From Lynch and Sons Funeral Directors website:
The presence of the dead human body for visitation and funeral services provides a focal point for all of the changes -- social, emotional, spiritual and practical -- that a funeral service seeks to observe. In a sense, the best way to deal with a death is by dealing with the dead -- confronting the loss, honoring the memory, addressing the religious and spiritual beliefs and disposing of the dead body properly. For some families, the presence of the dead body is too painful to confront while for others, a funeral without the body present seems like the commemorative equivalent of having a baptism without the baby or a wedding without the bride. It lacks an essential witness. It is important for each family to make a decision that suits them best. In the name of convenience and cost efficiency, many people have felt that if they simply "disappear" the dead, they can avoid expenses and difficult emotions. But for most grieving people, going through, rather than around the difficult realities is most helpful and most healing.
From my own point of view:
I have observed a growing trend of funeral avoidance in our culture. People want their dead to disappear quickly by cremation and they are holding memorial services. I have considered their motivations. For some it appears to be from a cost perspective. But for many, I think they feel that their loss may be easier to bear if they do not go through the ritual. But like Mr. Lynch writes, "...for most grieving people, going through, rather than around the difficult realities is most helpful and most healing." We plan and prepare for the birth of children, graduations, weddings, and other milestones including retirement with much anticipation and often at considerable expense. Have you priced weddings lately? And half of them end in divorce! So why don't we put more planning and preparation into the final celebration of an entire life lived? You do not have to have a religious ceremony, and it does not need to be a "cookie cutter" funeral sermon number 1, 2, or 3. Whether you plan in advance or wait until the last minute, you have choices. Exercise them. It is much easier when you plan in advance. But find a funeral home that will work with you to make the ritual of your "last goodbye" meaningful and personal so that you or your surviving family can begin this transition most effectively and with the least amount of stress possible. There is value in the ritual.