Is It Important to Have a Public Viewing Before the Funeral?

By: Shama Rhoden
Thursday, January 28, 2016

Every culture and religion has its own views on death and burial rituals. In Islam, for instance, the body must be buried as soon as possible, making it difficult or impossible to hold a public viewing, while a Catholic death almost always includes a wake and viewing before the funeral. In addition, the deceased may have specific instructions on how they wish the funeral proceed, which may include a “no viewing” clause. This article will assume you have the option of holding a public viewing.

What is a Viewing?

A viewing is the opportunity for a family and close friends to see their loved one before burial. A private viewing usually (but not always) will be held before the public viewing to give family members a chance to say goodbye before receiving their friends for the public viewing, where the body has been embalmed and is ready for burial.

Although viewings can be cathartic for some, there are select times when it may not be appropriate. The most common reason would be a death caused by an accident that has altered the appearance of the deceased. Although both the funeral home and relevant medical professionals will endeavor to repair any such damage, some injuries cannot be properly repaired. In these unfortunate cases, we would recommend you forgo a viewing.

Is a Viewing Important?

As noted earlier, different cultures hold their own opinions on viewings. Generally speaking, a viewing can provide a sense of closure, and expedite the grieving process. When death becomes real, you will be forced to grieve. You cannot argue with a body, after all. This could be especially important for mourners who have not seen the person or lost contact for an extended period.

For those same reasons, many people find the very concept of viewings disturbing or even horrifying. You should make a point of noting that the viewing be optional, giving those who do not wish to see the deceased the option to skip it.

Other Options

If a viewing is not possible, for any reason, you may hold a visitation before or after the funeral. A visitation is a small meeting for family and friends, usually with a small memorial for the deceased, such as photos or flower arrangements.

This is a smaller arrangement, and is much more manageable for some mourners. Given that it is held at a smaller location than a viewing, you have more control over who attends and can ensure a more manageable and intimate meeting.

Whichever you choose, you need to weigh the positives against the negatives before making your decision.


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