The Open Casket Question

21 11 2008

My sister attended a funeral last weekend where the dearly departed, after a long illness, was displayed in an open casket. We both find that tradition gruesome, though I see many people bending over for one last peek at the corpse. Of course, that sent me off for a quick Google to learn about the origins of the tradition. I didn’t find an answer, though I know it’s out there if I spend more time searching, but I’m sure it has something to do with fear of burying someone alive. Which reminds me of The Shipping News. Have you read that? It’s such a great novel, so be sure to read it.

Anyway, in the course of researching this burning question, I found a website offering The Salvation Bible Quiz, free Christian dating services and a blog called Find a Death, that describes Judy Garland as having been buried in the silver lame gown she had worn at her most recent wedding. That blog contained a link to The Death Clock, an odd little site that allows you to predict your own death. It’s just amazing what you can find on the internet.

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4 responses

21 11 2008
Mollyavalon

A friend of mine’s brother had a Sufi funeral. No casket, just wrapped in a shroud, no embalming. She loved looking at his face. She said he looked beautiful.

Still, I don’t like it.

22 11 2008
jp

http://pod01.prospero.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?msg=54155&nav=messages&webtag=kr-kctm

this is a link to the comments page of the kc start about a story of killing a wild cat from africa. the story was strange enough but the comments, because they’re anonymous, are always entertaining.

27 11 2008
walt

It’s odd that you ask where the custom of open caskets started. It would make better sense to ask where the custom of closed caskets started. For a very long time (up to the present in some societies) a dead person was expected to be washed, laid out, and buried by his kin. The notion that this should be done by some professional, while, at least for royalty, not novel in the world (c.f. ancient Egypt) is relatively recent in the western world.

I used to be opposed to open caskets, and fearful of funerals and all that had to do with dead people. Having been privileged to be present at a couple of deaths, and having attended a number of funerals of various kinds, I have come to think that it is useful both to the individual and the community to see what death looks like and to confront the deaths of our family and friends and to face the inevitability of our own.

11 12 2008
Nikki Colorado

My husband had what he referred to as “casket duty” a few years ago when a flood in northwest Missouri washed away most of the caskets out of a rural cemetary. He was in the National Guard and his job was to go out in a boat & snag the caskets that had floated away. Then, they put them on trucks and took them to tents where the local coroner and funeral people tried to identify them and match them up with their loved ones. Seemed pretty creepy to me, but didn’t bother him much. His main observation resulting from this experience was that if you want your clothes to look as fresh & crisp as the day you were buried, wear 100% polyester. That way if someone has to identify your body several years later, they can always go by the description of what you were wearing. A tip that may come in handy. Or not.

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