Slow Rise of Obesity - Part two: the preparation

  It is no debate, we are getting larger and fatter.  Yet what does this actually mean?  As in how are our attitudes and views changing and how is it affecting our lives?  To answer this I look to funeral and the funeral industry.  The funeral industry is a wonderful way to look at society.  To look at us, our attitudes, beliefs, how we go about our daily lives and so on.  This is because quite simply the way we live is the way we die, the two are directly connected.

This is why I decided to do a few detailed posts on obesity in the funeral industry as I experienced it and understand it.  Through looking at how obesity affects the funeral industry we can understand how it affects our lives.  My first post was on the transfer of obese bodies.  This post is on how we deal with and process the obese body.  What happens in the mortuary to the body and the coffin of obese bodies.

    Obesity is a growing issue in society.  I could easily rattle off statistics about how more people are obese than ever before, but I will save that for another time.  This post is simply about how obese bodies are dealt with and what happens to them in the funeral home.

    If you read the previous post on the transfer of the obese body you will know that moving the body is not an easy task.  Obese bodies are heavier than non-obese bodies.  A body weighing in at 100kg will be heavy and awkward to move about and manipulate.  This should not be a surprise.

    However what a lot of people do not realise is that it is not simply the weight of an obese body that causes issues.  A body of a 6 foot healthy guy weighing about 120kg will be heavy and tricky.  Yet a body of a 5 foot obese woman weighing only 80kg will be much more work to deal with.  The weight does make trouble, but the dimensions and texture of the body cause more issue.

    Firstly lets look at this 'dimension' issue.  An obese body will be fat, as in wide.  They might not fit where other bodies would.  Mortuary trays are only a certain size, not too much bigger than the transfer stretcher.  As I already explained some bodies now hang over the transfer stretchers.  The same thing happens in the mortuary.  The obese body might not fit onto to tray properly, it might only just fit.  Mortuary fridges are not known for being spacious.  The mortuary fridge generally comes in one of two forms; either a series of shelves will pull out trays like a filing cabinet or on TV.  The other form is a small room with a bunch of trays squeezed together.  In either case there is not a lot of room for bodies to over hang the trays.  If the body does over hang the tray it might get 'bumped' by other trays as people move things about to get things in and out.  While the 6 foot 120kg man might need to have his knees bent slightly he would fit on a tray fine.  Yet the 80kg 5 foot woman might not fit comfortably.

    Another thing with weight issue is moving the body.  Just because it is on a tray with wheels does not make it easy to push over 100kg about.  Doors in mortuaries are often narrow, the floor is slippery, often wet in the fridge.  Overall the simple task of pushing an obese body on a tray can be tricky and dangerous.

    The next issue with the dimension of an obese body is in dressing it.  This issue ties strongly to 'texture'.  So I will explain both together.  The 'texture' thing I refer to is what a body feels like when you hold it.  Healthy bodies are quite firm, even if a bit fat, they are easy to get a good grip on and easy to move about.  You can bend their joins easily and roll them onto the side easily.  With the obese body they are much 'softer' and 'squishier'.  Yes, they are squishy compared to other bodies.  When you grab the hip to roll them the flesh might just slide to the side.  Getting a firm grip on an obese body is sometimes tricky and often unpleasant.

    Talking about grip, for whatever reason the obese bodies tend to have more skin slip than non-obese bodies.  I do not know why but I found it was just noticeably more likely to occur.  For those who do not know skin slip is exactly what it sounds like.  The skin literally slips/slides off the body as it is pulled.  It might only come off in small patches or tear slightly or it could happen in large clumps. Either way what remains is lose reddish skin with a slimy texture to it.  This happens to the obese bodies more often than non-obese bodies.  As such one has to grab their fingers instead of the wrist.  Which means less of a grip.

    Joints on obese bodies do not bend easily.  Something we do not think of with obesity is the movement of joints.  This is something I only realised when working in a funeral home.  That quite bluntly, the obese cannot move properly.  The fat and other health impacts impair their movement compared with non-obese bodies.  Which makes dressing them tricky.  Clothes were not designed to be put on by others without the wearers help.  They are obviously meant to be put on while the wearer is alive and able to help.  Getting things like shoes on after death is really tricky, not because the muscles or joints might be stiff but because they do not move as you push or pull.  They do not help and move around the clothes.  Something that is only emphasised with the obese body.  Due to the limited range of movement and the larger size one has to squeeze clothing onto the deceased.  Quite literally.  Often we would cut the clothing in half down the back to get it to fit as we could not roll them properly.

