This is probably the most often asked question of a funeral director.
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. 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.
We use embalming today for two primary reasons--to allow adequate time between death and burial to observe social customs such as visitations and funeral services, and to prevent the spread of infection. Cosmetic work is often used for esthetic reasons.
Modern embalming now consists primarily of removing all blood and gases from the body and the insertion of a disinfecting fluid. Small incisions are made in a main artery (usually the carotid or femoral artery) and a main vein (usually the jugular or femoral vein) the arterial fluid is injected through the selected artery and the blood is drained through the selected vein.
If an autopsy is being performed, the vital organs are removed and immersed in an embalming fluid, and then replaced in the body, often surrounded by a preservative powder. If an autopsy is not performed, the embalmer aspirates fluids out of the body cavity by making a small incision near the navel and aspirating the bodily fluids.
1) WHY DO WE EMBALM?
Embalming is done for disinfection, preservation and restoration purposes. Disinfection is important for anyone who may come into contact with the deceased person. 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 deceased person. Without embalming, most deceased persons become un-viewable within a short time. There are constant changes going on chemically and physically within the deceased that change 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.
When the deceased arrives at a funeral home, it is subjected to a series of steps before the actual preparation of remains are complete.
STEP 1- Pre-Embalming Prep
First, the funeral director will lay the deceased out on the embalming table (usually stainless steel or porcelain) Then, the funeral director will remove all personal effects (including clothing and jewelry) from the deceased and give them to the next of kin. or if needed, they will be put back on the deceased for viewing purposes.
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.
STEP 2- Surface disinfection
The funeral director cleans the surface of the deceased with a disinfectant spray or germicidal soap. Next, the funeral director positions the remains. He relieves rigor mortis (the stiffening of involuntary and voluntary muscles in the body) 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.
STEP 3- Embalming Process
Once the funeral director has chosen which vessels they would like to inject arterial fluid into, and drain bodily fluids from, a tube connected to the embalming fluid pump is placed into the 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 deceased for disposal. Approximately 3 gallons of a mixture of fluid and water are circulated through the deceased for thorough disinfection and preservation to take place. 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.
The next step, called cavity embalming, is the application of full strength fluid to the internal organs of the deceased. 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 deceased. 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 through disinfection and preservation of the deceased. All incisions are then sutured closed.
STEP 4- Washing
The funeral director then washes the remains with water, often adding a soapy, germicidal solution to kill viruses and bacteria. 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.
If shaving is required, this may be done prior to embalming or after.
STEP 5- Dressing and Casketing
The fifth and final step is cosmetizing, dressing and casketing of the deceased. Cosmetic application is done to the deceased's face and hands using specialty cosmetics. Using the clothes provided by the family, the funeral director proceeds to dress the remains. It is common to use a full set of clothing, including any undergarments, socks or stockings, and sometimes even shoes if so desired. The deceased is then casketed and put into proper viewing position, at that time any personal items that are required to go in the casket would be placed in.