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Caskets- Open or No?

Moms View Message Board: General Discussion: Archive February 2008: Caskets- Open or No?
By Ilovetom on Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 08:33 am:

So, a very dear friend passed away after a long battle with cancer. She had fought it since our girls started 1st grade. We live in a small town. There will be 22 when they graduate in May. She fought 12 long years. So- she went to the Bahamas as a last ditch effort for treatment and died there last Saturday.

Last night her husband and children received friends. It was tough. I guess we could all put ourselves there.

The question is- it has bothered me this morning because Pam was so cute- even with a wig on or a scarf she was always pretty.

She weighed under 70 pounds and they had her casket open.

I say- don't you dare do that to me.

What do you say? Open or closed?

By Colette on Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 08:40 am:

No casket, cremation for us. I do not want my kids to see that. The urn goes where the casket goes and it's all decorated with flowers and wreaths etc. After having to do two funerals in the last year for each of dh's parents this is definitely the way to go for us.

By Sunny on Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 09:05 am:

The only closed casket service I've ever been to was when the deceased was too badly injured (motorcycle accident) to be made "presentable". Even then the family toyed with the idea of covering his head injuries with his helmet and still having an open casket.

The open casket is so family and friends can see the person one last time and say goodbye. It is at the discretion of the family, isn't it? Maybe your friend's family needed to see her one more time to accept the finality of it all. I won't say I have a preference, but I do appreciate being able to "see" the person one more time before they are gone from me forever. I would guess that most people who choose an open casket feel the same way.

I'm sorry for the loss of your friend. :(

By Angellew on Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 09:07 am:

I have to agree with Colette. But a lot of people have been surprised by my family's decisions when it came to death. I am from a large Italian family, in a large Italian community, where wakes, with open caskets are the "norm". Our neighborhood even had "professional mourners"... the little old women, who lost their husbands decades ago and still wear all black and don't speak english. They go to all wakes and funerals, whether they knew the person or not! We, my family, are fully against the whole open casket thing. We cremate and have a church service and a reception, for better lack of a word, at a house or hall afterward. We have beautiful pictures of the person and we try for it not to be a horrible sad event. We try to remember the person alive! I think that is so much better than your last memory being of them in a casket.

By Colette on Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 09:24 am:

I also wanted to add, that up until we lost my in-laws, I always thought I would do an open casket, that's how it was always done in my family, but when the awful reality of the death of someone you loved happens, your thinking can change, and the very last thing dh and I wanted to see was that and I know my inlaws would not have wanted my kids to see them like that.

I recently had to go to another wake at the same funeral home where it was open casket, and it just confirmed our decision.

By Longaboo on Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 09:47 am:

I have been to both kinds of services. When you see them laying there it finalizes it for you, if you don't then it's like they have gone away but you don't feel that finality like you do when you see them. I had a best friend who's father passed away and before he could see his Dad the sisters had him cremated and he never got to see his dad dead, he said it was like he had trouble believing if he really died or not. But had he seen him...he would have that peace. Just make sure that person would want that. I have even been where they laid them the opposite direction because of injury. I say unless they are completely disfigured, open. It helps to finalize it, for everyone.

By Bemerry84 on Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 10:29 am:

I have mixed emotions on this but I do believe it's the decision of the person that died and the family. Every instance is different. A couple weeks ago a friend of mine died of ovarian cancer and in her last couple weeks of life did not accept any visitors except for family, she did not want anyone seeing her like that, in severe pain and bloated to twice her size. At her wishes she was cremated and visitation was one hour before the funeral. Her remains were present in the urn and it was set up like a casket with the floor lamps on each side along with very few flowers. Her boys had made posters of her life for viewing. I have to say in this case it was the right decision but I didn't feel that way until I actually arrived at the funeral home.

By Ginny~moderator on Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 11:13 am:

Personal decision - cremation, memorial service, remains in a niche in the Columbarium at my church. For anyone else it is their or their family's decision. I would, however, think carefully before taking a young child to a funeral or viewing with open casket.

By Marie on Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 11:30 am:

closed for me as a young child I went to my grandpas funeral and his was open as a young child thats all I really remember about my grandpa just lying there. Usually when we go to a funeral and they have an open casket we will excuse ourselfs before the viewing. I just want to remember them the way they were not lying in a casket.

By Vicki on Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 12:01 pm:

I think it is a personal decision that either the family makes, or maybe the person that dies expressed a wish.

When my mom died, we had a closed casket. With her illness, she was on medication that made her gain a lot of weight. She was so bothered by it that the last few months, she wouldn't even go to the store because she didn't want to run into people.

Even though it wasn't discussed, when she died after having her surgery, I just knew she would not want all the people coming to see her for the last time as big as she was. I mentioned that feeling to my brother and dad and we all agreed to close the casket. Her immediate family and close friends came to the funeral home about 30 minutes before the calling hours and we had the casket open for those that wanted to see her and say good bye. We then left the room and they closed the casket before the open calling hours. We had tons of pictures around the room of her from times that she looked like herself.

Other members of my family have had open caskets. DD had a classmate pass away in 4th grade. They had calling hours with her in the casket and she was positioned on her belly with her little arms folded and her face resting on her hands and just looked like a little angel. After the service, she was cremated. I was happy to have that last time to see her and her looking so peaceful.

I don't think there is a right or wrong way to do it. Very personal thing.

By Karen~admin on Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 01:18 pm:

DH and I have chosen cremation, and it is in writing, and the kids know what we want. It was the same with my mom. DH's parents, however, wanted the open casket, viewing, funeral, graveside stuff, the whole package.

I think it's an individual, personal decision that each person has the right to make, whether or not we agree with their choice. I also feel that, if it bothers you to see a friend or loved one in an open casket, then you are certainly within your rights to say your final goodbye *from a distance*. I certainly don't feel than ANYone should be obligated to view someone in death, if they don't want to. Just as the decision to have an open casket is a personal choice, so is the decision to view, or not to view a person in that setting.

Note to *all* of us - make sure your families know what YOU want!

By Crystal915 on Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 03:30 pm:

Closed casket. I want to be cremated, but when my cousin's baby died they had an open casket, which traumatized me as a teenager, and when my great-grandmother died she was unrecognizable from weight loss, again, traumatizing to me even as an adult.

By Karen~admin on Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 05:57 pm:

Crystal(& others)- my dad was ill for years before he died - he had severe asthma & pulmonary issues - and I (and anyone else who was present) said then, and still say, that he was made to look so much better in death, than he actually looked in life during the last year of his life. He had lost so much weight - @ 6'-3" tall, he weighed something like 160 lbs - so he was gaunt and pale. He was made up to look *healthy*, and though I know *this* is certainly/probably an exception, it was nice to remember him looking the way he did then - it was as if he was just taking a nap.

I know too many people who were traumatized at a young age, after being forced to view a dead family member in the casket, and that trauma is sometimes a life-long thing.

By Bellajoe on Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 06:47 pm:

I was at a funeral recently where they had an open casket. But what really really made me mad was that the man wanted a closed casket. He told his wife that he wanted a closed casket. But they had it open anyway because the funeral director told them that it was up to the family and what the family wanted. I didn't know the man well but it still bothers me that they did not grant his last wish.

I keep telling my dh that I want to be cremated. The thought of being put into a box and buried really bothers me.
Now of course he says "and being burned doesn't?"
No, i'd like to be cremated and my ashes spread somewhere beautiful. It's not like it's me at that point anyway, i'll be in heaven (hopefully :) )

By Nicki on Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 06:51 pm:

I agree with it being an individual decision. I lost a sibling and was the only person in my family that chose not to view his body. I chose to remember him as he was years before his death, healthy and happy. I have never regretted my decision.

One thing that is really important to me is respecting the wishes of the deceased in regards to a viewing. I, too, choose cremation, but for those who don't, I hope their wishes are respected. Someone told me once that the viewing and the funeral are for those left and grieving, but I feel it's important to respect the person who has passed on as well. I feel strongly enough about it, that if it isn't clarified in one's will, I would hope a viewing would not take place.

Mary and Ilovetom, I'm very sorry about the recent loss of your friends.

By Karen~admin on Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 07:07 pm:

OOPS - Forgot to say, I am sorry, as well.

And I totally ditto Nicki.

My mom always said she didn't want to be *stared at while imprisoned in a box* (her words, not mine) - A) she was claustrophobic in life, B) she had definite feelings and opinions about open casket, etc. She spoke frankly and openly about this with me and my sisters. When she died in 2005, I had already purchased the pre-need package for her which included cremation. My uncle had a hissy fit. He was TOTALLY against it. We told him it was Mom's wishes, which, of course, he claimed he had never heard. He fought us tooth and nail, and ultimately, he had no say in the matter, but there WAS an issue of appeasing the grieving sibling as well. We stood firm and gave my mom what she said she wanted.

By Bellajoe on Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 07:49 pm:

I'm sorry too :( It sounds like she hung in there and fought for a long time.

By Hol on Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 11:13 pm:

I am so sorry about your friend. We have had both types of services in our family. My Dad suffered for many years with cancer, and when he passed, it was my Mom's decision to have the casket closed. He was a veteran, so we had the flag over the casket during the wake. The funeral director opened it for us, the family, after the calling hours were over so we could say good bye. He actually looked "good" and could have been shown. They did such a nice job with make-up, etc, that he looked "better" than he had in years. I felt badly that it was closed because men that had served with my Dad in the military forty years before, had seen his obituary in the newspaper and came to show their respect. Many were very elderly and walking with canes, so it took a lot of effort for them to attend. I felt badly that they didn't get to see him one more time.

When my DS Danny passed away, we had an open casket. He was laid out in his Air Force uniform because he was embalmed by the military. It took a week for us to get his body, and he had had an autopsy, so he didn't look that "good". However, my daughter-in-law wanted an open casket, and, as hard as it was to sit for three hours looking at him, it helped us all with closure.

My mother-in-law also suffered a long time with cancer and it was her wish not to have a showing. She just wanted to be pronounced dead and taken to the crematorium. No embalming. It was mostly because she was estranged from her daughter and she didn't want any hypocrites coming to mourn over her, who didn't bother with her in life. However, my father-in-law was having such a hard time with it all, DH and I decided to have her embalmed and dressed and have a private showing just for us, our kids, and FIL. Again, they did such a nice job. She looked beautiful and my FIL kept looking at her, and holding her hand, and kissing her. DH and I felt that he needed to see her looking pretty one more time. He was very grateful. We also had a minister who came to the funeral home and we had a little service. It seemed too cold to just take her away as she had requested. Of course, wouldn't you know it...? The newspaper put the obituary in too soon, and DH's sister showed up and sat in the back weeping loudly. It was very disturbing.

DH and I would like to have open casket wakes for the sake of closure for our kids. We bought our plots next to Danny's grave, so we will be buried there. Before Dan died, DH wanted us to be buried in the military cemetary. We didn't put Dan there, because we buried him with my Dad, and my Mom didn't like the veteran's cemetary for Dad. I want "happy" songs played at my funeral, and Easter hymns because I know where I am going and I don't want anybody to be sad.

I have also been to services with an urn of ashes and a picture of the deceased, but there was no sense of finality to it. IMO.

By Hol on Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 11:15 pm:

Ginny - I agree with you whole heartedly about taking children to a wake. They don't understand, and it could be frightening for years to come.

By Bobbie~moderatr on Friday, February 22, 2008 - 07:45 am:

I am in the "No casket, cremation for us." group. I also do not agree with taking a child to a funeral/wake.. My opinions on all this are pretty Jaded. However, I will keep them to myself, and just say "to each his own".

By Kaye on Friday, February 22, 2008 - 08:37 am:

I haven't closely read all the responses. But I will add that for me it can go either way. I personally don't like having to see dead bodies and avoid them at all costs. That being said, when my mother died, I wasn't at her bedside. We did a closed casket, but just prior to the funeral, I made the funeral director open the box for me. It was horrible, she looked horrible. But in the end, I knew that I needed to know she was really dead and the right body was in the box. For the next year I had vivid dreams of her still being alive and seeing her really helped me maintain a little bit of sanity. After a couple of years I could no longer picture what she really looked like. When I conjure up that image, I see my perfect mother asleep in her (very expensive) coffin. Not the pretty grotesque sight that I had seen, I can't even get a visual in my head of that anymore (thankfully).

So I think with close family members, they do need to be allowed to see the body, if they so choose. Even with creamation, there are ways to do this. But they have to ask.

As far as their last wishes. You know in reality, your lost loved one would want you to be consoled, in whatever that if for you. And really unless you have been there, you don't know.

Coffins, I will say the very hardest thing of my mothers funeral was picking out a box. You could pick songs she loved, a speaker who would say great things. But really have any of us said, oh yeah that is the box I want to be in. I know there are people who prepay funerals. But at young ages we just don't go there. I ended up spending way way too much money on a casket because it was so hard to decide which box and I kept thinking what would she pick. Crazy hard.

My dad is choosing creamation. I will do whatever my husband and children decide.

On a lighter note, my husband's grandmother preplanned her whole funeral, songs and all. Her final song was "i did it my way" frank sinatra style.

By Ilovetom on Friday, February 22, 2008 - 01:38 pm:

Thank ya'll for responding and all the thoughts. I agree cremation maybe good for me too. We must do wills soon I know.

Pam was awesome. That is the only way to describe her and I am so glad to have known her.

By Ginny~moderator on Friday, February 22, 2008 - 07:08 pm:

Ilovetom - putting your funeral plans in your will doesn't do much good. Your will is not read until some time after all services have taken place. What you need to do is talk it over with your family, so that everyone knows what your wishes are and why, and then write a separate letter kept in an envelope with your important papers - labeled FINAL PLANS or AFTER I HAVE DIED - setting out in detail what you want done.

I chose cremation because, frankly, in the end it costs less. The preparation for burial required by laws in every state is expensive. When my brother died in South Carolina, we wanted his cremated remains here, because my parents were still alive and I live here. There was only one crematorium in the area, and as I recall the cost was around $2,500 for cremation, placing in a container, and packaging for shipping to PA by FedEx. When my dad died a few years later, I had previously joined a "funeral society" which has contracts with many funeral homes in the area, and that cremation only cost around $1,000 including the container. My church has an area off the second floor balcony in which we had niches built, and the cost of niche is $250 (about to go up, I think, because we have to build a new set of niches). So my brother is in one niche, mom and dad are in another, and I will be in a third. At $250 each plus the cost of having a small plate engraved, that is a *lot* less than the cost of a burial plot, casket, opening and closing the burial plot, and any headstone or plaque.

We had beautiful memorial services at my church for my brother, my dad and my mom. We scheduled them a few weeks after each death so that the person who had to make the arrangements (me) had some time to recover and begin to deal with details, and so that family members and friends could make travel plans. When I planned the services, I picked scripture and hymns that reflected each person. And I have been developing a list of hymns and scripture I want at my own (eventual) memorial service.

My parents' reasoning was that they did not want to burden their families with costs, believing that at death the person is gone and what remains is "clay". I agree with that thinking.

But, in most states, the law is that the nearest family member makes those decisions. So whatever plans you make, it is that person, or your actual heir, who will actually make the decisions. That's why it is good to talk things out ahead of time so that the person who will be making the decisions knows what your wishes are.

By Karen~admin on Saturday, February 23, 2008 - 10:30 am:

Ginny's right about not putting the plans in your will.

DH and I have Living Wills, DNR's, etc., and that information is included with/attached to those. Having it *in writing* is, IMO, another way of safeguarding your desires, but your immediate family members/person who is your designee to handle these things in the event of your death needs to be aware of what you want.

And, purchasing a pre-need *policy* will help with that. You can purchase pre-needs that include anything you desire - from the most bare-bones basic funeral to the most elaborate one, but you can also purchase them with cremation specified and that's what I did for my mom.

By Bellajoe on Saturday, February 23, 2008 - 06:58 pm:

My grandmother was cremated. However, before she was cremated there was a mass, with her, in an open casket in the foyer area of the church. Then everyone went into the church, they closed the casket and brought it into the church, and we had a mass. Afterwards their was a sort of reception. And then sometime later she was cremated.

By Longaboo on Monday, February 25, 2008 - 01:40 pm:

I really think it's personal preference and each family is different. People avoid talking about death like that is going to prolong it or something. I think it's a matter of how you are raised. I went to open casket funerals as a very young child and was never traumatized over it, it was just a part of life. My parents always made a point to teach me that the body is just a shell, and their spirit went on to be with the Lord. What is more important than death itself is to make sure you know where your going to spend eternity. As long as your a believer in God and accept that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world, then the soul never dies, the bible tells us this, it's God's promise to us if we accept him as our savior. There are no second chances after death. And that empty shell is what it is...the real spirit is the soul, not what is laying in the casket.

By Reds9298 on Monday, February 25, 2008 - 02:52 pm:

Definitely a personal preference. I've only been to closed casket cermonies when there has been major trauma to the body, but it's definitely a personal choice.

