Short answer: 24hours to 4 days.
If you’d like to give the opportunity for family and friends to farewell the deceased with a formal viewing (an open casket funeral), arrangements need to be made shortly after the death. Some families opt to hold the funeral and burial as soon as 24 hours after their loved one’s passing. For others, the time between death and the funeral service is around 2-3 days.
With proper refrigeration and care at the funeral home, the body will stay preserved until this point. Any longer, however, and the decomposition process will begin — which means the body will no longer be presentable for an open casket service.‘Some families choose to have the body embalmed in order to preserve it for longer. However, this is not required by Law in Australia and can be a costly option. Additionally, the chemicals used in the embalming process can be highly damaging to the environment if the body is buried
Remember that if you’ve got family that need to travel long distances in order to attend the funeral, you’ll probably need to delay the service by a few days to allow them extra time to get there.
Historically, funerals had to happen relatively quickly, due to the inevitable decomposition of the body. But a week’s time is by no means the rule. In some regions and cultures, funerals may take place as soon as a day or two after death. On the other hand, with proper preservation methods, the funeral can occur up to two weeks, or even a month following the passing.
Assuming that the body will be present at the funeral, embalming and/or refrigeration will be necessary to keep the deceased well-preserved before the funeral if it will be longer than a few days.
Are the remains cremated? Then this is a different story. Once cremation has occurred, the funeral can occur whenever the family would like. On a similar note, in the case that the deceased is already buried, or the ashes already scattered, a memorial service can be scheduled for any later date.
WHY THE RUSH?
As soon as a person dies, their body will begin to decompose. Because of this, handling the remains is usually time sensitive.
That said, arrangements for a funeral do take time. Planning the funeral, determining the deceased's person's final wishes and notifying loved ones can consume the days following a death. It may be difficult to lay the dead to rest immediately.
Modern embalming and preservation processes allow families to take additional time when planning a funeral, so there isn't such a rush to host the funeral. However, there is still an emotional urgency to bury the dead in order to begin the long process of grieving.
RELIGIOUS AND PERSONAL CONSIDERATIONS
In some religions, it is a requirement that the body should be buried within a day. If the deceased person held such beliefs, their remains should be handled in strict accordance with their wishes.
Many families arrange for immediate cremation, and opt to host memorial events after the fact.
WHEN TO POSTPONE THE FUNERAL
In some case, families want to postpone the funeral service. Some common reasons for this include:
- An important family member cannot attend the service. Loved ones who travel or live overseas may not be immediately available to attend a funeral. If the funeral has to be held off for longer than a few weeks, consider holding a burial ceremony shortly after the death, and the memorial service afterwards. That way, everyone can be present for the sharing of memories, but the deceased person is laid to rest in a respectful amount of time.
- If the death was part of a criminal investigation. In that case, you may have to delay the funeral if the law requires you to do it. In cases like this, sometimes the family has to wait six or seven days to bury or cremate the body.
- Cases in which the body is not immediately available to embalm; for example, when soldier's remains are yet to be found, or in the case of a missing person. In these cases, a funeral can be delayed for an unknown period of time. Even so, a timely memorial service can help begin the grieving process if the death is not in doubt.
HOW LONG CAN THE BODY REMAIN PRESERVED?
A body presents little threat to public health in the first day following the death. However, after 24 hours the body will need some level of embalming. A mortuary will be able to preserve the body for approximately a week. Regardless of the embalming, decomposition will begin after one week.