To view or not to view


As I sat with a family just recently, the discussion became focused on the issue of a viewing, I was immediately very aware of the 'great divide' in the room.

The older ones spoke of past experiences, when they had viewed a deceased person and the memories they carried of that experience (some fond and some not so). Others spoke of 'last memories' where they felt that the deceased looked ‘normal’ immediately after death and that to see them now brought with it concerns of 'how they will look.' Still others worried about their children, would they want to view the body and if so would this cause distress and long term issues for them?

The room in which we were gathered to arrange this funeral service was filled with 12 family members and now I had to try and navigate my way, and guide this family through a minefield of fears, desires and emotions.

So many people experience considerable anxiety around this issue of whether to view the body of a loved one. Of course there are always those who are resolute that they definitely WILL or definitely WILL NOT view.  These strongly held positions are not right or wrong, just different and personal.

I was speaking with my friend who is a funeral director and has been for more than a decade, about this very topic. Ebony spoke of an observation she has made: “Many people hold a perception of what it will be like when they view their loved one which can often develop the fear they subsequently build up in their mind. My experience shows that it is rarely ever the reality they experience.”

I would like to offer 5 thoughts when considering this very significant decision:

  1. To 'view' is a personal decision without a right or wrong answer. We are all individuals and we should treat this decision as such.
  2. If there are unsaid conversations (between you and the deceased) then these can still take place at the viewing, albeit one-sided, which can bring incredible healing and completion.
  3. If your last memory was not a pleasant one (such as medical tubes), the viewing of a loved one who is presented nicely and at peace can really help bring a positive and lasting memory.
  4. If you are 50/50 about your decision then personally I would say do it... you absolutely get no other chance to do so.
  5. Children usually cope better than adults (noting of course that a child will mirror an adults behaviour; if mum is very upset, your child too will display upset tendencies even if they do not have the capacity to understand the situation fully).

To view the body of a loved one is a big decision. Whether you do or do not view is an important question and should be considered weightily. My personal experience is that from the hundreds of viewing I have attended, very rarely has anyone ever said “I wish I did not view.”

There is one more consideration that I feel is appropriate to raise. There are occasions when the funeral director will say that “a viewing is not possible” or “I do not recommend a viewing.” If this occurs then please, do not even attempt to force a viewing to take place. Funeral directors deal with deceased persons every day. They have seen it all, and some of it is horrible and potentially damaging long term. I know without question that the Funeral Director will always do all they can to make a viewing possible but sometimes it is not possible.

Without going into detail, there are times when a deceased person is simply “not to be seen” and I would strongly suggest you accept the advice of the professional.

It is true that this can cause some pain both at the time of the funeral and in some cases years down the track. There have been academic papers written about this dynamic and how it affects people…. However … from someone who is in the industry and a grief counsellor, I would prefer to work through the pain of “not viewing” with a deceased person’s loved ones, than the torment of viewing a deceased person who should not have be seen. Remember, we can never un-see something.

To view or not to view...this is the question.

I would be fascinated to hear your own thoughts and experiences on the subject so please leave a comment below.

Have a fabulous week creating memories.


By Steve Morrison