Can You Have a Viewing Before Cremation?

As the popularity of cremation increases, it only stands to reason that traditions change too.

It used to be that there was a viewing or visitation, then the funeral service, followed by a burial at the cemetery. But times are changing. Not everyone will choose the same old standard.

The good news is, the tradition of having a viewing doesn’t have to change. Whether you are planning on a cremation or a traditional funeral, a viewing is still an option.

What is a Viewing?

A viewing is a gathering of friends and family. They come to see the body of the deceased to pay their final respects. This can be a very special time to say your goodbyes. It can be a time to share favorite music, photos, memories, and stories.

Traditionally, the viewing happens prior to the funeral, which in turn happens before burial. 

What Happens at a Viewing?

As mentioned, close family and friends gather to bid farewell to their dear friend, and to show support for the grieving family.

Oftentimes, the funeral home offers a room for the family to share food with their friends that have attended. It can be catered or family and friends can supply the food. Common foods are sandwiches, pizza, cookies, and any kind of finger foods. And don’t forget the drinks. Water and soda are always welcome! The funeral home will supply the coffee.

The viewing isn’t as formal as the funeral. When a body is viewed, usually people come and go. Sometimes people sit reverently; other times, they chat, laugh, and share memories.

The viewing can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Depending on the schedule, the viewing could even last a few days.

Can You Have a Viewing Before Cremation?

A viewing before cremation is becoming the new norm.

There is a law that states there can’t be a public viewing if the body isn’t embalmed.

If the family has chosen not to embalm, there is a limited number of people allowed to attend the viewing.

This limited group is no more than 10, normally. The next of kin will have to decide who gets to be included in this exclusive group. When this decision has to be made, most people will invite the immediate family.

The immediate family includes The spouse, children, parents, and siblings. In my opinion, it is a good idea to let the attendees know that the body is not embalmed. The body will not look as “natural” if it isn’t embalmed.

If the body has been embalmed, any number of people may come to the viewing. It can be opened to the public to attend.

Viewing or Witnessing the Cremation

Please note, the viewing prior to cremation is different from actually watching the cremation process. This latter event is called a witness cremation, and is exclusive to only the closest family members who wish to be present when the cremation happens.

Learn more about watching or witnessing the cremation here.

Tips for Viewing Before Cremation

Whether you are hosting or attending a viewing before the cremation, here are some tips to know.

  • The viewing will usually be informal. You can dress casually. If you are coming directly from work, it is appropriate to be in your work clothes.
  • The viewing will be a more personal experience than attending the funeral. This might be your best time to offer your sincere condolences to the family.
  • You do not have to stay for the whole time frame of the viewing. 15-30 minutes is fitting. Of course, longer is acceptable as well.
  • You can send or bring flowers or a plant to the viewing. Money is also an appropriate gift to the family. Expenses pile up at this time.
  • It is important to honor the wishes of the family. If they don’t want flowers, please don’t send or bring any. There could be serious allergies they are trying to avoid. (Here are some ideas for alternatives to bring.)
  • It is appropriate for children to attend a viewing. It is also important that the parents guide their children’s behavior. A viewing is no place for running and playing games.
  • It is acceptable to go to the viewing and not the funeral. In the same token, it is appropriate to attend the funeral but not the viewing.
  • It is good etiquette to attend a viewing even if you don’t know the family. Please introduce yourself to the family and tell them how you knew the deceased and the impact he/she had on your life.
  • It would be good to keep in mind that different religions have different customs at viewings. It might be a good idea to be familiar with the religious background of the deceased.
  • Embalming is typically done to make the decedent presentable.
  • Bodies are not embalmed for an identification viewing. Embalming is very expensive, and an ID viewing does not require it. This type of viewing is private; the law says the maximum number of people is 10. The public cannot attend. You will see discoloring in the nail beds and on the skin. There might even be a slight odor.

It is normal to feel a bit nervous to attend a viewing. Death is not a comfortable subject. Try to keep in mind that you are there to support the family. Your presence tells the family that you respect them and their loved one.

Just because it is called a “viewing”, does not mean you have to look at the body. If you are not comfortable with looking at the deceased, nothing says you have to.

Be present for the family. That is what you are there for after all.

Sign the guest book. Keep in mind the family is very busy and quite possibly distracted at this time. They will treasure the guest book after everything is done. They won’t be able to remember everyone that attended. In the weeks to come they will look back on that book and appreciate each and every person that came to pay their respects.

Related Resources

Along with cremation comes the need for a cremation urn. Here at Urns Northwest, we offer the finest urns and memorials to honor your loved one, alongside personal and caring customer service. Browse our store here, learn more in our extensive resources, or start with our 12 most popular urns.