The What’s Why’s Where’s And When’s Of Embalming

By Paul Larson

Nobody looks like themselves after they die. The animation of life and the energy that made a person who they were has left the body. Their movements, expressions and consciousness are gone, and their body is now a remnant of its former self. Traditional customs necessitate paying final respects and viewing of the body as part of the funeral ceremony. To make a person recognizable in death as the former life filled person they once were there is a scientific and artistic procedure that exists to help mimic the look of life. This process is called embalming. Those who have the education, artistic ability and experience to restore the appearance of life and repair what death has taken away are called Embalmers.

Why do we embalm? Where did this come from? When is it needed? History has taught us that embalming was most famously practiced by the ancient Egyptians. More recently during the American Civil War modern embalming was perfected and widely embraced as a way to preserve soldiers killed in battle and return them to their homes for burial. When Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theater and died shortly after, his body was embalmed and displayed for thousands of Americans who wanted to pay their respects to their fallen President. Prior to the Civil War embalming and viewing of human remains was rare, and burial took place as soon as possible after death. But following the public display of Abraham Lincoln to the American public, and after witnessing their fallen President in a state of perfect preservation during the long funeral and train trip home, the public understood that embalming was an advancement that could help them too. Embalming gave families the option to preserve those who died, in turn giving extra time for family and friends to travel from long distances, attend a funeral and view the body. In a time before refrigeration and speedy travel embalming became extremely popular and necessary. What once could be an intolerable or painful situation, the death of a loved-one became more comfortable and bearable with embalming. Additionally, cosmetic techniques of bringing the look of life to human remains added to the comfort factor, and embalmers who perfected this artistic procedure were highly sought after and in high demand. Presenting human remains in a state of respectful preservation was in no way a denial of death, but was a way of softening the blow and giving the family consolation and a sense of relief from the many times difficult sting of death.

Embalming has advanced over time and more sophisticated techniques are in practice today. Certain instances require embalming such as when human remains are sent out of state or out of the country via air. But, now as in the past, the aspiration of embalming is to achieve the same result: to give families a positive gentle final impression of their loved-one, and to soften the fragility felt during the time of mourning.

If you ever wish to discuss cremation, funeral matters or want to make pre-planning arrangements please feel free to call me and my staff at the CHAPEL OF THE HIGHLANDS in Millbrae at (650) 588-5116 and we will be happy to guide you in a fair and helpful manner. For more info you may also visit us on the internet at: