This is probably one of the most popular question a funeral director gets asked.
Embalming and other types of preservation have 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. And 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.
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 are embalmed, though it is not required by law in most cases.
Why do we embalm?
Embalming is primarily done to disinfect and preserve the remains. Disinfection is important for all who have to handle the remains, and for the public safety of our communities. 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 remains. This is known as the wake or calling hours. Friends and family gather to view the remains and pay tribute to a family member or friend that has died. We gather to console the family on their loss, and to express sympathy to them. Without embalming, most remains would not be viewable within a short amount of time. There are constant changes going on chemically and physically within the remains 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.
*Except in certain special cases, embalming is not required by law. It may be necessary however if you select certain funeral arrangements such as a funeral with a viewing.