I would like to be cremated at the time of my death, but I prefer for the ashes to be scattered at a specific location. I don't want them in an urn, but that is also a personal choice. DH knows my wishes and will hopefully carry them out.

I'm very sorry for your loss.

By Ginny~moderator on Monday, February 25, 2008 - 06:31 pm:

Pre-Need policies or plans. AARP advises against that. This article, R.I.P. Off, details how things can go wrong with pre-paid plans. pre-paid

What the author of this article recommends, in responding to a letter in the next issue of the AARP magazine, is a "Totten Trust" (whatever that is), or a "pay on death" account at your bank or investment company. The author says "There are may honest, reliable funeral companies that safeguard their customer's money. But many don't. Even if your money is seure now, you neve know whether your funeral dirctor wil sell the business to someone less trustworthy." Read the article before you invest in a pre-paid plan.

By Eve on Tuesday, February 26, 2008 - 12:56 pm:

This is such an interesting thread! So many different views--I guess it is a personal decision.

For us, we have always taken DD to wakes and funerals. Actually, it was our pediatrician who thought it would be a good idea to include her and to deal with DD's feeling of grief and loss. (When she was very young, we lost my grandfather...well, I lost 2 grandfathers and my grandmother and my stepfather all in the same 2 year period.) We brought her along and the experience seemed to be only positive for her.

Recently we went to a wake for a long time close family friend of my huband's. My DD went and she went up to the open casket with my DH and said a prayer. (It's also a good experience for her to see a man cry.)She even commented "Oh look, Terry has her eagles in there; she would have liked that." She was 5 maybe? She was very gracious and even said kind words to the family that was there. So, for us, it's been a valuable lesson for our girl.

I think I still want to be cremated, but there is something about really feeling closure when you see someone. I even asked to see my Grandfather when it was a closed casket. I just wanted to see him and know he was really gone. The same with my grandmother. I was also really, really lucky to be at the hospital when my grandfather died, and I was able to sit with him and let it sink in.

So personal, but so important to talk about! Thanks for bringing this up.

By Karen~admin on Tuesday, February 26, 2008 - 02:33 pm:

RE: pre-need plans: The only experience I personally have with this is purchasing it for my mom, maybe a month before she actually passed away. It was basically a pre-paid plan with the same reputable funeral home our family and many friends have used for many years. Our choice was cremation, so it covered that, the room for viewing (or in our case, visitation), the chapel for a service - or, in our case, a *remembrance ceremony*, they took care of picking up her body from hospice, we met with them once she died and agreed upon the wording of her death notice, etc., gave them a photo to use and some other things we wanted placed in the visitation room, and they took care of that, as well as getting me 10 copies of her death certificate. For us, at the time, it was a Godsend - but there was really no time between purchasing the plan and actually using it, so things went exactly as planned.

My inlaws had a pre-paid/pre-need plan in FL. They had purchased it many years ago. They were Jewish and the plan included the caskets which they previously picked out, the visitation and the funeral ceremony at the temple which they also picked out (which, I might add, were two of the most moving funerals I've ever attended). Also included were the limos for the family/transport to and from the funeral and the cemetary.

I don't know how other pre-need/pre-paid plans work, but for our family members, having one that was purchased a month before death, and two others purchased many years before death, everything was included and went according to plan.

Regarding closure - for ME, if given the opportunity, I get closure while the person is still living. Obviously, with my mom and MIL, that was possible, since they were both in hospice. With my dad, it totally was not, 18 years ago he passed away suddenly after an illness. With my FIL in 2005, we had just been with him 3 days prior to his death, and we knew he was sick and it was obvious his time was short and we knew there was a real probability that it was the last time we'd see him living. I think he knew it as well, and he, DH and I pretty much said what needed to be said then.

I am not minimizing the shock and need for acceptance when you lose someone, nor am I minimizing the need for closure. I understand that for many - maybe even MOST - people, seeing someone after death/at a funeral gives them closure, and I support that; after all, we each grieve and make our peace differently.

Maybe I'm the exception rather than the rule. LOL

By Bobbie~moderatr on Tuesday, February 26, 2008 - 04:32 pm:

Not and exception, I feel the same way. I can't believe your FIL passed in 2005, they all seem so recent..

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