Can You Have a Viewing Before Cremation?

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It has become more common for people to request viewing the body of a loved one before cremation. If you are curious about it as well, consider all the options you may have in front of you when planning a funeral service for your loved one.

Jump ahead to these sections:

Some options such as witnessing a loved one’s cremation may not be available in your area. But before you decide on a particular type of service, check with the funeral home or cremation centers in your area to see what you do have available to you.

Tip: After you receive your loved one's ashes back, you might not know what to do with them. Of course, you can scatter them, bury them, or keep them in an urn. Or you could transform them into something unique, like a cremation diamond with Eterneva or a set of cremation stones with Parting Stone

Is a Viewing Allowed Before Cremation?

Yes, a viewing is allowed before cremation. Let’s discuss some of the most common options for seeing your loved one’s body for the last time.

Viewing before direct cremation

One of the most economical funeral practices is direct cremation. Here’s how it typically works:

Once a person dies, close family members either gather at the site of death or the crematorium. Once there, they are given the opportunity to see their loved one’s body one last time. 

Some cremation centers have viewing rooms for this specific reason. They allow small groups to view the body before being prepared for cremation. The body is not embalmed or presented in such a way that you may be used to seeing during an open-casket visitation. In fact, the body may still be dressed in the clothes the person was wearing at the time of death. 

Once the family has said their goodbyes and the proper paperwork is completed, the body is cremated. 

Direct cremation is less expensive because the body is not embalmed. Even though a cremation casket must be purchased, it is less costly than a regular casket. There are no additional costs involved with transporting the body to the site of the funeral or the cemetery, and paying for an eternal resting place for a cremation urn is typically less expensive than purchasing a cemetery plot.

Hosting a viewing (or visitation) before the body is cremated

Perhaps you wish to allow extended family members and friends the opportunity to view your loved one before their body is cremated. If this is your desire, you can have an open-casket visitation or funeral. Here’s what typically happens in this scenario.

The body is embalmed, and the funeral home staff dresses the body, applies makeup, and styles the hair. The body is placed in a half-couch casket that has a lid where the top half is open. Some funeral homes allow family members to purchase a less-expensive cremation casket to be placed inside a rented standard casket for such an occasion.

During a typical visitation, the top half of the casket is opened, and guests are given the opportunity to view the body and express condolences to the family. 

Some families forgo the visitation but may have the casket open during a funeral viewing, which is often held before the formal funeral service. Once the services are complete, the family may have one last opportunity to view the body and say goodbye before the body is cremated.

Viewing the cremation

In some facilities, the family is able to watch as the cremation takes place. This isn’t as traumatic as you would think. However, it can be a bit unsettling if you are unsure of how the cremation process works. 

The body is first placed inside a cremation casket before entering the crematorium. In some facilities, family members are able to decorate the casket with drawings, notes, and signatures.

Then, the family may be ushered into a comfortable viewing room. The staff loads the casket into a retort, a concrete chamber lined with stainless steel. This is where the actual cremation process takes place.

Some crematoriums provide family members with a button to seal the machine. Others do not have this option available. Once the casket is inside the retort and the door is sealed, there is not much else for the family to see. You are not able to see inside the retort when the actual cremation takes place. 

The cremation process is rather lengthy. In fact, it can take up to four hours. Most families do not stay the entire time (and some crematoriums give the families a limited amount of time to remain in the viewing room).

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Tips for Planning a Viewing Before Cremation

There’s a lot that goes into planning any type of end-of-life service. People are influenced by customs in their area, religious beliefs, family traditions, and budget. All of these play a role in what type of funeral you may wish for yourself or plan for your loved one.

Here are some tips for planning a viewing before the body is cremated. 

Think about the wishes of your loved one

If your loved one suffered from a long illness or lived a long life, perhaps they did some end-of-life planning. During such a conversation, they may have expressed wishes to have or not have an open-casket visitation. Some people don’t care what happens after they die.

Many families feel comforted knowing that their loved one’s final wishes were fulfilled. However, it is good to remember that funerals are for the living. They are events where your entire support system is gathered in one place to express condolences. 

Try to come to a consensus among the members of the immediate family

You may feel that spending the extra money to have your mom embalmed and presented at an open-casket funeral is wasteful.

Try to think about how your sibling who lives across the country might feel if they are not able to view your mother’s body before it is cremated. When it comes to your loved one’s funeral, there are no do-overs. Careful consideration must be made for every decision.

Talk with your religious leader

Some faith groups do not support cremation. Others have guidelines on how the body is to be presented and dressed for burial. Even if you do not have a particular religious preference, your deceased loved one may have had one.

Consider having a visitation without the body

You do not have to have a body present to have a “visitation” before the funeral. A visitation is a time when friends, extended family members, and the community “visits” the family — not the deceased. 

Many families who choose direct cremation for their loved ones still host an event and decorate the space with photos of their loved one during happy times. If you already have possession of the cremated remains, you may choose to have an urn present during the visitation. 

Think about the condition of the body before you choose to have a public visitation or viewing

There are some scenarios when an open-casket viewing before burial or cremation may not be possible. If the deceased’s body was not cared for immediately after the death, it may not be in a state that would be appropriate for viewing. If a full autopsy was performed on the body, an open-casket visitation or viewing before cremation might not be possible. 

Even if the body is intact, a prolonged illness may have drastically changed the appearance. Some families may choose to have people remember their loved ones as they looked at the healthiest point of their lives. 

Ask the advice of the funeral home director before you make this decision. A respectable funeral director will have the family’s best interests in mind and will advise families not to view the body if they think it would be an unpleasant experience. 

Consider your budget before deciding whether or not to have a viewing

Few people want to talk about money when mourning the loss of a loved one, but if you have a finite amount of funds to spend on a funeral, you need to consider how the money will be spent.

This is difficult for many people because they may want to “spare no expense” to give a proper goodbye to someone they loved. Unfortunately, they may regret those decisions when they face the reality of a large bill after the funeral services are completed. 

Making Decisions About Your Loved One’s Funeral Can Be Difficult

While we have attempted to give you many ideas regarding the viewing of a body before cremation, we may have made it more difficult for you to make a decision. After all, we have given you examples of many different scenarios that might be appropriate for your situation.

We know how hard it is to make end-of-life decisions for your loved one. That’s why we encourage everyone to create a funeral plan and share it with others.

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