Embalm: to treat a deceased human being so as to protect from decay: to fill with sweet odors
Embalming is the science of the care of the deceased. This procedure involves delaying decomposition, a temporary disinfection of the body along with careful manipulation of the physical and facial features. Combined, these treatments are to restore a visual status to the deceased human remains that are more appealing to the public while still supporting the realization that a death has occurred. This is completed in a dignified and respectful manner.
Embalming replaces the normal body fluids with formaldehyde or gluteraldehyde, which chemically binds the proteins in human remains to protect them and destroy bacteria and viruses that naturally occur in human tissue. When a person dies, the natural antibodies in our tissue die as well and bacteria will quickly multiply and breakdown the tissues as it hosts these foreigners.
Embalming may have originated in Egypt and has been in practice dating back to the kings and pharaohs of their ancient civilizations. They have been found preserved in their burial chambers, not necessarily with chemicals, but with wine, spices, oils, resins, salts, and perfumes. The removal of their organs that contained the bacteria, along with an arid environment, helped to support their preservation and thus promote the embalming techniques of that time.
The discovery of formaldehyde in 1859 supported further activity in embalming. In modern times, embalming techniques were altered to use the arterial system in our bodies to transmit fluid throughout our vessels, not just our organs. Embalming also gained acceptance by the need to bring our deceased troops home for burial during the American Civil War, as soldiers died in other states and transportation was slow over the road or by rail. The majority of deceased soldiers were still buried where they fell, but caskets could bring some of the mortally wounded back to their hometowns with the help of grave registration volunteers. Ice was used then (when available) to slow the natural decomposition process and has been used when necessary during recent time.
While some religious groups in America do not use embalming, it is widely used throughout the United States with arterial embalming being the most common. Other embalming techniques are usually required when an autopsy is performed on the decedent. The embalming procedure today consists of removing blood from the body by inserting a tube into the heart or large vein near the heart and emptying quantities of blood from the body. While the blood is being withdrawn from the vein the embalming solution (formaldehyde / gluteraldehyde) is being entered into the arteries. The skin accepts the injected fluids and begins to hydrate and appear more acceptable for viewing. The face may begin to fill out and also become more agreeable for viewing but it may need direct injections in certain areas that are still unacceptable. The mouth will require adhesion of sorts to keep features in place, eye-caps are placed under the eyelids, with petroleum jelly or humectants being applied to the eye area, and cosmetic coloration may be used to further the best appearance possible. Near the final stages of preparation, embalming fluids may be directed into the chest and abdominal cavity with the preparatory help of an invasive device called a Trocar, used to infiltrate these areas and make them accessible to these fluids.
Upon completion of the embalming, the funeral director will determine the body to be ready for clothing and application of cosmetics if needed. The family may supply the appropriate dress, suit, sweater, etc. that fits the personality of the deceased. This preparation for the final appearance of the deceased is one of the most important aspects of the entire funeral experience and attention to detail is paramount. Always consult with a licensed and trusted funeral director and never hesitate to ask questions.