Every person processes grief differently.
For some people, even just the idea of seeing the body of a lost loved one at a funeral service can be unbearable.
Yet, others can’t imagine not being able to touch the deceased one last time while they pay their respects.
Typically, you are allowed to touch the body at an open-casket funeral or viewing. Holding the deceased’s hands or kissing their forehead are common ways to say goodbye. If there are special reasons you should not touch the body, the deceased’s family or the funeral director will let you know.
In This Article
Touching the Body at a Funeral or Viewing is Normal
Physical touch is one of the primary ways humans form meaningful connections.
The kisses partners exchange. The hugs your aunt gives you. The boss that pats your back after a job well done. These are all examples of the importance touch has as a form of communication and empathy.
Physical contact with the deceased corpse of someone you will miss is no different. It can be a great source of comfort and is seen in many species throughout the animal kingdom.
I would wager that at open-casket viewings people will touch the body at least 70% of the time. It is an accepted and standard part of the grieving process.
Naturally, if you don’t want to touch the body, that is fine too. There is no obligation for you to do so. Just because it can beneficial for some doesn’t mean it will be beneficial for all.
What If the Casket is Closed?
It goes without saying that the time to touch the body is before the funeral service begins and when the casket is open. This is the time to pay your direct respects.
If the casket is closed, it is closed for a reason. You should not open it under any circumstances. This must only be done by the funeral director with the consent of the deceased person’s family.
This may mean you can’t touch the body, but for many people, simply touching the casket can be enough. You may also wish to consider leaving a flower, or flowers, as a symbolic farewell.
When Is Touching the Dead Body Inappropriate?
At most secular or mainstream Christian viewings, touching the body is permitted as long as you are respectful.
One exception will be cases where a lot of restorative work has been done on the deceased’s face or hands. In these cases, touching the corpse in the casket might disturb its presentation, so some types of caskets may have a protective glass pane may installed to prevent this.
Another exception will be if the deceased’s family has asked you not to.
Some Evangelical Christians are adamant that guests at a viewing should not touch their deceased loved one’s body at all. They believe touching or kissing the body at a viewing can be spiritually dangerous. This belief appears to stem from their interpretation of Numbers 19:13.
I don’t personally buy into this. Even Jesus touched the dead!
However, it is important to be aware that these exceptions to typical funeral etiquette do exist. If you are unsure how the family feels, there is nothing wrong with asking them.
How To Interact With the Deceased
At most open casket funerals without a formal viewing, you can expect there to be time before the service begins to pay respects. This is your opportunity to interact directly with the deceased in their casket.
The most commonly accepted ways to touch a dead person are to hold their hand, hug them, pat their hair, or kiss them on the forehead.
Beyond this, I suggest exercising care. Be very gentle. Especially so if you are not a member of the deceased’s closest family, friends, or relatives.
Certainly, keep all your interaction above the waist. In most cases, a hand laid on the chest should be the furthest south you go. You should defer anything further to the funeral home.
Funerals should be solemn events. It can hurt the deceased’s family to hear snickers from the back of the room when you are simply trying to straighten the deceased’s belt.
What Does the Deceased’s Body Feel Like?
Embalmed bodies can feel cold and stiff to the touch. Sometimes this can be jarring, but usually it’s just a little bit different from what you might expect from an embalmed corpse’s typical life like appearance.
Despite how the body might feel, touching it is an opportunity to have one last moment of intimacy with the person you have lost.
The Bottom Line
When you attend a funeral or viewing, touching the body is normal. It can be an essential part of the grieving process. That doesn’t mean you have to, but if you do, as long as you are respectful and gentle, you should not have any issues.