Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Embalming: Preserving Life in The Time of Death

The death of a loved one can be a difficult time for many, and a funeral can be especially difficult for some people to deal with.
Stephanie Dubois/ Rep Staff Serenity Funeral Service Funeral Director
and Embalmer Quinn Furey

Although it can be hard, dealing with death is part of a normal day for local embalmers and funeral directors.

Considered to be a morbid profession by some, embalmers are a necessary part of society and play a major role in the preservation of a body after death, said one Leduc embalmer.

“I think the healthiest point of view you can have is this is a role that needs filling and this is a role in society that has to happen,” said Quinn Furey, an embalmer and funeral director with Serenity Funeral Services in Leduc, who said many people are unaware of what happens to the deceased during the embalming, cremation or burial process.

The embalming procedure, which is not mandatory and depends on the family’s wishes, is one which dates back to the Egyptian dynasty where Egyptians would prepare their dead for the afterlife. Although the process has changed substantially since then, the preservation of the body so family members can view it as part of their grief is still an important part of the method.

According to Furey, the enshrining process can be described as “the preserving of the human body through the use of chemicals and also retards micro-organism growth.” One of the main issues with a deceased person is the risk of bacteria growth, which can release harmful microorganisms into the air, and is why embalmers use chemicals such as formaldehyde to stop the body’s tissue from decomposing.

The three, main steps to embalming

Considered to be a somewhat lengthy process, embalming a dead body has three main priorities: sanitation, preservation and restoration, , Furey said.

The first step requires the mortician to remove all bacteria from the body by using chemicals.

Furey said tuberculosis is one of the biggest concerns when dealing with sanitation, because it is a bacteria that presents itself in the lungs and still manifests after the person is deceased.

Called vascular embalming, Furey said the funeral home relies on the body’s arteries to flush out the blood and circulate the chemicals used in order to maintain the body’s tissues. Using a special machine to pump the liquid, the mortician first creates an incision to a major artery and inserts the liquids through the major artery.

“Basically what we are doing is pushing the blood out. We inject in the artery and then we open up the vein. We use it because it is the closest to the heart and it’s a major distributor. We can inject [the fluids] in any major artery and we will do that if an area gets plugged,” said the local funeral director.

The fluids used not only contain formaldehyde, but also water, dyes to pigment the skin as well as other embalming agents.

“Most of the colour in Caucasian skin is blood showing through the skin. When someone passes, the blood settles to the lowest point and the tissue gets a greyest colour, so we have a few different dyes to help.”

After inserting the enshrining liquid, the embalmer then does what is called ‘aspiration.’

The practice sees the major organs such as the stomach and lungs punctured and filled with a special liquid, which stops bacteria growth.

After the fluids are injected, the body is then prepared for the viewing process. The embalmer first sets the features of the deceased, which includes closing the eyes and wiring the jaw shut. The person’s face is then shaved, they are dressed in the clothing chosen by the family and are placed in the casket.

Once the body is placed, the deceased person then has makeup applied by an embalmer in preparation for the viewing.

“One of hardest parts is lips on men because the lips go grey usually. There is quite a bit of blood vessels so one of the harder things, oddly enough, is to get the lip colour right,” said Furey.

After the viewing, depending on the family’s wishes, some people choose to have their loved ones’ ashes cremated.

Although the Leduc funeral home does not do the cremation at their local office, their affiliate branch does take care of the deceased. Furey said the cremation process generally takes about three to four hours, depending on the size of the person and the box they are cremated in.

Resembling the concept of an oven, the crematorium burns the deceased person and the closed container they are placed in at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. The ashes are then collected by using a series of brushes and are placed into a metal bin with spinning blades.

Although it is mostly bone marrow that remains as somewhat larger pieces, Furey said the ashes are put through the machine to become fine ash, with all metal removed prior.

The remains are then placed into a special heavy-duty plastic bag, which is then put into the urn or container of choice of the family members.

The ashes are then given to the family or prepared for the funeral.

The viewing: one of more important parts of grieving process

According to local funeral directors, the viewing portion of the funeral can be difficult for many but can be one of the most important steps in grieving over the loss of a loved one.

“I think death denial is rampant and it is something our culture has embraced fully because most people don’t know what happens in the funeral industry. Just because the viewing is unpleasant doesn’t mean it isn’t important,” said Furey.

One of the more difficult parts of being a funeral director, according to Leduc staff, is having to see the family during the committal portion of the funeral, which is when the casket is placed into the ground. Furey said most people are able to contain their grief during the majority of the funeral proceedings but this portion of the grieving ceremony is when many are unable to hold back.

“That seems to be where the family has held themselves together and that’s where they break. That can be the toughest part,” said Furey, adding seeing parents with a child who passed away is also a difficult moment. “I think the toughest times is when you see somebody who is my parents age and somebody my age is the deceased. There is a similarity between me and the deceased, which is difficult because then it becomes personal.”

Local embalmers agree that no matter how difficult death may be to some, it is an equalizer that everyone will encounter and that by understanding what happens after a person passes can help lessen the fear of death many have.

“I think many people believe talking or thinking about death is bad or morbid but most people I meet want to know more out of curiosity. I think it is a good thing that people are curious. The less it is demystified, the less fear there is.”


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