What Is Done to the Body at the Funeral Home?

by June Mebei

Funeral homes take on the sensitive work of preparing the body for burial and cremation. Bodies in funeral homes may be stored for a short time, embalmed, restored, beautified, dressed or cremated. Ultimately, the body's fate depends on the family's wishes and religious preferences, as well as the services that the funeral home is legally able or ethically willing to provide.

Where Bodies are Kept

Refrigerating bodies keeps them from decomposing too quickly.

When they first arrive, bodies that come to the funeral home from morgues or hospitals are normally stored in refrigeration units. Keeping bodies cool prevents them from decomposing too quickly to be embalmed and viewed. Ideally, bodies should be stored for no more than a week. Information about the deceased is recorded on a wrist or ankle tag for identification. Bodies that are improperly stored can pose a health risk and cause distress to the loved ones of the deceased.

How Bodies are Embalmed

A licensed embalmer replaces the blood in the deceased's body with embalming fluid.

If the body is being prepped for traditional burial, embalming can slow the decomposition process for up to a week. After undressing and disinfecting the body and making incisions, the embalmer places tubes in the carotid artery and jugular vein. The tube placed in the carotid artery pumps embalming fluid into the veins, and the tube placed in the jugular vein allows blood to drain out. After the arterial blood has been replaced with embalming fluid, a suction pump is used to drain the organs of their blood. The body is then sutured shut and is ready for washing.

How Bodies are Cleaned and Dressed

Embalming prepares a body for viewing and burial by delaying decomposition.

After embalming, bodies are washed with cold water and dressed in the clothes they are to be buried in. The clothing selection is normally made by the deceased's family members. The day of the service, makeup is applied to the face to make the deceased appear more natural and presentable for viewing in open casket services. If the body is too disfigured, a closed casket service is arranged.

How Bodies are Cremated

If an urn is not available, cremated remains can be sent in temporary containers.

The family of the deceased may prefer cremation to burial. Embalming isn't always necessary before cremation. In fact, the body can be cremated within 24 hours of arriving at the funeral home. Some funeral homes have crematories on site, but those that don't may have to transport the body to a cremation facility. The body is placed in a cremation container and burned in a cremation chamber at high temperatures. When the two- to three-hour process is complete, the remains are cleared of foreign objects and placed in the family's chosen container.

About the Author

June Mebei is a Virginia-based writer who earned her B.A. in English at Georgia State University. She began writing professionally in 2008, and has published narrative essays, editorial articles, short stories and poetry.

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