A funeral viewing can be an opportunity for mourners to view a deceased loved one’s body for the last time. When planning a funeral, including a viewing is not a mandatory element, but rather a personal choice. However, *one in four (24%) Australians say it isn’t important to see the deceased at the funeral, indicating that viewings are often unnecessary.

In this article, we answer the question, 'What is a funeral viewing' and weigh up some of the pros and cons of arranging one.

What is a funeral viewing?

A funeral viewing is where the deceased person is presented in their coffin or casket, ahead of the funeral service. The coffin or casket will be open to display the deceased person and allow close family and friends a private moment to say their final goodbyes.

Depending on the family’s wishes, a viewing can take place either at the funeral home, church, chapel, or the family home. It is sometimes held the day before the funeral service, or sometimes the same day - just before the funeral ceremony begins.

Sometimes the viewing will also involve certain rituals and traditions, like prayer, in line with the deceased person’s culture or religion. For example, on the day before a Catholic funeral, a viewing will often accompany a Rosary Mass.

Funeral viewing: pros and cons

For some people, a funeral viewing can be a helpful part of the grief journey, to process the reality and finality of death. For others, viewing a deceased person’s body can be painful or unsettling, particularly considering how they died. For those reasons, choosing whether to include a viewing as part of a funeral service - or whether to attend one arranged for a loved one - is a deeply personal decision.

In life, my father was an energetic and vibrant man until he started chemotherapy. When he lost his battle with cancer, my family arranged a viewing with a Catholic Rosary Mass the day before the funeral. I attended Mass but decided not to take that private moment with him. I wanted to remember Dad happy and healthy, rather than be reminded of the pain of his cancer battle. Two decades on, I am still at peace with my decision.

On the other hand, I chose to attend my grandmother’s viewing when she died peacefully in her 80s. I will never forget how she looked as if she was soundly sleeping. I was living interstate when she passed, so I never got a chance to say goodbye in person. Her viewing gave me that chance and the memory of my nanna at rest is something I will cherish with me always. But I know I would have had a different experience if I had attended my father’s viewing.

If affordability is a factor when planning a funeral, opting to go without a viewing could save you a fair bit of money. Embalming fees can cost around $1,000 to prepare a deceased person for the viewing. Additionally, the price of a double-lid casket is often significantly more than a single-lid coffin or casket. And finally, keep in mind that funeral directors commonly charge additional hourly fees for a viewing service, even if it is held at their funeral home.

To learn more about funeral costs, read our article, How to plan a low-cost funeral.

Caskets generally have a split lid, which allows for an open-casket viewing.
A double-lid casket allows for an open-casket viewing. They are generally more expensive than a single lid coffin or casket.

How to prepare yourself for a funeral viewing

Attending a funeral viewing is a deeply personal aspect of a loved one’s funeral service. It can be unsettling to see a deceased person’s body, particularly if they became ill or severely injured in their late stage of life.

Before attending a funeral viewing, you should first decide if it is something you are truly comfortable with. Only you can answer that for yourself, as the decision is something deeply personal.

Ask yourself if seeing your loved one’s body would bring you closure? Or will that final image retract from your memories of their life that you would prefer to remember when you think of them?

When it comes to the death of a loved one, children are often more resilient than we expect. They can feel left out if they are not given an opportunity to attend a viewing and say their goodbyes. If you are supporting a child to prepare for a loved one’s viewing, it can be helpful to explain the process to them and explain what is involved. Children can feel included by drawing a picture or writing a note that they can place in the coffin.

Can I have a viewing with a Bare Cremation?

With a Bare Cremation, viewing is not included in the arrangement. If the family prefers this option, we suggest that they spend some additional time with their loved one to say their final goodbyes before contacting us to take their loved one into our care.

Families and friends usually pay their respects at a memorial or celebration of life ceremony after the ashes have been returned. The families we have supported tell us that the absence of any coffin at the ceremony doesn’t take anything away from the loving tribute to their person.

We also offer the option to arrange a Bare Funeral in addition to a Bare Cremation. A Bare Funeral provides the option of a traditional-style farewell, where the coffin is present, or the flexibility of a memorial service, which can be scheduled whenever the family feels ready and does not require the presence of the coffin.

With a Bare Funeral, as it can be a service before the cremation takes place, it is possible to have a viewing. However, it is important to note that this option will need to be assessed as certain circumstances may prevent it from being added to the arrangement.

Remember, the ritual of viewing a deceased person’s body is a deeply personal choice. When deciding whether to include a viewing as part of a funeral service, it’s important to consider what is right for your loved one and their family.

At Bare, we can help you plan a funeral that aligns with your wishes and those of your family. If you're unsure about which option is most suitable for your preferences, our team are always just a phone call away. To find out more, visit our Bare website here, or call 1800 071 176.

*Bare Cremation’s Funeral Insights Study was conducted in July 2021, based on a sample of 850 Australians.