Funeral Viewing of the Body
Funeral viewings are a necessary part of the grieving process. Were it not for them, many a loved one of the departed would feel something other than a sense of peace with the death at hand. Seeing the person before they go, even if it’s one last time as they lay there in the casket, can have a profound impact on the feeling of closure one wishes to have when a loved one passes. Closure enables someone to say goodbye. Without this, a lifetime of knowing someone, of loving someone, can be left very open ended.
Most funeral viewings take place in a funeral home. Along with the ceremony, the funeral viewing, is the main activity in the funeral home process. People will line up, mostly down the center or side aisles and proceed to the front of the funeral home where the casket, containing the body, will be opened. An open casket is crucial to the viewing for obvious reason but if the body is not identifiable or has lost many of it’s facial features do to the denigration of the body, the casket in this case may and should be closed. But in most cases the casket is open and the body of the departed, primarily his face, has been formed and manicured with heavy make-up and coloring. The body itself, the organic body, must be embalmed which is a process of pouring antiseptic fluid into the veins and arteries so to delay the decaying process.
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The pace and tone of the viewing are set, in large part, by the family. The family usually sits in front, not to far from the casket. The mourners as they proceed up the aisle often take time to stop and give their condolences to the family before proceeding to say goodbye to the departed. The family members are considered to be the ones displaying the most in terms of loss and grief. It would be uncommon for someone outside to family to linger at the casket too long and produce a prolonged display of emotion. The funeral viewing can be a arena where controversy comes to a head. Many a secret has come out of the closet at funerals where past wives, hidden mistresses, and ill-begotten children have come out of hiding to finally say goodbye.
Funeral viewings have been known to get quite large. The funeral of Pope John Paul II was held on April 8, 2005 and was estimated to have been attended by over four million people during the nine days of the memorial week. This would make it the largest recorded funeral viewing on record. It may have been the largest viewing at one time but the body of ex-Soviet Premiere, Vladimir Lenin has been embalmed and on display at Red Square in Moscow since his death in 1924.
Bodies, you we can see from the example of Lenin, can stay around for a very long time. And as long as their is a body there can be a viewing. Although it primarily takes place over the course of the funeral itself, the viewing can go on longer.
Funeral viewings are just part of the long list of funeral customs, including the eulogy, the procession and the burial.