Is Embalming and How is it Done
This is probably the most often asked
question of a funeral director.
Hopefully, through this web site, we
will be able to alleviate some of the ideas and "ghoulish" remarks
that we have heard over the years.
Embalming and or some type of
preservation, has been recorded in history as far back as the Egyptians. Back in
those days, only the wealthy were embalmed or mummified as it was known then.
And history has shown that the Egyptian mummies were well preserved for
thousands of years. Over the years the procedure has changed many times to what
we now know as modern day embalming. I will try to give a short overview here of
what that is, what it entails, and why it is done. If your questions are not
answered here, please feel free to e-mail or call us, and we will be glad to
answer any and all question regarding the embalming process.
For the most commonly asked questions
regarding the embalming process. Click Here
1)- WHY DO
Embalming is primarily done to
disinfect and preserve the remains. Disinfection is important for all who have
to handle the remains, and for the public safety of our communities. In the
years gone by, deaths due to Typhoid Fever, Malaria and other highly contagious
diseases, put funeral directors and others who came into contact with the
remains at a very high risk of contracting the same disease. Secondly, it has
been a tradition to have a period of visitation of the remains. This is known as
the wake or calling hours. Friends and family gather to view the remains and pay
tribute to a family member or friend that has died. We gather to console the
family on their loss, and to express sympathy to them. Without embalming, most
remains become un-viewable within a short time. There are constant changes going
on chemically and physically within the remains that changes the looks and other
qualities that we are accustomed to seeing. Embalming acts as a hindrance to
this, and gives us the time needed to pay respect and express our sympathies.
is embalming done?
When remains arrive at a funeral home,
it is subjected to a series of steps before the actual preparation of remains
STEP 1- Pre-Embalming Prep
First, funeral home personnel lay the
remains out on a stainless steel or porcelain embalming table (see picture
above), not unlike those used for an autopsy. They then remove all of the
clothing off the remains, and either clean and return them to the next of kin or
destroy them as they would do with any bedclothes that accompany the remains.
Next, funeral home personnel carefully inventory any jewelry, usually taping or
tying rings in place , so they do not disappear. Other jewelry and glasses are
removed during embalming and then replaced on the remains.
There are several methods of closing
the mouth. The prime consideration is to have the lips meet naturally. If the
mouth is closed too loosely, the funeral director cannot produce a pleasant
look, and if the mouth is closed too tightly, the area under the nose puckers,
giving the upper lip a distinctly unnatural expression, sometimes appearing to
scowl at the mourners. The funeral director will occasionally widen the lower
lip to improve a face's appearance.
STEP 2- Preparation
The funeral director cleans the remains
surface with a disinfectant spray or solution by sponging it onto the remains.
Next, the funeral director positions the remains. He relieves rigor mortis (the
stiffening of muscle tissue due to chemical change) by flexing, bending
and massaging the arms and legs. Then he or she will move the limbs to a
suitable position, usually with the legs extended and arms at the sides. To
begin the embalming process, which is the removal of blood, and replacing it
with a formaldehyde based fluid, a small incision is usually made on the remains
right side of the lower neck. It is at this position that two of the largest
circulatory vessels are located. The carotid artery and the jugular vein.
STEP 3- Embalming Process
Incisions are made in both vessels, and
a tube connected to the the embalming fluid pump is placed into the carotid
artery, Another tube is placed into the jugular vein, this is called a drain
tube. The basic theory is to pump embalming fluid into the artery, and this will
cause the blood to return through the veins and flow outside the remains for
disposal. Approximately 3 gallons of a mixture of fluid and water are circulated
through the remains for thorough disinfection and preservation to take place. In
most cases, this will be the only point of injection of the embalming fluid.
There are times when clots and other factors stop the flow of fluid throughout
out the whole system, and at these times, other points of injection are
necessary in order to do a complete and thorough embalming. There are many
factors which go into the process, which cannot be explained here due to space
limitations, but some of the factors that the funeral director must assess
before embalming are the mode of death, the weight of the remains, the general
overall condition of the remains, any disease associated with the remains, etc.
These factors determine the types and strengths of fluids used, and the type of
embalming necessary to complete the task. Many fluids have a slight dye added to
them, which gives the remains a pinkish glow, and also acts as a guide for the
funeral director, making it visible for him to see the fluid as it travels
through the remains. This type of embalming is known as arterial embalming.
A commonly asked question at
this point is:
What do you do with the blood you remove from the body? Once the blood
mixes with the embalming chemicals, it becomes basically harmless. The laws
allow us to put the blood down the normal sanitary sewer drains in the
preparation room sink as it does not pose a health risk.
The next step, called cavity embalming,
is the application of full strength fluid to the internal organs of the remains.
A small incision is made just above the navel, and a long needle called a trocar
is placed inside the abdominal and thoracic cavities of the remains. The funeral
director aspirates both the abdominal and thoracic cavities. Aspiration is the
removal of blood and other bodily fluids, through suction. A suction pump,
either water or electric powered is used to remove these fluids. The trocar is
then attached to a gravity fed system, which caused full strength fluid to be
put into each organ, causing a more thorough disinfection and preservation of
the remains All incisions are then sutured closed..
STEP 4- Washing
The funeral director then washes the
remains with cool water, often adding a soapy, germicidal solution containing
bleach to kill viruses and bacteria. He or she then cleans the fingernails, uses
solvents to remove any stains on the remains, and applies other chemicals to
remove scaling on the hands and face. Blood in the hair is removed with washing
and chemicals. The funeral director then washes the hair. funeral directors may
do this either before or after embalming;
Hairdressing is normally done after
embalming has been completed.
Any hair stubble on the remains is
shaved with a razor. Facial hair and any visible nose hair are removed from all
bodies, including those of women and children who may have excess facial hair
because of medications they received, or because they have downy hair on their
upper lips and cheeks. Ear hairs are sometimes removed and any unsightly facial
hairs are removed or trimmed. funeral directors must be careful with beards and
mustaches, since once accidentally removed, they can be difficult to properly
STEP 5- Dressing and Casketing
The fifth and final step
is dressing and casketing of the remains. Using the clothes provided by the
family, or purchased through the funeral home, the funeral director proceeds to
dress the remains. It is common to use a full set of clothing, including
underwear, socks or stockings, and sometime even shoes if so desired. Once
dressed the funeral director will begin the cosmetizing of the face and hands of
the remains. Usually a special mortuary cosmetic is used, although store bought
cosmetics may be used also. This is the true art of the funeral director. It is
through the proper application of cosmetics, that a more life-like presentation
will be made. Too much or too little cosmetics have a definite affect on the
appearance of the remains. Proper coloring must be determined, and the cosmetics
adjusted as such.
The final step in the
preparation of the remains is to place the remains in a casket. Adjustments to
clothing, touching up of hair and cosmetics and properly fixing the interior of
the casket. This final step is usually very time consuming and must be done
properly. This is the results of all the other work combined. The funeral
director tries to pose both the head and hands in a life-like position, and
finishes up his work by making everything look tidy and uniform.