Pillow in Casket on Stylized Background

Why Do Caskets Have Pillows? [All 7 Reasons]

There are many reasons why caskets and coffins cost so much. Despite what some may presume, they are not just 6 pieces of wood jigsawed together.

Most caskets contain tools for posing the body, room for memory tubes, rubber gaskets for ensuring an air-tight seal, and more.

Of course, these are all items that serve obvious functional purposes. So when it comes to pillows that do not seem to serve a functional purpose, people can have questions. 

Caskets have pillows to show respect for the deceased and ensure their bodies look calm and comfortable. Pillows and cushioning can also help funeral directors incline the body and cover parts of the casket that are not visually pleasing.

In this article, I will further explore why caskets have pillows and where the practice comes from. If you want to hear some of the industry’s secrets, read on. 


7 Reasons Why Pillows Are Put In Caskets

Out of Respect

Without cushioning or a pillow, many burial caskets would look like simple wooden or metal boxes at first glance. 

Plain Wooden Casket on White Background

For many, this is not a respectful way to treat their deceased loved one. You wouldn’t invite your mother over to stay and then have her sleep on the cold hard floor! 

In the same way we provide for those we love in life, we provide for them in death. 

As we say goodbye, we dress their bodies in their Sunday Best, sing funeral hymns for them, kiss their foreheads, and give them the respect we believe they deserve.

A pillow helps with this.

So The Deceased Appears More Comfortable

On a hard flat surface, the head and shoulders of a body will drop back in a way that seems unnatural, jarring, and uncomfortable. The deceased will look, well, deceased.

Providing a soft surface for the deceased to lay on and a putting pillow under their head is a way to mitigate this. 

It can give them the appearance of someone in a deep peaceful slumber. 

It may seem silly to worry about the deceased looking comfortable. Why (and how) would they care?

However, this is not for the decedent’s benefit but for their family and friends. Providing and presenting the body with comfort and care can be an essential part of the bereavement process.

At a viewing, wake, or open casket funeral, the funeral director aims to set a scene where the deceased appears in a deep, peaceful slumber in their coffin or casket to reassure those grieving.

It’s one of the same reasons we sometimes cover the legs or face in caskets.

To Hide Interior Features of the Casket

Caskets are more complex than most people expect. However, while sealing and locking features and adjustable mattresses may sound impressive, they don’t look special.

Traditional casket with rubber casket seal highlighted yellow and labeled
A Very Interesting Rubber Gasket

Anything visible in a casket can distract from where survivors’ attention should be focused: The deceased. So caskets are designed to cover these sorts of things up and make them blend in.

The first way these structures are covered is with the body. Anything on the bottom of the casket is easily concealed in this way.

Next, inner drapes and cushioned lining cover the inside of the coffin or casket. These are usually made of soft and flexible fabrics like velvet, polyester, and satin (depending on budget). This also ensures the interior of the casket looks simple and uniform.  

Finally, morticians will place a pillow under the embalmed body’s head, hiding the wedge used to prop the head up more than a “normal” pillow would.

To Save on Costs

It’s fair to say burial caskets are expensive. You’re looking at around $1,200.00 for even the most budget option somewhere like Costco.

However, if simple inner cushioning could not be used to cover up common interior structures in caskets, you would have to incorporate them into the expensive materials used for the casket’s integrity.

This could cause caskets to end up costing even more.

If you want a casket that looks great, without having to pay a premium, a lining and pillow conceals aesthetic deficiencies on a budget.

To Increase Funeral Home Profits

If the “cost saving” reason above is too generous, then this reason might be too cynical:

Fundamentally, funeral homes and casket manufacturers are businesses trying to profit. The funeral industry made revenues of $18 billion in 2022 alone, up around 10% since 2019.

USA Funeral Industry - Revenue vs Year Graph 2019 - 2022

Part of the way a business makes money is markup. If an average wood casket costs a funeral director $1,000.00 and they sell it for $2,000.00 – they make a profit. That’s how they continue operating.

Any add-ons, features, or premiums that can be charged to mourners are good for business. 

So, if people are willing to spend more money on caskets with pillows, manufacturers will make them, and funeral homes will sell them. This is why new types of caskets are innovated regularly.

It can be depressing to view the funeral industry in this profit-driven light. Unfortunately, it is, in many ways, accurate

To Make It Easier to Put the Body in an Inclined Position

Ensuring the body looks “perfect” for the funeral service is one of a funeral director’s most important jobs after the embalming process.

Pillows and foam wedges help them achieve this. By placing these items in the casket, morticians can ensure the body is posed in an appropriately inclined position. 

This is a big deal in the funeral industry. New types of pillows are designed regularly to make presenting bodies in cosmetically pleasing ways easier.

For example, in 1991, Batesville applied for a patent for a unique modular pillow to help “present the deceased as attractively as possible“.

Batesville Services Casket Pillow Patent Diagram
Batesville Services Casket Pillow Patent Diagram

Pillows like these can also enable funeral directors to pose bodies in ways that make them more stable for transport.

Due to Tradition

Finally, as with most things, part of the reason pillows are put in caskets is due to regional and cultural traditions. 

Generally speaking, the use of bed-type material in caskets can be traced back to ancient Egypt, where sarcophagi were lined with cloth.

In the present day, in some countries, cushioning inside a casket is less common. In the UK, wooden coffins are usually used, lined with satin, and a ramp props up the body’s head instead of a “proper” pillow. 

In the USA, coffins like these are unlikely to be seen anywhere but a crematorium that bought them on special.

Instead, in the USA, caskets have developed over time out of the furniture and bedding industry of the 19th century. Given these origins, it is no surprise padding and pillows are popular in America.

In Closing

It should now be clear that there are various reasons pillows are put in caskets, with not all being very obvious. 

Some may see casket pillows as unnecessary. However, whether it be to help the funeral director, to save on costs, or to ensure the body looks comfortable, for many, casket pillows are an important part of saying goodbye. 

If you have any further questions about funerals, caskets, or anything beyond life, please feel free to get in touch.

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James Peacock
James Peacock
Hey, I'm James, the founder of After Your Time. I'm a lawyer specializing in trusts, wills, and estates. I help clients dealing with death everyday, and I hope the content on our site can do something similar for you.
James Peacock
James Peacock
Hey, I'm James, the founder of After Your Time. I'm a lawyer specializing in trusts, wills, and estates. I help clients dealing with death everyday, and I hope the content on our site can do something similar for you.

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