Embalming & Funerals

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Embalming and the Death Process
What will happen when you die? I don’t mean whether you continue to live in Heaven, Hell, or some other supernatural realm. I mean, do you actually know what will happen to your corpse during the embalming and funeral processes? This subject, as morbid as it may seem, is quite interesting if you look at it. Maybe you will think so after hearing what I have to say. Since the moment I began this speech, 37 people have died, just in Virginia. This means that funeral homes around the state and even in our local city are booming. Embalming, Cremation, and Funeral Services is an occupation that will never lose its demand, but it’s also a profession that gives people the chills when they think about it.

On a more serious note, it is pertinent that we understand the post-death process because knowing what happens can help us to make financial decisions when it comes to making arrangements for our loved ones. It also may reveal hidden issues that may conflict with different religious beliefs and moral perspectives on death. Understanding this process can protect you when you are in one of the most painful, expensive, and important times in human life: your death, or the death of a loved one. I plan to briefly expound on what happens when someone dies in order to provide you with a clear picture on the secretive world of embalming and funeral services.

Embalming, once considered an art form in ancient Egypt, has been part of the funeral process for hundreds of years. The Egyptians embalmed for religious reasons, believing it necessary in order to enter the afterlife, because once in the afterlife the deceased would need a body. During the American Civil War, embalming was done to preserve the bodies of troops so that they could be shipped back to their families for burial. Today we embalm our dead for preservation and restoration to a more pleasing appearance.

The Egyptian embalming process took about 70 days. It began with the body being washed and an incision cut into the side. Through this incision, the internal organs were removed and placed in canopic jars. The brain, accessed by way of the nose, was broken up and pulled from the skull with hooks. Next, the body cavity was stuffed with natron salt, and the skull filled with resin, and then allowed to "cure" for a period of about 40 days. After these 40 days, the body was anointed with perfume and then packed with herbs, linen, and/or sawdust. Finally, the body was wrapped in linens and placed in a coffin for entombment.

Embalming began in America during the Civil War. Embalming his first body in 1861, Dr. Thomas Holmes is credited as being The Father of Modern Embalming. Much less complicated and time consuming than the Egyptian method and the basis for modern embalming, arsenic mixed with water was injected through the vein and artery structure of the deceased. Arsenic effectively killed off microorganisms that contributed to decomposition but was banned in the early 20th century due to its significant health risks.

But why do we embalm today? As fore stated, the purpose of embalming is to preserve a dead human body from natural decomposition and to also restore a natural appearance. It is required whenever a body will be presented at a public viewing, when a body must be held without refrigeration, or whenever a body will be shipped on an airline. Embalming, along with other restorative techniques, can restore a body that has been ravaged by disease, decomposition, or trauma to a more familiar and pleasing appearance. Also, embalming provides some safety benefit to the public as it significantly disinfects a body.

Immediately upon death, various enzymes and bacteria begin to break down a corpse. Many of these bacteria produce toxins that break down tissue and gasses that cause extreme swelling. Very delicate skin and open "sores" called skin slip develops. Refrigeration slows down this process as does embalming, so the sooner the...
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