The power of seeing.
My grandfather always said that if people didn’t come to see him when he’s alive then he didn’t want them to see him when he’s dead.
And he had a point. To a point. Of course we want to enjoy the company of those we love when we’re living, that’s fairly obvious. I however, will most likely always fight my belief to have a visitation with a body present, or as others say an open casket. There’s just something comforting to me about that finality of having a body in a casket. (Yes, I did say comforting.) It almost grabs you by the shoulders, gives you a nice hard shake and says, “Yep! They’re really dead!” I believe that a lot of people need that even if they think they don’t.
You see, the problem with our society is that most of us are in a self centered bubble of denial. I too am guilty of this. Sometimes the stress of the day can just collapse on you. We go about our business thinking that we have all the time in the world, putting things off until tomorrow. Not taking into consideration that for some of us, tomorrow may never come.
Now, let me put some things out there. As a funeral director, having an open casket is a ton of more work. There is the actual embalming process, dressing, casketing and cosmetology that needs to be done. We need to get things just right, because if we mess up in any way, shape or form there were be many angry people pounding on our funeral home door. And there are certain situations where I understand that an open casket just is not possible. For example, a very traumatic death such as a horrible car crash, fire or even extreme obesity. I understand that. We are after all are Morticians, not Magicians.
As humans, we want proof. If you tell me something I want you to show me the source of your findings. At least this is how it is for most things, except death. I see it all too many times. The “Direct Cremation”. I hate this scenario. Now, there are numerous factors that decide this. Cost for one. Yes, direct cremation is cheaper than an open casket wake. Please refer back to my A wedding and a funeral. post about my thoughts on funeral costs. There’s the whole, “dad didn’t want us to make a big deal out of his passing”. You know the whole “keep it simple” routine. Well, guess what? Death isn’t simple. Death grabs hold of you loved one and separates the two of you for a while. And since you’re not allowed to enter that doorway just yet, you’re left with this hole in your heart from where they used to be. That’s grief.
Maybe what worries me the most is the whole, if-we-don’t-see-it-it-didn’t-happen scenario. When people chose a direct cremation because it’s just easier to burn mom rather then to confront the fact that she passed away. You know, if you have an open casket you actually need to acknowledge that fact. And what’s scary is that some people just don’t want to. They have the worst time with their grief journey because they never got a chance to say good-bye.
And now I’m back to my initial argument against an open casket. People don’t want others to look at them when they’re dead. I can argue and argue until I’m blue in the face about how the visitation isn’t for the dead, but for the living. You see, the deceased’s problems are over, who’s left are the mourners. The broken ones. The people who even if they don’t want to see a dead person, are still searching for proof.
I’ve worked my fair share of Memorial Services with just cremains (the deceased’s ashes) present. And although I am pleased that a gathering is taking place to talk, grieve and share stories, it just doesn’t cut it for me. For me, there’s no finality. I was twelve when my grandfather passed away. I saw him dying in his nursing home and he looked horrible. When I was able to see him that last time, laying so peaceful in his casket, well, that was a much more positive final memory picture to have of him. I’m grateful for it. I don’t know how well I would have reacted if I would have been staring at a brass box instead. Would I have had the same closure? Would I have taken his death much more harshly? Would I have had nightmares of the last time I saw him? There could have been so many different outcomes.
I just want to ask everyone to do me one favor. Please. Talk with you loved ones. Find out their wishes and views. Don’t just go for a direct cremation because it’s easier or because you think it will be less of a burden. And if you desperately don’t want to be viewed try to explore other options. Maybe you could choose to have an hour of private visitation before opening it up to the public. One last hour for your loved ones to touch your hand, kiss your check or tell you to your face how much they love you. Then, when others come into the funeral home the casket can be closed. Don’t worry, we can still cremate you afterwards. And to those who are uneasy about coming face to face with a dead body remember one thing. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. You may find that one last chance to say good-bye was exactly what you needed.