What Is a Closed-Casket Funeral and Why Would You Have One?

Funerals are highly intentional events to help others find closure and support each other through grief. Typically, funerals will either be closed-casket, open-casket, or have no casket at all (in the case of cremation). You may be wondering why someone would choose to have a closed-casket funeral rather than an open one.

A closed-casket funeral is one where the casket is closed during the wake, visitation, and memorial services. Families choose this type of funeral when the body isn’t in a suitable condition to be viewed, they planned one in their testament, or they prefer it for personal or religious reasons.

Closed-casket funerals are highly similar to open-casket funerals. Below, we will go in-depth about why someone might choose to have a closed-casket funeral rather than an open-casket. Then, we will talk about some differences and similarities between the two. 

Why Would Someone Choose a Closed Casket Funeral?

If you are starting to make arrangements for your funeral, you may be weighing out all of your options and wondering why people choose what they do. 

Generally, funerals come down to personal preference, and in some cases, the deceased specify certain funeral arrangements beforehand. However, closed-casket funerals are just as common as open-casket funerals, and there is no singular reason one might choose one over the other.

Someone may choose a closed-casket funeral because it is their personal preference, the preference of their family, or the preference of their religion. Some may require a closed casket funeral in cases of illness or injury, but the deceased or the family of the deceased will make the decision. 

There has long been a rumor that those who have closed-casket funerals were organ donors, but this is untrue. Organ donors can still have open-casket funerals if they or their families choose to pursue one.

Choosing an open or closed casket does come down to the personal preference of the person unless there are some complications with their death. The main reasons people might choose to have a closed casket funeral are:

  • Personal preference 
  • Family preference
  • Religious beliefs
  • Illness or injury 

Casket details are decided at the time of death, long before death (if someone has planned their funeral during the creation of their last will and testament), or during the funeral arrangements with the family. 

Image of a steel Casket with Flowers on top in a cemetery

The closed-casket process is sometimes less expensive, as well, especially in cases of injury or illness. When there is an open-casket funeral, families often have to hire skilled embalmers and makeup artists to give their loved ones a better look before they are buried. 

Embalming is the process of preserving tissue as bodies rapidly decay post-mortem. The makeup artist can cost around $250 and isn’t required for a closed-casket.

Injury or Illness

Injury or illness is often the cause of a closed-casket funeral, but this isn’t as straightforward as you may think. Even if illness or injury were the cause of death, the family still has the right to choose what happens during the funeral (unless, of course, the deceased specifically requested a closed-casket funeral). 

Many think that a closed-casket funeral in the wake of injury or illness is the family’s decision post-mortem, but this isn’t necessarily true. When people are battling a life-threatening illness, they may choose to have a closed-casket funeral themselves in hopes people will remember them as they were before the illness. 

Families may also make this decision post-mortem, though. If the last few weeks or months of the battle were incredibly strenuous, they might find an open-casket funeral disrespectful of their loved one and opt for a closed-casket. Some make the personal choice to add pictures or flowers to the casket instead so that people can remember the person before illness or injury happened. 

Another reason a closed casket funeral may be the result of illness or injury is the extraneous circumstances of some deaths. In some cases, you can’t embalm the body due to the nature of the death. Violent deaths, for example, may misshapen a body in such a way that makes the embalming process too difficult. 

Additionally, if the job for the embalmer or makeup artist is too difficult, they may charge a higher cost that ultimately exceeds the budget.

This isn’t always the case, though, even when there are high injuries to a person. Ultimately, it is the family’s choice to decide. 

One of the most famous open-casket funerals was Emmett Till, the young black American boy who was killed by community members after being accused of whistling at a white woman (though, even if this was true, it was not against any laws) in 1955. Though he was highly injured, his mother asked for the funeral to be open-casket so others could see what had been done to him. 

Personal Preference

Many people partake in planning their funeral, but this isn’t as gruesome or depressing as it sounds. When creating the testament, which lists where your belongings will go when you pass and what you would like done with your body, someone might select that they want to have a closed-casket funeral.

You might be curious why someone would choose this, especially if they weren’t aware of what might cause their death (in regards to the illness and injury section above). For some, it’s a preference as personal as the way they take their coffee or their favorite color. Some may be uninterested in people seeing their body post-mortem and opt for pictures and flowers instead.

Or, if someone is planning their funeral and doesn’t want the cost to be a financial burden on the living, they may opt-out of embalming processes (not all embalming processes, of course) and post-mortem makeup costs. On average, funerals cost between $7,000 and $12,000 dollars, so some may be looking to save costs for their family.

Life insurance sometimes covers funeral costs, but if a family does not have a good policy or a policy at all, it’s up to the family to pay those costs. 

Additionally, money will go to the beneficiary, and death often means a loss in income. The beneficiary may have trouble with funeral costs if they are now in charge of the deceased’s half of the rent, mortgage, or other expenses. 

