Open Casket Funeral Ritual

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 54
Occupation: Off the Grid Director of Partnerships
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: March 13, 2021
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): none

Main Piece: 

Informant-  I recently attended an open casket funeral for a family member. It was a graveside burial in the farmlands of North Carolina. Due to COVID, it was an odd liminal time period and therefore no one was hugging. My parents and I approached the tent which held the casket and prepared to say our goodbyes to the body. We each individually gathered close to the casket, reached down, and touched our deceived family member. I left her side and allowed time for my mother and father to say their goodbyes

Interviewer- Could everyone at the funeral approach the casket to say their goodbyes?

Informant- No the tent which held the open casket was for family members only. After the family members said their goodbye the casket was closed and brought to the burial location outside fo the tent. There, the coffin was closed and open for members of the community to observe.

Interviewer- Was touching the body an important part of the ritual? 

Informant- Touching the body is important because you receive a feeling that the soul has passed onto heaven. Each person holds is entitled to their own beliefs of touching the body or not but it is very important for me. Her body is left behind but is no longer the home for her soul. Touching the body allowed me to understand that her soul lives on in heaven and is no longer on earth. This is a moving experience. 

Background: The informant is 54 years old and returned to his home town in North Carolina to attend the funeral. The informant has strong religious views as a Christian. He has attended open casket funerals before and is familiar with the custom of touching the dead body. He learned about the moving experience of touching the dead body from his minister at church years back. Ever since his first experience completing this ritual he has continued to hold its importance. This ritual connects him closer to god and the natural cycle of life. 

Context: I collected this piece by interviewing the informant after he returned from this trip to North Carolina for the funeral. The funeral occurred outside during the day with a group of people. 

Thoughts: This ritual holds great importance for connecting participates to the cycle of life and understanding the uncertainty of death. Death and funerals represent a very liminal period where folk customs allow people to connect with uncertainty. This ritual and the importance of touching the dead body allowed the informant to grasp the idea of the body and the soul. The body and the soul are disconnected after death. The body is only the temporary home for the soul and this ritual gives the family a time to understand the movement of the soul.