Funerals vary depending on where you are in the world and the religious needs and wants of the deceased and their family. That said, in the United States, it’s not uncommon to see an open casket, so loved ones can say a final farewell. But why do they always cover the legs at such a viewing?
They cover the legs in a casket because the deceased is not wearing shoes in many cases due to the difficulty of putting them on stiff feet. Also, funeral directors may recommend it to save money, for religious reasons, in the event of trauma, for easier transportation, or with tall bodies.
In most cases, people will follow traditional customs when planning a funeral, and that includes covering the deceased’s legs during the viewing. However, if you’re unsure of what is best, keep reading. This article will detail why feet are usually covered so you can make the most appropriate choice when the time comes.
Shoes Often Don’t Fit Properly After Death
One of the most common reasons they cover the legs in a casket is that the body is often not wearing any shoes. This is because the shape of feet can change dramatically after a person passes away.
First, the body will experience rigor mortis, which is when the muscles in the body stiffen. As the blood stops flowing, it’s common for fingers and toes to distort and change shape. Rigor mortis can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
After this, the body will relax and become flexible again.
In preparation for the funeral, the body is massaged and worked into an appropriate condition for embalming. Embalming is done to keep the body firm and preserved, and most of the focus is put on the face.
Although they may ensure the feet are straight, adding shoes to a stiff foot can be very difficult. This is because when we put our shoes on, we twist and push our soft feet into place, which isn’t possible on an embalmed foot.
For this reason, bodies are often left shoeless for the funeral and burial.
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Religious or Cultural Reasons to Cover Legs in a Casket
Just like many other traditions, religion and culture play a huge part in the decision of whether or not to cover the legs of the deceased in a casket.
For example, in Judaism, it’s appropriate to cover the deceased’s legs to honor modesty and show respect to the departed.
However, while religion may play a part in the decision, it’s sometimes just a matter of cultural or proximity reasons instead. In fact, it may be more common than you think, as many people seek familiarity when experiencing loss.
Sometimes, the decision is made based on what is custom in the region. Family or churches often pass down funeral traditions. Or, if someone has been to a funeral that covered the legs of the deceased, then they may choose to do the same when the time comes.
Covering Legs To Save Money
When the funeral home has to pay closer attention to the whole body (not just the face and hands), they will need to spend more time and resources, which will often cost more.
After all, not only do the legs and feet need to be treated and dressed, but they also need to be placed in a way that looks presentable and maintained throughout transportation.
So, covering the deceased’s legs can save time as the embalmer or funeral director can focus on ensuring the departed is presentable at the top.
Though budget may not be a concern for some during a loss of a loved one, it’s worth considering based on how expensive funerals can be. In fact, the average cost of a funeral in the US without cremation is over $7,000 as of 2021, according to the NFDA.
If you want to know how to save some money on a casket, check out this page on my website.
So, some cost-effective options may need to come into play for those who might struggle to afford a funeral.
So Mourners Can Focus on the Deceased’s Face
One of the main focuses of an embalmer and a funeral director is the deceased’s face.
Family and friends often want to see the face of their loved ones in order to gain closure and peace following their death. With covered legs, it’s easier to keep the attention on the face so that loved ones can begin healing.
That’s not the only reason that emphasis on the deceased’s face is important. There have been many studies like this one published by OMEGA – The Journal Of Death And Dying that suggest the face of a deceased person can elicit a strong emotional response in others.
This study suggests that facial expressions left on the departed during the funeral will affect the trajectory of the mourning process. So, if they seem happy, peaceful, and calm, it can help loved ones mourn faster and in healthier ways because they believe their loved one is at peace.
Covering Legs in a Casket is Recommended by Funeral Home
Sometimes the decision to cover a deceased loved ones’ legs comes down to the recommendation of a funeral director.
They can recommend this for many different reasons, including those discussed above. But let’s talk about some other possible reasons that a funeral director might recommend this.
In the Event of Trauma to the Lower Body
If your loved one suffered any trauma to the lower half of their body, the funeral home might recommend covering that part altogether.
Whether it was a tragic accident or just something that happened earlier in their lives, it’ll rarely be ideal for drawing attention to the imperfections of the deceased.
Similarly, if your loved one’s legs or feet need to be removed at any stage of their lives, a funeral home will likely recommend a half-couch casket to allow the primary focus to remain on the top half of the body.
Drawing attention to lost or damaged limbs can be a painful reminder of what the loved one went through. So, families and directors often avoid it.
To Allow for Flowers on the Coffin
Another reason a funeral director might recommend covering the deceased’s legs is to allow for a place to put flowers or tokens of love.
Chances are you don’t want every flower present at the funeral buried with your loved one and it’s customary in many places to bring flowers and wreaths to pay your respects.
