It’s been 3,829 days since I lost my son. One of the biggest and most difficult decisions we had to make as a family was whether or not to have an open or closed casket. This subject is one I have wanted to write about from the beginning, but I just did not have the courage until now. I believe it was a recent chat with one of Will’s friends that got me thinking about why we chose a closed casket and the unforeseen consequences of that.
First, a little ground work that laid the foundation for our decision. In my Italian family, I had been to multiple funerals where tradition dictated an open casket. There was always the weird comments among the viewers about how the dead person looked “beautiful” or “so natural” or “at peace”. However, when I saw my son laying in that casket there was nothing beautiful, natural or peaceful about it. While stroking his head of shiny dark hair I did not want this to be my final vision of him. On the other hand, it’s a reality check. He is dead. It’s for real. You can’t truly feel it or know it unless you see it with your own eyes.
So, therein lies the dilemma. Is it better to have “real” closure seeing the dead person or is it better not to see and not have that horrible final memory stuck in your head. This brings me back to a time when I was working as a physician assistant taking care of teenagers. One young man, in particular, came to see me often following the funeral of a close friend. There was an open casket and this young man was struggling hard with the loss and final vision of his friend in his head. He couldn’t stop seeing his face and it truly was disrupting his life. When I thought about this young man I thought about all the hundreds of young people that would be at my son’s funeral. And my daughter. She was clear her final vision of her brother could not be a dead one.
Fast forward to today and that recent conversation I had with Will’s friend. She has a recurring dream that Will is alive and well. In the dream she sees him as he was. This is beautiful, natural and peaceful. Is there a lack of closure about what really happened? I don’t know, but I can offer one final thought. What I wish I could have done, if I had a do over.
If I could go back, I would offer to family and friends a final private moment with Will open or closed. It could be their choice to see or not to see, to have their own kind of closure. I am sorry I did not have the sense to provide that moment. Hopefully, this blog post will provide food for thought to others in choosing an open or closed casket.
So sad ! I am in tears. I pray for you and family 🙏🏻
I know this is a tough one and something no one ever wants to talk about. But if it can help just one person then it’s the best way for me to celebrate my son. <3
Please give yourself credit for doing the best that you could at that most difficult time. It was what felt most right at a time when everything felt wrong. It is good that you have continued to reflect and to offer your thoughts to others. I want to share another perspective. There was an open casket for my brother who died at age 21 and I still have dreams that he is alive and well, despite seeing him laying there. Open casket or not, for me, the dreams don’t feel like “lack of closure”, only that my memory of him is alive. I wish you peace, my friend.
Thank you so much for adding your experience to this conversation. It’s so important to share. Once again we can all agree that we grieve differently and everyone has their own normal and unique perspective. Others will see themselves in you and that is a good thing. It adds to the “it’s normal” of the situation. I, too, believe my son is alive and well.
I’ve been to both types of funerals as well as, a wake for a family member who’s cremated remains were held in a jar. Each “style” for lack of a better word had its own impact; all of them were sorrowful and left an indelible mark.
Death is difficult to digest for the living yet all of us will arrive at that same place one day. I can’t say for certain if open casket is better or worse than closed or even cremation. I just know they are all hard!
Lisa, your journey of loss and healing has touched the lives of so many; you’ve certainly touched mine!
My heart and prayers are with you always❤️
Such a well thought out comment offering much more food for thought. It’s all so difficult, but glad we are talking about it. Lots of choices to be made. Do what feels right.
I am at a loss for words as I cannot find the ones that express what is in my heart after reading what poured out of yours during those days in which you had to make decisions that no mother should have to make. You know how I feel about you and that bond that Tor continues to have to your William. Bless you Lisa for having the courage to write this and thank you for sharing your heart…once again…
Thanks for your ever loving support. It’s the tough decisions that are helpful to talk about. I learned from a few people that they had really wished they could have seen him. I wish I had known.
I agree, it is a very tough decision…and I love that you are sharing your wisdom with others. My Mom died when I was a teenager and I needed to make all the arrangements because my Dad had fallen apart. The funeral home let me know that they would do all they could, but chemotherapy had so ravaged her body, that they didn’t feel they could make her look like she did before cancer treatment. None of our family was interested in seeing her, so we had a closed casket. But my grandma (her mother) wanted to see her body to say goodbye, so I arranged a private viewing.
As she was ill with cancer, my older sister specifically asked me not to have an open casket, because her best friend (almost like a brother) would feel obligated to do her hair (which he did for many clients) and she knew it would be extremely difficult for him. I respected her wishes.
Thank you again Lisa for sharing!
My dear Lori I am so glad you took the time to share your experience. I am truly sorry for all you went through at such a young age. I can’t even imagine how difficult it was to lose your mom. You bring such an important situation to the conversation and how loved ones want to remember someone healthy and vibrant rather than ravaged by disease, but then there is your grandmother who wants to see and be with her daughter. I get that, too.The way you facilitated all of this…you are my hero!