The desire to preserve the remains of our deceased has dated as far back in history as the Egyptians. In those days, only the wealthy were embalmed or mummified, as it was known, in hopes of immortality.
Today, the majority of the people who die in the United States will be embalmed.
The procedure has changed many times over the years to what we now know as modern embalming. It is done for two primary reasons, to allow adequate time for people to observe and participate in therapeutic customs, such as visitations and funeral services and to prevent the spread of disease.
We find that many people are curious about the care that is given to those who are entrusted to us and are often asked questions pertaining to the care of the deceased. The following is a condensed outline of the procedures that are followed during the preparation of remains and a brief explanation of the embalming process.
Beginning with the initial transfer of the deceased, from the place of death to the funeral home, the remains are treated with the greatest respect and care.
When arriving at the funeral home a funeral director carefully inventories any personal possessions that are with the person.
The remains are placed on a preparation room table where they are washed with warm water and a soap solution. Any facial hair is shaven and/or trimmed and the eyes and mouth are closed and positioned. Often the mouth and lips are shaped using special fillers, placed on top of the teeth and gums. A cream is then applied to the eyelids and lips to moisturize and to secure them closed.
Next, the arms and legs are flexed and massaged to displace any rigor mortis; which is the natural stiffening of muscle tissue due to chemical changes following death.
The Embalming Process
A funeral director has many things to consider prior, during and following the embalming process. Among other things, he/she will take in account the manner of death, how long ago the death occurred and if the remains are emaciated or are retaining fluids. There are different embalming fluids that address the different issues that may be present.
To begin the embalming process a small surgical incision is usually made on the remains at the 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. Small tubes are inserted in each of the vessels. The carotid artery is injected with a formaldehyde base solution, which will replace most of the body's blood in the circulatory system. This process is referred to as Arterial Embalming.
Following the Arterial Embalming, there is the application of a full strength fluid to the internal organs of the abdominal and thoracic cavities. This is referred to a Cavity Embalming.
At the completion of the embalming procedure incisions are sutured and the person's body, hair and nails are washed with a germicidal solution, rinsed and toweled dried. A moisturizing cream is applied to the face and hands.
At this time, special attention is given to any discolorations or blemishes, which can be treated with specific chemical treatments.
Dressing and Casketing Cosmetology
Typically, on the day following the embalming procedure, the remains are dressed in clothing selected by the family. It is common to use a full set of clothing, including underwear, socks or stockings and shoes.
As per the family's wishes, the person's hair is styled; this sometimes includes cutting and coloring.
As directed by the family, jewelry is placed on the person or removed and returned.
Using photos as references, cosmetics are applied to achieve a life-like appearance. It is a true art of a funeral director.
The final step is placing the deceased in the selected casket. Great care is given to position the person at the proper height and angle and to adjust the casket's material around him or her. This final step is usually very time consuming and must be done properly. The surroundings of the person entrusted to our care must be tidy and uniform.
"Show me the manner in which a nation or community cares for it's dead, and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender sympathies of it's people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals." Gladstone