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Deciding whether to view your loved one

Mourners holding hands

After a loved one has passed away, you may have the opportunity to view them before the funeral. This usually takes place at the funeral home in a chapel of rest, or in a mortuary. You can be alone with them, or you may prefer to be with a close friend, family member, or the funeral director. Deciding whether or not to view your loved one is a deeply personal decision.

You may not have a choice whether to view them, for instance if you are required to identify your loved one, or if you were present shortly after they passed away. In this situation, you may still want to view them in a more controlled, peaceful environment afterwards. Equally, you may not feel the need to see them again.

If you do have a choice whether to view them or not, it can be difficult to know what is best. Do you want to remember them as they were, or see them again to say goodbye?

Making a decision

Some people instinctively feel that they must view their loved one; others know that the experience would be too upsetting for them. Ultimately, this is your decision and you should not feel pressured by friends or family members to decide one way or another.

If you are unsure, it is important to take some time to think about how seeing them might affect you. Try to imagine what would be best to help you work through your grief.

Your decision may also depend on the circumstances of their passing. Be aware that if their passing was sudden and traumatic, you may choose to remember them as they were. The funeral director should be able to advise you on this and prepare you for what they may look like.

What to expect

Funeral directors always try their best to ensure viewings are carried out in a respectful and peaceful manner. They will often advise you of what to expect, such as what the room is like, where your loved one will be and what they will look like.

The place where you view your loved one will be a quiet, peaceful room, usually decorated plainly with maybe some flower arrangements and chairs. Your loved one’s coffin will be placed in the room so that you can view them and say goodbye. It does not usually take place in a morgue setting, as you may have seen in films and television – funeral directors do their best to ensure the experience is as comfortable as possible.

Saying goodbye

When you are viewing your loved one, you may wish to touch them or kiss them. This is usually allowed, unless the funeral director tells you otherwise. Feel free to ask if you are unsure about touching them.

You may want to talk to them, or simply sit in silence for a while. Each person’s way of saying goodbye is different.

After the viewing

A viewing can be the first time that your loss really feels ‘real’, and this can have a deep emotional impact.

You may want to talk to someone after the viewing, a close friend or even a bereavement counsellor. This could help you understand the experience and let any emotions out. Alternatively, you may want to be alone to think.

The viewing will probably have left you with some very strong impressions and emotions. Immediately after you may feel as though it was an entirely negative experience, but with time you may come to view it as an important part of the grieving process.

If you need extra support after viewing your loved one, there are many bereavement counselling organisations that you can contact for advice and help.