When the body arrives at the funeral home, the mortician's first job is to create a detailed report cataloguing the personal items (e.g., jewellery, clothing), physical condition (bruises, cuts, scrapes, etc.) and the specific embalming chemicals to be used during the process. Next, all clothing, jewellery and medical paraphernalia (catheters, intravenous ports, dressings) are removed.
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Regardless of the circumstances of death, the entire body (including all major orifices) is sprayed with a powerful disinfectant. Once the skin has dried, the mortician goes about massaging and loosening neck, arm and leg muscles stiff from rigor mortis.
Next, all facial, throat and neck hair (except for the eyebrows, eyelashes and scalp) is shaved off. For men, this entails a complete shaving of the beard area (unless the deceased had styled facial hair during life) as well as the removal of all nostril hair, ear hair and "bumfluff" from the upper face. For women, the entire face and neck are shaved to remove bumfluff since the small hairs can interfere with the application of make-up later on.
Setting the Face
In the natural decomposition process, the softer, membranous tissue in the face dries out, causing the eyes to sink into the ocular cavity (a.k.a. "eye socket") and the lips and cheeks to contract. To prevent this, the mortician places a semispherical plastic cone with a grated surface over each eye, behind the eyelids. A potent moisture-capturing cream is the applied between the plastic and the inside of the eyelid to keep the outer skin hydrated and soft-looking. To keep the eyes closed, a thin trail of adhesive gel is carefully applied to the edge of the eyelids.
To keep the mouth closed, a suture (heavy-grade surgical thread) is threaded through the base of the gums (across the bite) either with a thick, curved needle or a special gun. The needle then breaks through the bone right above the upper canine teeth (the maxilla) into the nasal cavity. After pulling through more sutures, the needle punctures the bottom of the nasal cavity in a different spot to enter the mouth on the opposite side through a new hole in the maxilla. Finally, the suture is threaded through the base of the gums on this new side, and the two ends of the thread are tied off keep the mouth from opening.
Depending on the age and condition of the deceased, the mortician may also apply cream to the inside of the lips and even insert a volume-adding caulk to the base of the front gums.
The mortician creates an injection port in one of the major arteries and slowly pumps an aqueous solution of formaldehyde or other chemical, depending on other physiological factors, into the body, creating blood pressure. At intervals, he drains blood from either the heart or jugular vein through a syringe attached to a valve. By the time this process is complete, roughly 2 gallons of embalming fluid will be inside the vascular system.
Essentially a wide-gauge needle attached to a vacuum via plastic tubing, the trocar is used to drain bad-smelling gas and/or potentially biohazardous fluids from the deceased's internal organs (stomach, bladder, intestines, lungs). The mortician opens the abdominal cavity, drains each of these organs, removes all of the internal organs and lets them soak in a powerful embalming solution for a few hours.
Meanwhile, the inside walls of the cavity are coated with embalming gel or powder. As a final measure, either the anus and vagina are stuffed with cotton or the body is fitted with tight, plastic undergarments designed to seal in gases.
Once the organs are done soaking, they are placed in a thick, sealed plastic bag that is inserted into the body cavity before sewing the abdomen back up.
The mortician washes and dries the body and hair thoroughly. The deceased's hair is then professionally styled (and cut if need be). After cleaning any snippets of hair away, the mortician dresses the deceased in an outfit chosen by the family.
At this point, the mortician sets about correcting any visible issues with a combination of make-up and special putty to fill in abrasions and smooth out the texture of sores. Applied to the face, neck and hands, cosmetics used by morticians can range from translucent retail products to heavy, opaque products designed specifically to mask skin discolouration. For example, in the case of massive heart attacks or suffocation, the lack of oxygen in the blood at time of death can result in bluish skin.
Once the make-up is complete, the body is placed into the casket where the arms and neck are arranged into a more lifelike position. The preparation process is complete.
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