We always want to spend more and more time with our loved ones. It’s really painful and heartbreaking when our loved ones pass away. It is quite natural that when our closed one dies; we want to see them in their natural state as they appeared before death.
Let us gather some points that will give us a deep understanding about the meaning of embalming and insights of the following basic yet important points so we could take care of our loved ones when they are no more physically with us:
Meaning of Embalming
Embalming originally means “to put on balm”. Generally, the word today is described as a less superficial procedure, the introduction of agents into the body to ensure preservation.
Embalming is the process of preserving by delaying the natural changes that occur in a dead body or we can say, as soon as the person is dead, embalming helps to keep the body in a natural state without causing decay for a time being.
Why are bodies Embalmed?
Embalming is an ancient process that has taken the shape of a ritual to preserve the body. There are several logics and reasoning behind Embalming. Bodies are Embalmed due to either religious reasons or sanitization concerns.
Let us look at some of the reasons for which bodies are embalmed:
- Bodies are Embalmed to slow down the decomposition process.
- Pigments of embalming enhance the natural color to their face and hands.
- Restoring the person’s appearance gives an impression of peaceful sleep and calm posture.
- The person may have died while away from home and the body must be transported back
- To make the deceased suitable for public or private viewing as a part of the funeral ceremony.
- Keep the body preserved for medical purposes in an anatomical laboratory
- In some states, it is mandatory to embalm a body within a certain timeline provided.
Now let us summarize what are the methods involved or what is the process of Embalming
The Embalming Procedure:
To begin with, here is the answer to the most important question that is how is a body embalmed. The Embalming process is a series of procedure which involves following different steps.
A. Preparing the body for Embalming
- The body is washed with disinfectant solution
- Limbs are massaged to relieve the stiffening of joints and muscles.
- Eyes are closed using plastic eye caps or glue
- The lower jaw is secured by wires or sewing
B. Surgical Steps in Embalming Process
- Blood is removed from the body through the veins
- Blood in the body is replaced with Formaldehyde- based chemicals through arteries.
- A small incision is made in the lower part of the deceased abdomen where an embalming Trocar (a sharp surgical instrument) is inserted into the body cavity and Formaldehyde base chemicals are then injected.
- Incisions and holes made in the body are sewn closed or filled with embalming trocar buttons and the procedure continues afterward with washing and drying the body.
- The body is fully embalmed once the incision is sutured.
C. Cosmetic Preparation
- Nails are manicured and any facial features are molded from wax.
- An appropriate amount of makeup is applied to the deceased.
- Hair is washed and set.
- To absorb oils and mask odors, application of Powder befalls.
- Dressed in clothing as provided by the family.
This embalming procedureshould be initiated between 45 minutes to an hour. It also adds up the time for dressing the person who has died and applied the basic makeup.
After all these series of processes, your loved one is ready to be placed in their casket or for the final rituals.
Read More: How do you know when death is hours away?
How long does Embalming last?
The next question which pops up in our mind is how long does embalming last and How long does it take for an embalmed body to decompose in a coffin?
To answer this question, we must understand that Embalming is meant to be temporary preservation only to get through the funeral. It is not necessary that the embalmed body will look the same after some time as they do on the day of their burial. Also, the fact accompanies here is that an embalmed body takes eight to twelve years buried six feet down for the complete decomposition of the body.
And the bodies that are donated for medical research are embalmed and are generally kept for a couple of years before cremation. In the right conditions, embalming fluids can preserve a body indefinitely, but there are many other factors which may affect the final result of embalming and gives us the insights of how does embalming work.
Factors such as:
1. What was the condition of the deceased at the time of death?
2. How long have they been dead before embalming?
3. How and when was the aspiration performed
4. What material of the casket is used- wood or metal casket?
5. Weather conditions for e.g. humid conditions attract bacteria to form and the process of decay began soon
Embalming a body only delays the inevitable.
Standard Embalming will be helpful in maintaining the body’s appearance for a week or so. If we need the process to last longer then additional steps need to be taken into consideration.
Depending on the strength of the chemicals and method used, and the humidity and temperature of the final resting place the rate of decomposition varies.
Is it necessary to embalm a body?
Embalming is purely a personal choice in most of the cases.
It is not at all compulsory for a body to be embalmed. In case of direct cremation, the body is taken straight to the crematorium for the cremation. To maintain a body while awaiting a funeral service or when there is a delay in making arrangements Refrigeration can be used.
Embalming is required if the body is presented before the cremation. In some cases, funeral homes may require the body to be embalmed for the safety of the community and the people around it.
In order to cross some state lines while transporting a body, it may be required to embalm the body. Embalming is not typically required by law, except in exceptional circumstances. A viewing of the body without embalming is allowed in private for family and friends if desired.