Privacy Concerns

Some families express privacy concerns and ultimately choose to have a closed-casket funeral for those reasons. 

The death of a loved one is an extremely challenging time, and funerals hurdle most into the long-researched yet often misunderstood grieving process. During this time, families or loved ones may be nostalgic thinking about their happiest memories of their loved ones. They may decide that they want everyone to remember their loved one this way and therefore opt for a large picture instead of an open casket.

Additionally, some research has indicated that an open-casket funeral makes the grieving process more difficult. Other studies lean the other way, so there is not necessarily a right or wrong answer. However, it’s possible that the family did some internal searching and realized seeing their loved one after death would not be the best option for their grieving process.    

Religious Belief

Another common reason someone may opt for a closed-casket funeral is religious beliefs. Some religions don’t believe in viewing after death, don’t agree with the embalming process, or may encourage believers to be cremated.

A few religions, notably Catholicism, will require the deceased to go through certain rites or ceremonies before being buried in a plot. The Jewish religion, for example, doesn’t allow tattoos, but it’s up to the plots whether or not they allow tattoos. However, open or closed-casket funerals aren’t typically a rite or ritual that would determine whether or not someone was allowed to be buried in a religious plot.  

The Jewish religion often doesn’t require a wake or a post-mortem visitation and instead uses clothing as a symbol for a loved one. Muslims require burying as soon as possible after death, which may not leave time for an open-casket visitation, wake, or viewing. Modern-day Quakers also do not have the body at the funeral, so they may not have an open nor closed casket on a funeral day. 

What Is the Difference Between Open-Casket and Closed-Casket Funerals?

Whether you’re on your way to a funeral and want to be as respectful as possible or planning a funeral for yourself or a loved one, it’s important to know all there is to know. You only get one chance at a funeral, and considering all things is a good idea. Besides the above implications of a closed-casket, are there other differences?

The difference between an open-casket and a closed-casket funeral is that the casket will be closed at a closed-casket funeral. The flow and ceremony of the funeral are the same. A picture and flowers are displayed on top of a closed casket in lieu of an open casket.

Funerals, if they are traditionally held, will be the same otherwise. The biggest difference will be between the casket being open and closed. Costs associated with the closed-casket funeral are usually the flowers on the casket and the large picture some may opt to display. Still, these are often present even at open-casket funerals. 

Both open and closed casket funerals are equally common among those who choose burial (versus cremation). Psychologically, the implications of a closed-casket and open-casket funeral go back and forth. Some people say they regret choosing a closed-casket and wish they could have seen their loved one more time. 

However, others regret choosing an open-casket and wish they hadn’t seen their loved one embalmed in their casket. 

Open-Casket vs. Closed-Casket Procedures

Some religions have a tradition that involves a visitation or a wake, where families will come to say their final goodbyes, sing, or hold prayers (in the catholic religion, this is often the rosary ceremony). 

Even with a closed-casket funeral, these events still take place. Instead of the casket open, it will be closed, and people will usually speak to the casket or the picture of the person displayed near it.

Additionally, the family may need to consider the flowers or pictures displayed instead of the open casket. These may add costs to their overall budget or not, but even open-casket funerals sometimes have large pictures printed out of the person or include flowers on top of the casket. This is something to consider when making a selection. 

One big difference in the funerals of open-casket participants is the embalming and makeup process. 

Embalming preserves the body and repairs any damages that occur post-mortem. Additionally, makeup artists help prepare the body for viewing. Depending on the state of the body and the family’s preference, this may incur more costs to their bill. If there is a closed casket funeral, this is less necessary. 

Open-Casket vs. Closed-Casket Implications

As mentioned above, people choose a closed casket for various reasons. A closed casket is sometimes a personal or religious preference. Other times, the individual suffered an illness or injury prior to death, making the body ill-suited for an open casket. 

That said, different families have different reasons. Aside from the reasons mentioned above, it’s not uncommon for a family to have a unique reason that makes a closed-casket the ideal choice. 

Open-Casket vs. Closed-Casket Costs

Though both types of funeral are often pricey, sometimes an open-casket funeral is more expensive than a closed-casket funeral. This is because open-casket funerals require embalming, makeup, and hair care for the deceased. Sometimes, people opt to buy a new outfit or new jewelry for the deceased to be buried in, as well. 

Final Thoughts

A closed-casket funeral is a funeral where the casket is closed during the viewing, ceremony, or wake. Instead of viewing a body, people often place flowers and pictures on top of the casket. 

Alternatively, at an open-casket funeral, some may reach out and even touch or kiss the person in the casket to say goodbye.  

The decision to have an open or closed-casket funeral is personal to both the family and the person who has died. While some religions may mandate a person has to do one thing or another, most religions will allow the family to choose. 


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Alex Noel

Hi there! I'm Alex Noel and live in Indianapolis, Indiana. I started this website to share my experience. My goal is to provide Americans a more fulfilling goodbye.

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