The Art of Life

Can you have a viewing before cremation?

Despite common misconceptions, choosing cremation does not exclude the possibility of having a viewing. Cremation, in fact, doesn’t limit any funeral options for a family with the obvious exception of burying their loved one’s body. Even then, they can still choose to bury his or her cremated remains. A private or public viewing, traditional funeral service, burial in a cemetery— These options and more remain available to everyone.

Granted, some families choose cremation for financial reasons, but a viewing is still possible for those who want it, not to mention a good idea for most people.

Author, Mitch Albom, has said, We all lose somebody we care about and want to find some comforting way of dealing with it, something that will give us a little closure, a little peace.” A viewing, if not a full service with the deceased’s body present, offers the kind of closure direct cremation can’t provide.

Though it may seem morbid, physically confronting mortality, that is, seeing a loved one’s lifeless body in a casket rather than an urn containing his or her cremated remains, is mentally and emotionally beneficial. Without it, a person’s death hardly feels real, and therefore, closure may very well elude the family. We must see death, as difficult as that can be, before many of us can accept it and begin healing.

While some form of cremation has existed for most of human history, families opting to forgo a viewing of the body is a relatively modern practice. In the past, the deceased person often laid in the family’s living room for several days as friends and neighbors came and went, paying their respects and consoling the bereaved. But we’re losing more than tradition here. Our spiritual and psychological welfare are at stake. Funeral directors, psychiatrists, and religious leaders agree that viewing the body of a loved one is ultimately healthy.

Even so, some families hesitate because they’re concerned about the price. A public viewing requires embalming, a rental casket, and possibly other costs. It may be less expensive than a full-service funeral, but it’s more expensive than a direct cremation. There is, however, another option that lands somewhere between the two.

If a family has financial concerns, they could have a private viewing instead. Neither embalming nor a casket would be necessary because the general public would not be present. The immediate family could gather in the funeral home’s chapel, share memories with one another, and privately say goodbye to their loved one before cremation takes place. It’s an economic alternative that doesn’t sacrifice our need for closure.

In short, choosing cremation for you or a loved one doesn’t eliminate the option of having a viewing. A viewing is still possible and, in most cases, recommended.