Embalming is in fact forbidden in law if the person dies from a notifiable infectious disease. The Embalming fluid contains so many chemicals that may be harmful to the environment, so embalming is strictly prohibited in some areas.
What is Embalming Fluid?
Embalming as discussed is a process of preventing the decomposition of the body temporarily and to restore the natural appearance for viewing our loved ones after death. A variety of preservatives, sanitizing, and disinfecting agents and additives are used to embalm a body. These mixtures of chemicals are known as Embalming fluid.
Typically, what is an embalming fluid made of
Embalming fluid primarily is a mixture of formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, methanol, and other solvents. The range of formaldehyde content is from 5 to 37 percent and the methanol content may range from 9 to 56 percent.
The function of Embalming fluid is to kill the bacteria and fix the cellular proteins of the deceased body.
Embalming fluid is injected into the arterial system of the deceased. Many other bodily fluids may also be displaced and removed from the body using the arterial system. In the case of cavity treatment, all the blood and other fluids from the body are aspirated and replaced with a specialty fluid known as cavity fluid.
What Happens If the Body Is Not Embalmed?
Whether or not embalming is the right choice for you is another one of those questions you have probably never considered before. Let us see what happens in the scenario if you don’t get the body embalmed and understand how long does it take an embalmed body to decompose.
Embalming delays the process of body getting decomposed. When the body is not embalmed, it starts getting decomposed quickly. The bacteria in the body begin to break down the soft tissue.
The body becomes bloated, due to gases that build up which eventually begins to liquefy.
The intestines are packed with millions of microorganisms that do not die with the person. As soon as the decomposition process starts the bacteria spreads all over the body and rotting of body parts begins.
This rotting produces foul-smelling matter which includes hydrogen sulfide gas and methane gas which can be compared to the smell produced by rotten eggs. Further, these internal gases push the intestines out through the rectum, the tongue may protrude and fluid from the lungs oozes out of the mouth and nostrils.
It is a well-known fact that when a body which is not embalmed and is buried six feet down, without a coffin, in ordinary soil, it normally will take eight to twelve years to decompose to a skeleton. However, if placed in a coffin the body can take many years longer, depending on the type of wood used. Without embalming, the body’s extremities will naturally turn blue within 8-12 hours.
On the same note, let us figure out that what happens if a body is not embalmed
In cases where the body is well embalmed, It can take decades e a body to decay, as there are many factors that affect the rate of decomposition, such as
- how well the person was embalmed
- how much to embalm a body
- what type of casket and vault they were placed in, humidity, heat, cold, soil type, water level, depth of burial, the availability of oxygen, accessible by insects or scavengers, body size, and weight, clothing?
- The surface on which a body rests – all determine how fast a fresh body will skeletonize or mummify.
Do Embalmed Bodies Smell?
Body smell indicates the proper application of embalming the body.
To begin with, it is important to know what is Embalming fluid made so that cause of body smell can be taken care of well. Embalming fluid is made of so many different chemicals depending upon the condition of the deceased which have their own distinctive smell.
The main source of the chemical smell is Formaldehyde. The odor of strong, pungent-smelling substance formaldehyde odor is very unpleasant. Medical problems associated with formaldehyde exposure include watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, and difficulty in breathing. It has also been observed that high concentrations may trigger asthma attacks in people with asthma.
Cavity fluid is a special kind of embalming fluid used to treat the chest and abdominal cavity and has an even stronger smell than arterial fluid. Some bodies smell, either they have “leaked” out an end or they have decomposed or they just smell. Other times it is due to the chemicals used by the embalmer.
How much it cost to Embalm a body.
Families opt for the process of Embalming particularly if they choose to display publically or if the burial or cremation is to be done after a few days. Funeral Embalming is a combination of embalming and cosmetic enhancements which makes a dead body more attractive and life-like for public viewing.
It has been observed that the body which is embalmed and cosmetically prepared has a beneficial effect on mourners, giving them comfort and closure. Embalming which is usually done by funeral homes or mortuaries usually charges in the range $200-$700, depending on local rates and the size and condition of the body.
Embalming of a body that has been autopsied or has extensive injuries often costs more than embalming of an uninjured and intact body. Embalming the body is one thing while preparing it for the final display is another thing.
Normally, the embalming fee mentioned here does not cover the related tasks of washing, dressing, cosmetically preparing the body and placing it in the casket. These charges further add up another $95-$400 or more, depending on the local rates and the amount of cosmetic restoration needed.
Embalming fluids are not ecofriendly, so another option is to replace traditional embalming fluid with non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, formaldehyde-free embalming fluid, which is often made from biodegradable essential oils.
Green Embalming will not only protect the health of the embalmer, but it also does not pass harmful chemicals to the earth once the body is buried and disintegrating begins. Thus, it is advisable to check with your religious leader to see whether or not Embalming is an acceptable method of body preservation.