Embalming Questions...

Most Often Asked of Us

After 15 years on the Internet, I have compiled the most often asked questions 
that are sent to us via e-mail.
 I hope by answering them here, it will speed up your quest for this knowledge.

If you still have a question, please e-mail it to us, and we will be glad to answer it.

The Wyoming Funeral Directors Assn have two very good sites that you 
may want to visit for more information:
The History of Embalming
The History of Funeral Services

Q-      How long does embalming preserve the remains?

A-      This has got to be the most often asked question we receive, and the most lengthy to answer due to all
the factors that go in to determine it. We must understand that embalming is only a temporary hindrance to 
decomposition. Decomposition is a natural and scientific process that begins immediately after death. 
In order for decomposition to take place you need to have two elements present...air and water, which make 
ideal hosts for aerobic & anaerobic bacteria.
Logically, it would make sense that if we can stop these two elements from coming in contact with the remains,
then we can stop decomposition from taking place. The only way to retard decomposition 100% is to 
vacuum seal the remains...logical and scientific, but not practical. Other factors that come into play are:
  • Mode of death- traumatic deaths do not embalm as well as a "natural cause" death, due to the 
    breakdown of circulation.
  • Weight of remains- The more weight, the more water the remains contain.
  • Type of casket & outer enclosure- a protective casket and vault will seal out more water and air 
    than a non-protective.
  • Soil & climate conditions- A dry, sandy soil cemetery is better than a wet, clay soil cemetery due 
    to water retention.
  • Skill and thoroughness of the embalmer. As in any other profession, shortcuts and inferior 
    materials will make for a shoddy job. If the funeral director takes pride in his work, then he will do a 
    more thorough embalming using only the highest quality materials available to him.
No funeral director should warrant to a family, that by embalming or buying certain merchandise, the remains 
will last forever...this is NOT true. It may hinder the decomposition process for a short time.
..but nothing is forever.

In summary, this question is almost impossible to give a definite answer, but I hope
 the answer gives you further insight as to how and why these factors can 
determine the length of time a remains will last after death.

Q-      What causes the face and hands to swell?

A-     Again, there are many factors that determine this. The primary cause is usually water retention due to 
kidney failure. There are many times that you may go to calling hours and notice this, but unless you were a 
close family member, at the decedents side at death, you really don't know whether that swelling was apparent 
before death or not. 
Another cause may have been due to a blood clot in one of the facial arteries or veins. Embalming makes use of 
the circulatory system, and if there is a blockage, then the chemicals that are being injected cannot flow 
smoothly...usually a good funeral director can notice this before it gets out of hand, and work other ways around 
this to prevent swelling. A third factor to consider is interaction of certain medications. Cancer patients 
are usually 
given these types of medications, and one of the side effects is what is commonly called "moon face". 
The face of the patient swells and "rounds out". This effect is hardly ever removed by embalming. 
A final factor to take into consideration is traumatic death. An accident, a fall, some sought of trauma to the
 face will cause swelling 
to occur due to the disruption of the circulatory system.  

Q-      How do you keep the eyes & mouth closed? 

A-      Eyes are kept closed in one of two ways. We use a small plastic oval shaped eye cap. These eye caps 
are a bit larger than a contact lens, and have tiny grippers on the surface which grasp the insides of the
upper and lower eyelids. Another method would be to apply a small line of adhesive on the top of the lower lid, 
and bring both lids to close naturally.
The mouth is kept closed by taking what is known as a mandible-septum suture. A suture is taken under the lower 
lip's septum and passing it through the nasal septum, then closing the jaw by tying the two ends of the suture 
thread together. Another way is to use what is known as a injector needle gun. This gun places one wire into the 
lower jaw, and another into the upper jaw. The two wires are then twisted closed.
I believe these are two most common ways of closing the mouth securely.           

Q-      Have you ever had a body sit-up or spasm while you were embalming?

A-      No, and I have never heard of this happening to another funeral director either. I
 think this stems from stories backin the 18th century, when there may have been times that the person 
was pronounced dead, but in all reality was not.

Q-      Do you use special cosmetics?

A-      Yes...we use mortuary cosmetics, although regular commercial cosmetics may also be used. The benefit 
of a mortuary
cosmetic is it ability to hide certain imperfections or marks that may be on the persons skin.

Q-      Can I watch you do an embalming?

A-      Laws usually prohibit anyone except for staff of the funeral home, doctors, registered nurses
 or immediate family members from being in the preparation room during the embalming process. 

Q- How much do funeral directors get paid? A- This question has nothing to do with embalming, but for some reason it is the second most asked question I receive via e-mail. Salaries of funeral directors depend on three major factors. First and foremost, experience. Secondly, location of funeral home, and finally the number of funerals that the funeral home conducts on an annual basis. Experience needs no explanation. Location is a major factor because salaries are much higher in large cities, such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. This is partly because funeral directors are unionized in these cities, and the cost of living in cities is much more. Number of funerals plays a part, because if a funeral home conducts 40 funeral a year, he will not be able to pay as much as one that conducts 80 funerals per year. However, the funeral director doing 40 funerals, only does half the work of one doing over 80 funerals. Just as a rough estimate, a funeral director working in rural New York may get paid between 30-40 thousand dollars annually, and one working New York City may be paid upward of 65 thousand dollars a year. Remember also, except for the larger cities, being a funeral director is a 24/7/365 job. If you are not willing to give up your vacations, holidays and family life, please,consider another profession.