceremony where the casket will be closed.

Catholic

In the Catholic religion, it is largely believed that when Christ returns the bodies of the dead will be resurrected. Therefore, the keeping of the bodies in this faith is quite particular and cremation is largely not supported by Catholics. Unless it is not socially or morally acceptable to hold an open casket funeral, as is outlined within this article, then there will be an open casket funeral held for Catholic people.

For Catholics, this viewing is called a Vigil. It consists of a prayer service along with the body on display for attendees. The Vigil will take place the evening before the funeral in the funeral home or at the deceased home.

Eastern Orthodox

As an Eastern Orthodox, the wake for a dead member would originally last up to three days, which is now usually only one. During this wake, the priest will perform a prayer service called a “Panikihida” and the body will remain on display until the body is brought to the church for the funeral service.

Hindu

As a Hindu, the body will be displayed in a simple inexpensive casket, “Vibuti”(ash) should be applied to the forehead of a man, and turmeric should be applied to the forehead of a woman. If the person is to be cremated a wake will be held for viewing of the body before the cremation.

If the person will be buried the casket will be open during the funeral proceedings if it is deemed acceptable. In the Hindu faith, the funeral will take place quite quickly, traditionally by the next dusk or dawn if possible.

Mormon

In the Mormon tradition, it is very common to have an open-casket viewing before the funeral service. The viewing will be held at the same place that the funeral service will be held and is open to all mourners.

At the end of the viewing, there will be time set aside for only the family and a bishop will offer a prayer, after which the family will close the casket and the funeral service will begin.

Muslim

The Muslim faith requires that a person is buried as soon as possible after death. Therefore,  there is no viewing and the preparation of the body begins immediately. The body will be washed and dressed in a rather specific manner which you can look at in more detail here.

An important note about Muslims is that cremation and autopsies are not acceptable as they are seen as a desecration of the body. If the person dies in an unknown way it is common for the family to refuse an autopsy.

Anglican

As an Anglican, the option to have an open casket is fairly neutral. The decision of whether to hold a viewing of the body before the funeral or an open casket at the funeral will be up to the family or next of kin. For the Anglican deceased, the funeral will usually be held within two to three days after the death of the person.

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