Misconceptions & Questions - Part 2

This is the second post of misconceptions and questions I have found about the funeral industry.

Misconceptions & Questions - Part 1

Misconceptions & Questions - Part 3

Complete List of misconceptions & questions

- Has anyone ever been buried / cremated alive or woken up in a mortuary?
I do not know for sure, but I doubt it. The body is kept in a fridge which is between 3-5C. Too cold for anyone to survive long, especially on a metal or plastic tray and without clothes. So even if someone did go into a mortuary alive (which I doubt would happen) they would never wake up.

- What is rigor mortise and can you get rid of it?
Rigor mortise is basically a stiffening of the limbs.  The joints become difficult to bend, this does not happen with all bodies, in fact it does not even happen in most. The way it is gotten rid of is through a process called "breaking the rigor mortise". Basically you bend the limbs back and forward a few times and the joints will losen up. This 'breaks' the stiffness and the body is back to normal.

- Is everybody embalmed?
No, in fact very few people are embalmed in Australia (unlike America or New Zealand where it is basically mandatory).  Generally it is only done if needed for interstate or international transfers or if the body is going into a vault.  There are several types of embalming ranging from ‘TP’ which is a temporary embalm used for preservation on long distance transfers.  Then there is the ‘full embalm’ which can preserve a body indefinitely.  Used mainly for those wishing to go in a vault or other special circumstances this is the real embalming dating back at least as far as the Egyptians.

- How long does it take to embalm a body?
There are several types of ‘embalming’ from the temporary ones to transfer them interstate or internationally to the full embalm to preserve the body for a long time.  It will usually take about three hours to fully embalm a person.

- Does it smell in the mortuary and / or do you smell after working in there?
Sometimes, it depends. As with cooking, it sometimes smells, other times it does not, it depends on what you are doing. Some bodies smell, either they have "leaked" out an end or they have decomposed or they just smell. Other times it is due to the chemicals used by the embalmer. It is also the chemical smell which can cling to clothing, not the smell of the body.

- How do you keep bodies?
All mortuary fridges are kept between 3 and 5 degrees celsius.  Any colder and they begin to freeze which damages the body and makes it hard to work with.  Any warmer and there will be obvious side effects (like rotting).  I, and others, have noticed that certain fungi will grow on bodies kept in the fridge for long periods.  It is either orange or white and not found anywhere else.  Not even on similar bodies if they are out of the fridge for a long time, nor on the fridge itself.  This fungi is just something that can only grow on a body when it is kept in a fridge.

- Do you 'reconstruct' the body?
Rarely will we do much more than put on clothes and suture the mouth shut or brush their hair. Funeral homes in Australia avoid delving into makeup and other methods to make the body look life like. This is because it is just so difficult to get right. The person may have worn a lot of makeup, or very little, we do not know. And going by a photo is difficult because colours are not always accurate. Hair styling is something they also shy away from. Getting it 'just right' or at least 'good enough' for families is so difficult. Undertakers are not hairdressers, they are not makeup artists, they are just workers ferrying the dead about. I have never seen a funeral home employ a hairdresser or makeup specialist, nor have I even hear of it. 

- Have you seen 'Six Feet Under'?
This is perhaps the most known TV show about a funeral home. And it is a great show, well written, interesting rounded characters, etc. But it is not accurate of an Australian funeral home. For one we do not embalm many bodies (although it is becoming more common), we very rarely put makeup or anything similar on a body (even if it is for viewing) and we always wear gloves when handeling the deceased or even in the mortuary. On the show they have a lot more focus on 'fixing' the appearance of the deceased. Using special tools and chemicals to make them look like they are sleeping. In Australia we tend to just suture the mouth shut, put some eye-caps under the eyelids and nothing much else. ALso on that show they never wear gloves much. Here we must always put on gloves before we even enter the mortuary.

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