When people think about embalming, usually they are taken back to Ancient Egyptian civilisations and the process of mummification that we learn about throughout our secondary schooling.
Whilst the ancient Egyptians were certainly masters of the art of embalming and body preservation, the practice itself dates back to as far as 5000-6000BC to the civilisations of Chile and Peru.
It was however, the ancient Egyptians who defined embalming as a master art form, and a majority of the techniques they used back in ancient times, we still use today, of course our tools are a lot more practical these days, and whilst I’d like to say a lot more sophisticated, realistically the difference is the material they are made from and some mechanisation of some equipment.
There are three main reasons for embalming; Preservation, Presentation and Sanitisation. You could also add restoration as a fourth component of what embalming entails and what it can achieve.
Today we are fortunate to have climate controlled facilities where our loved ones spend time before their funeral service that prevents a considerable amount of decomposition, however until recent times (think before refrigeration) there was a much greater need for embalming to take place to preserve the deceased and slow down decomposition.
We look at embalming as being an advanced method of preparation, that is for specific circumstances, and is not as common as you might think. Australia is a multicultural place and in some cultures, families have their loved ones at home following their death, for a vigil that can last several days, or weeks. In this circumstance embalming is absolutely necessary to ensure the family have a positive experience with their loved one and that they are preserved for the duration of their stay.
Other times that embalming is necessary is during a repatriation (sending a loved one to another country for a funeral service), where each country and carrier has specific requirements for the repatriation of a deceased person. In almost all cases of international repatriation, embalming is required. Interments into above-ground vaults and mausoleums is another time where embalming would usually be required by the cemetery.
Embalming is an intrusive process that involves injecting into the arterial system of a deceased person to sanitise and slow down composition. An embalming machine effectively acts as an external heart that pumps chemicals and fluids throughout the body, sanitising as it makes it way through the body. Different chemicals are used for different purposes along with dyes and colourants to help achieve a more natural and realistic appearance of the deceased.
A standard mortuary preparation process does not involve embalming. It is something that families would need to specifically request to have performed and whilst it is not essential in most circumstances, it is certainly something that is available to families should they wish to have the procedure performed and it has its benefits in certain circumstances.
In Australia the process of embalming is dependant on the funeral director that you engage with. For us, we prefer methods that are the least intrusive and do not further disrupt the natural state of the deceased person, whilst taking steps to ensure that viewings are a positive experience without the need for embalming. Other funeral directors may embalm every person in their care, and some funeral directors barely make it to the basics of mortuary procedures, it is really something that families should ask about when talking to funeral directors.
Usually you would find that the larger the funeral company and the more families they cater to, the less they do in the mortuary. I know of a large company here in Brisbane who made a business decision to not wash their deceased, which to me isn’t really caring for the person in a dignified manner. I guess this is the difference between a family business like us where families are our number one priority, and a large multinational company where profits are king. Proper and dignified mortuary practices are an essential priority to us as a family and something that we ensure is completed to the highest possible standard for each person we care for.
At a minimum, your loved one should be properly cared for in a dignified and respectful way. This should include washing, dressing and cosmetic preparation (brushing teeth, styling hair, applying make up if required) of your loved one for a funeral service (even without a viewing) along with some basic mortuary procedures such as closing eyes and the mouth, all of this adds to the dignity of the deceased.
This is another thing to discuss with your funeral director and express your wishes and your loved ones wishes on this topic. Some people don’t want any mortuary procedures at all, and that is ok too, most of the time.
Embalming certainly has its place within a funeral setting, however it is not a necessity for a pleasant experience in most cases. So take the time to chat with your funeral director and find out exactly how your loved one will be cared for and prepared for their funeral service before making any final decisions.
If you have questions about any funeral procedures or questions about funerals in general, why not get in touch with us on 1300 043 522 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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