What is embalming?

“I consider that embalming allows a family to grieve in their own time, without any time constraints, knowing that they are in a safe environment and their family member looks at peace.”

Embalming is a process that introduces preserving chemicals into the deceased’s body to prevent natural deterioration (decomposition) occurring after death. This is done through a small incision in the neck. Some funeral directors prefer not to talk about this aspect with families or may refer to it in obscure terms such as “hygiene of the deceased” which could almost indicate merely a washing of the deceased when actually this is a very intricate procedure requiring a high level of skill. Manning Funerals is of the opinion that families should be privy to as much information as they seek and we are happy to discuss this aspect of death with anyone. Embalming is carried out by specialized individuals working in a controlled mortuary environment and is done with the utmost respect and dignity.

Many myths abound surrounding embalming. Some say that embalming fluids leach into the ground when a person is buried, but studies show this to be inaccurate. Others may cite the reason that they don’t want any “toxic” chemicals introduced into their family members’ bodies – unfortunately at the time of a death, many people have already been subjected to a toxic cocktail of drugs during their illness or hospitalization.

People are living longer; but also people are living longer with illnesses such as chronic or terminal conditions. This is due primarily to improved care and to the drugs that sustain them, but in saying that, when a person does die, often their body is in a worse condition than say 20 years ago, when there were not the same pharmaceuticals to prolong their lives.

“It is my opinion, after thirteen years working as a funeral director, that it is definitely preferable to embalm a deceased, as soon after death as possible. In saying this though, it is important to note, that should a family contact me and state there is to be no embalming either due to their own beliefs or for religious reasons, I will adhere to their decision.”

Embalming is carried out for three main reasons: Sanitation, preservation and restoration.

1. Sanitation

It is important that those caring for a deceased are safeguarded from any health risks. There are an ever-increasing number of airborne “super-bugs” present in hospital and care facilities which may easily be transferred from one individual to another. Embalming negates this possibility. Embalming becomes even more important where the deceased may be surrounded by large communities who may through cultural backgrounds have close contact with the deceased’s body.

2. Preservation

For many families, viewing the deceased is an important aspect of death. Embalming is carried out to prevent the natural deterioration (decomposition) which begins shortly after death. Some families ask how long they would be able to have their family member unembalmed before they start to deteriorate. This really is an unknown question and can be affected by a number of issues such as the cause of death, the size of the deceased, the drugs that have been administered, or the prevailing climate. I feel that it is imperative that a family be left with a positive memory of their loved one – not one that could be marred by many things that may go wrong due to an absence of embalming. Another consideration for embalming is that more and more families are dispersed throughout the world, making funerals further out from the time of death allowing all family members to gather for the funeral.

3. Restoration

Changes to embalming procedures and the introduction over time of enhanced fluids have brought about a far more natural appearance; where there is still a softness in the body, but the deceased will not deteriorate over time, nor be harmful to others who come into contact with them. Unfortunately there are always some people who have had adverse reactions to embalming or viewing in the past and their views may potentially impact on others. Hopefully modern day techniques will dispel many ideas of embalming from years ago.