When one utters the word embalming, the immediate next thought is most likely to be about the Egyptian mummies. Indeed, the Egyptians had perfected their embalming procedures so well, that the remains of their late royals are still very much intact. Egyptians however, reserved their embalming practices for only the royals and the most wealthy Egyptians.
In the modern world, the practice has been extended to everyone irrespective of their status and dignity prior to their death. Today embalming is done so as to preserve the remains long enough for all mourners to pay their last respects. Similarly, it helps to curtail chances of getting any possible infection from the remains.
So let us now understand the embalming procedure and a few details about the people who perform it.
Who does the Embalming?
The embalming process is done by a professional funeral director. Previously, there were no specific qualifications required to become a funeral director. However today, there are some professional courses such as ones in mortuary sciences and funeral service that need to be completed before becoming a professional embalmer.
What is the Embalming Procedure?
The embalming process is very complicated in nature. Here is a detailed list of steps involved in embalming process as per their order.
- The remains are first brought to the funeral home and laid down on the steel embalming table. The remains are then completely undressed. These clothes are then cleaned and returned to the family members.
Any other personal items such as jewelry, watches or spectacles are carefully removed. These items may either be handed back to the kin or replaced on the remains after the embalming is completed.
- The remains can either have an open mouth or a tightly closed mouth which gives an odd expression on the face. However, it is often expected that the remains should have a pleasant look on the face. For this, the funeral director may just widen the lips of the remains.
- Now the actual procedures of embalming begin. The remains are thoroughly cleaned with a chemical disinfectant. Some special massaging and flexing methods are used to straighten out the body muscles if they are in any awkward positions.
The limbs usually need to be extended straight and the hands are moved to the sides or in a clasping position at the bosom.
- A small incision is now made on the lower right side of the neck. This is where the carotid artery and the jugular vein are located. The director pumps in a formaldehyde based fluid from the carotid artery and pumps out all the blood from the remains through the jugular vein through a draining tube.
The pumping in of embalming fluid actually helps to push out the blood from the circulatory system. This fluid acts as a disinfectant. At times, this disinfecting process gets hampered on account of presence of clots in the veins. At such times, it is required to make incisions at the problematic spots and inject the embalming fluids into the body.
The strength and concentration levels of the fluid is decided after considering weight of the remains and the cause of death. The fluids also include a pink colored dye which gives a pinkish tinge to the remains and helps the funeral director understand that the pumping process is going on smoothly.
- Next, the funeral director goes on to embalm the internal organs of the remains. For this a large injection called the trocar is used. An incision is made near the navel area and both the thoracic and abdominal areas are aspirated by using an electric pump.
This helps to remove the blood and bodily fluids from the organs. At the same time the trocar delivers the embalming fluids into the organs. After the process is completed, the remains are carefully sutured.
- The funeral director now starts cleaning the remains externally. Cold water and bleach solution is used as a disinfectant to clean the skin of the remains. The remains are cleaned up to remove stains of blood, scaled skin, dirt in the nails. Finally the director washes the hair of the remains.
- Any stubble in hair are removed along with any other facial hair. The director then starts the hairdressing process on the remains. Care is taken to maintain the beards and mustaches on the remains as they had always been. The director may use special mortuary cosmetics to enhance the look of the remains.
- The director then proceeds to fully dress the remains in a new set of clothing as desired by members of the kin. The remains are then carefully placed in a wooden casket selected by the kin. The remains are positioned in the desirable fashion. If desired, final touches are made to perfect the look of the remains.
- The funeral director may now place funeral flowers in the casket if desired by the kin.
This profession can be very stressful and demanding. Those who desire to be funeral director need to be brave hearts. Not for the fear of handling and embalming remains day in and day out but for handling various levels of emotions displayed by members of the kin.
He may have to deal with emotions ranging from extreme grief and tears to anger, frustration and irritability. At times, kin members are known to be emotionless too, for they are yet to come to terms with death of a family member. The profession of funeral directors is testing. After all, it is also a source of their livelihood.