If the casket is completely open, people may place flowers and gifts in the casket near their legs so as not to cover their face. On this page on my website you will be able to find more information on open casket funerals.
To prevent this from happening, half-couch caskets can give space for loved ones to give these items without touching the body or crowding the coffin. Then, once the service has finished, the gifts can be easily removed from the top of the casket and given to the deceased’s family.
To Help the Deceased Fit the Coffin
The funeral director may also recommend keeping the legs covered if they have trouble fitting your loved one into the chosen casket.
Of course, the funeral director and embalmer will never harm or twist your loved one’s body to fit in a casket, but it’s not always a perfect fit. For example, sometimes, the knees need to be slightly bent to ensure they fit properly.
In that case, it’s better to keep the legs covered so as not to draw unwanted attention. It’s even possible that some people may view bent legs as a sign the departed is uncomfortable and become upset.
So, rather than having the bent knees on display, most funeral homes will recommend keeping them covered.
Ease of Transportation
Finally, funeral directors might recommend covering the deceased’s legs as it makes their body easier to manage during transportation and at the service.
The last thing the director wants is for the body to move or settle in a way that doesn’t look comfortable or natural, and legs and feet can be difficult to maintain throughout the service.
So, they may recommend covering the legs in order to make their job easier and prevent them from having to adjust the body in front of friends and family should something go wrong.
How Do Funeral Homes Fit Tall Bodies in a Casket?
Funeral homes fit tall bodies in a casket by slightly bending the knees of too tall bodies. However, this isn’t always possible, in which case, the family will need to order a longer casket. Many companies offer larger caskets for people who are too tall to fit in an ordinary casket.
One of the biggest concerns of those with tall family members is whether or not they’ll fit in a casket when the time comes.
Luckily, most funeral homes are experienced enough to know when they should recommend a larger casket for taller bodies. That said, they don’t always get it right, leaving family members concerned that they may cut or distort bodies to fit.
Desecrating the Deceased Is a Crime
If you have a tall loved one who has recently passed, you can rest easy knowing that there are laws to protect the integrity of their bodies. For example, embalmers and funeral homes aren’t allowed to make any physical alterations to a body that the family disagrees with.
If they do, they can face criminal charges and up to ten years in prison for dismembering or desecrating a dead body (depending on individual state laws).
Check your individual state laws to see how you and your loved ones are protected.
They Bend the Knees
With that comforting knowledge out of their way, let’s talk about what they actually do if your loved one is too tall for a casket.
First, the funeral director will slightly bend the knees of the deceased to save room.
Bending the knees without distorting or damaging the body is a great workaround for taller bodies. Caskets are typically two feet wide, which allows for a decent amount of bending without breaking or damaging the body.
Funeral directors can save quite a few inches of height with this simple action.
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They Will Suggest a Larger Coffin
If the above doesn’t work, you’ll need to buy a larger coffin, which the funeral director will tactfully suggest if and when the time comes.
There isn’t much more that can be done at this point if you’re trying to save the expense without harming, destroying, or breaking the deceased’s body. For most people, this isn’t something they even want to consider. So, a new casket may be necessary.
At this point, you can buy a new, oversized casket to accommodate your loved one. Unfortunately, as of now, there aren’t any other ways of making a body fit in a regular-sized coffin if they’re too tall.
With that in mind, you’ll need to select the coffin very carefully.
If your loved one cannot fit in the casket that was chosen, you may want to consider cremation as a last resort.
There are a lot of factors to consider with cremation, such as the wishes of the deceased and any relevant religious grounds. But the rising of popularity of cremations has proven it is a valid option and may be for your loved one as well.
The number of cremations has doubled in the last 15 years, and for good reason:
- It’s cheaper than a traditional burial.
- It’s easier to transport a loved one in an urn if needed.
- The casket is often rented, meaning you don’t need to worry as much about finding the perfect option.
Covering the deceased’s legs is a standard funeral custom in various places worldwide. While there are many valid reasons to do it, the decision is often left to the deceased’s loved ones in the end.
The most common reason for this is that the body is not wearing any shoes at the funeral. However, it could also be a matter of religious preference or a money-saving method.
If you need some guidance as to what is best for you, check with the funeral director. They can help you make the best decision for your loved one.
- National Funeral Directors Association: 2021 NFDA General Price List Study Shows Funeral Costs Not Rising As Fast As Rate Of Inflation
- Sage Journals: The Faces Of Deceased Persons As Emotion-Expressive Behaviors: Implications for Mourning Trajectory
- Very Well Health: What Physically Happens To Your Body Right After Death?
- Lincoln Heritage Funeral Advantage: Guide to Casket Prices: How Much Do Caskets Cost?
- NBC News: Judge Closing Funeral Home That Cut Corpses Legs
- NBC News: Cremation Is The Hottest Trend In The Funeral Industry