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What Happens When You Die? A Look At Embalming

Though once only reserved for the very rich and powerful, embalming is a standard funeral service in modern times and modern embalming techniques can produce incredibly lifelike results. Embalming is performed in two stages - surgical and cosmetic - and while methods and materials can vary, the basic procedure remains the same; draining bodily fluids and replacing them with formaldehyde-based solutions.

1. Setting the face

Before the invasive procedure begins the deceased is washed down with disinfectant, and occasionally the limbs are massaged to reduce the effects of rigor mortis. The mouth is usually sewn or wired shut, and the mouth is stuffed with cotton wool to achieve the look of fuller cheeks. The eyes are stuck shut using special mortuary glue, or the mortician may stick a flesh-coloured cap behind the eyelid and glue it into place.

2. Surgical Embalming

The two main methods of surgical embalming are ‘arterial’ and ‘cavity’ embalming.

i) in arterial embalming, a special pump drains the blood from the body of the deceased while another pump circulates a chemical mixture through the emptied veins. The mixture usually contains a combination of formaldehyde, ethanol, water, and alcohol.

ii) in cavity embalming a small incision is made in the stomach of the deceased, and a thin instrument known as a trocar is inserted into the abdominal cavity. The trocar has a small claw attached to a suction pump, and the mortician uses the claw to puncture the organs and jellify them. The liquid is then suctioned out of the body and the cavity is filled with embalming chemicals.

3. Presentation

After the embalming procedure is completed the mortician may circulate a coloured dye through the bloodstream to fix discolouration and mottling. Since fluid has a tendency to leak all bodily orifices will be plugged discreetly with cotton wool. All visible injuries or blemishes will be patted over with coloured dye and covered up with cosmetics. A light-reflecting powder is applied on the face to give it lifelike fullness and a rosy blush gets rid of pallor or dark patches on the skin. After being washed again, the body will be dressed in his/her funeral suit and styled in accordance with the family’s wishes.