Which Way Should a Casket Face?

There are many important factors to consider when planning a funeral service for a loved one.  Fielding all the various concerns and input can be difficult to manage—all while dealing with individual emotions of loss. From metal vs wood caskets to where should the service be held, the immense number of details can feel overwhelming. Willow & Werth is dedicated to helping families during this difficult time. We hope to shed some light on the various technicalities of the funeral service to ease your concerns. One concern that comes up in planning isn’t all that intuitive: which way should the casket face?

Options for Casket Placement

When determining the positioning of a casket, the considerations can be both religious and practical. Here are the details of the concerns to help families figure out how to set up the casket for their loved one’s wake, funeral service, and burial.

1. Religious Concerns

The decision of how to face a casket, during both the funeral service and burial, is rooted in various religious traditions. For example, in some Judeo-Christian traditions, the deceased’s head sits to the west and feet point toward the east. This positioning symbolizes the deceased awaking to the rising of the sun and also references the resurrection of Christ, as read in Matthew 24:37, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” Facing east is also reflected in some Jewish traditions, where the synagogue’s congregation at worship look together toward Jerusalem.

However, this is merely a common tradition and isn’t mandated at most places of worship in the U.S. You may find that some cemeteries are designed to have each gravesite facing towards the east as well. If this tradition is important to the deceased, consider this in your planning.

2. Practical Considerations

During a funeral or wake, the reason for most casket placement can also be practical. Often, the hinges of a traditional casket open to the left; accordingly, the head of the deceased is also placed to the left, so when the hinged door of the casket isn’t blocking the individual during an open viewing. This rational doesn’t hold true, however, during a closed casket wake or ceremony.

During burial, some cemeteries are designed according to practical concerns and layout. Often, tombstones are arranged according to slope, keeping the head on the uphill slope with the feet extending towards the base. Again, if this is an important consideration for the family of the deceased, take time to ask these questions regarding the burial site.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the answer of which way a casket should face is dependent on casket choice as well as the belief system of the family. While it’s an important consideration, it’s one that can be made in line with the personal beliefs of the deceased and/or practical considerations of the service. Families should thus feel comfortable placing the casket in a manner that feels most appropriate.