What is embalming and why would it be needed?

About Embalming...

Embalming defined: As the process of chemically treating the dead human body to reduce the presence and growth of microorganisms, to temporarily inhibit organic decomposition, and to restore an acceptable physical appearance.

Embalming is not required by law however under certain circumstances it may be required or considered the most desirable method for preparation of the body. It is well known throughout funeral professionals that embalming is the most desirable method to prepare the body in order to achieve an opportunity to present the body for viewing by the family and friends. Contrary to what some individuals may believe embalming is not an archaic or gruesome procedure. One should understand that there are many variables to the embalming and restorative procedures. Things such as, but not limited to, the presence of disease and trauma may alter the procedures performed by the embalmer. To enable you to better understand the process we have briefly listed the basic procedures below.

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 either the carotid or femoral artery and the jugular or femoral vein; the disinfecting fluid is injected through the carotid or femoral artery, and the blood is drained from the jugular or femoral 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. Most bodies in the USA and Canada are embalmed, though it is not required by law in most cases.

Restorative or Reconstructive Surgery Procedures:

Following a natural death the restorative measures may involve basic care procedures associated with embalming. However when death from severe disfiguring trauma has occurred it may be necessary for the embalmer to perform a variety of additional procedures, similar to plastic surgeons, in order to achieve an acceptable and identifiable body. Disfiguring injuries can occur during different types of fatal incidents. When these deaths are investigated by appropriate officials the family might be told that due to the condition of the body it is not viewable. Typically physicians, coroner’s and law enforcement personnel are not qualified to make the determination whether a body can be reconstructed for viewing purposes. Often these officials are not aware that an embalmer may be able to restore the body to a viewable state. There are also embalmers that specialize in reconstructive surgery that can be called in to the funeral home. These specialists have advanced training and can reconstruct some of the most severe traumatic injuries. Families should always consult with the funeral home embalmer to make that determination and may wish to seek a second opinion.

Benefits of Embalming and Restorative Procedures:

  • Delays the natural process of body decomposition
  • Allows for delayed final disposition
  • Allows additional time for family members and friends to travel and gather together
  • Allows additional time for viewing and ceremonies with the body present
  • Allows additional time for reconstructive procedures, if necessary, to restore the body to a more acceptable and Identifiable condition for viewing by family and friends
  • Typically provides an additional comfort for the family and friends enabling them to see and spend additional time with their loved one before final disposition.

Frequently asked questions:

If we cremate do we need embalming or restorative procedures?

Only if the family would like an extended viewing or visitation.

Why is it important to have a final viewing of my loved one following a natural death or severe traumatic death?

Regardless of the method you choose for final disposition we believe that one should consider the benefits of embalming, restorative procedures, viewing and ceremonies. These can be accomplished and then final disposition can occur. Remember that cremation is only one method of final disposition and it should be clearly understood that once the cremation process occurs the opportunity to view the body is forever gone.  It is very important following the death of a loved one to allow your family adequate time space to carefully and thoughtfully discuss choices and options that  will best suit your family. When you discuss your choices don’t forget the feelings of close friends of the family and deceased.

Why is it important to have a final viewing of my loved one following a natural death or severe traumatic death?

Before deciding whether to view or not to view your loved one before final disposition carefully consider:

Your loved one only dies once and your family has only this one opportunity to make selections and decisions. Carefully think it through and make choices that will be appropriate and comforting for you, your family and your loved ones close friends.
The psychological needs of the family members and close friends of the deceased.
Having the body present is the most personalized way to honor your loved one
From infancy all of us are taught that it is proper to say Hello and Goodbye.
Viewing periods allow each family member and friend an opportunity to visit the deceased, show their love, pay their respects and say goodbye in their own special way.

The bottom line is that embalming can be an excellent choice for families wishing to see their loved one presented one last time before mourners in the most attractive manor available. But it's also important to remember that a beautiful, loving, and up-lifting memorial service is possible without the use of embalming. So the choice is entirely up to the family members who have taken upon themselves the task of organizing a memorial service. Regardless of the choice, a moving memorial ceremony can certainly be accomplished - and appreciated - by all, when a family is well aware of all of their memorial options. Being aware of one's various options can ensure a truly befitting tribute to a lost loved one.