    Dressing an obese body was actually very similar to dressing an elderly body.  The elderly bodies had less joint movement, more skin slip and were tricky.  Both obese and elderly bodies could be tricky to get a grip on an to manipulate.  It always struck me how interesting and strange it was that the obese bodies and elderly bodies often required very similar procedures and precautions to dress.  Except it was for very different reasons and the obese body had more weight.

    This combined with the weight is why more than two people are sometimes needed to dress an obese body.  Simple things like rolling the body are now difficult if not dangerous.  Not only is more effort and force needed to roll an obese body, but it is harder to stop it.  If the body is pushed just a bit too hard, or moves wrong as it rolls it might continue.  The obese body could continue to roll right off the tray and onto the floor.  A body falling on the foor is never good, generally things happen.  Like bones break, teeth chip or fall out, skin ruptures, and so on.  Once dead we do not have the instinct to break our fall, so we land face first and with all our force.  An obese body has more force, so there is more chance for a fall to do serious damage.  Plus someone might get hurt if the body falls on them.

    Once the body is prepared it needs to be coffined.  This is the next biggest hurdle for the obese body, and one most people will be familiar with.  We all know about the coffin, we see it regularly unlike the mortuary.  It is easy to find statistics on how more obese coffins are now needed and asked for.  Or how the obese coffins are getting bigger and stronger so as to carry more weight.  Yet I will not bring them in here, that is another thing I will save until another essay on obesity and funerals.

    For now I will say that obese bodies need larger coffins.  They need special coffins called 'OS' (short for Over Size) which are much wider and taller than normal coffins.  These coffins are also reinforced so as to carry more weight.  As time moves on the OS coffins are becoming more common and larger.  I have heard of special custom coffins being made due to the large size of a body.  How on very rare occasions the body is too big even for an OS coffin.

    Naturally these coffins are larger in every way than other coffins.  So what happens if the grave is too small for the large coffin?  Once this happened, the family grave was a monumental style.  Basically stone sides and a stone top.  So it was a set size, and no way would it take an OS coffin.  The family and the deceased wanted to use this family grave, not only to save money but because it was meaningful.  This is where the family had been buried for generations and where the deceased's parents were buried.  Yet the deceased was too large for the largest coffin that would fit.  Way too large.  Which was upsetting to the family, the prospect of the deceased being buried away from the family.  But a solution was reached with the family, we would force the body into the largest coffin that would fit in the gave.  The family were happy and the job began.  The embalmer drained a few liters of fluids from the body.  The deceased's last 'lypo' as some said.  Next we squished the body into the coffin, which took 6 guys.  We pushed her in as best we could, then got the lid and put it on.  Unfortunately the lid stick up, the body was pushing it upwards as it did not fit.  The solution was simple yet not elegant.  Two of us stood on the lid while the rest bolted it down to the coffin with extra and long screws.  In the end we got the deceased in the coffin.  The job was done safely, it was actually rather safe when I think about it.  Carrying this coffin through the cemetery was noticeably more dangerous (which is something I will cover in the next post).  And we did it with the respect and dignity we could.  Obviously there was a lot of pushing, and odd moments.  But this is the compromise with an obese body and what the story is about.  That quite simply everyone can be happy with the job, from the family to the deceased.  Yet working with an obese body is just more of a 'work' thing than other bodies.  That to process the obese requires more force and cannot always be done in a nice way.

    On a side note, the family were very happy with the job.  A lovely family actually who I had the pleasure of driving.  One commented that the coffin was physically smaller than the body, but how grateful they were at how well we did the job.  They were genuinely very happy with us, knowing we did the best we could.  

    But anyway, once the body is dressed and ready it needs to go into the coffin.  Again, trickier than a non-obese body.  The weight and size of the body makes it harder to lift or slide into the coffin.  Plus if it slides with too much force it might keep on sliding and fall onto the floor.

   Yet it is here that something quite interesting happens.  As soon as the body is in the coffin a sense of satisfaction and triumph tends to set in.  I remember how quite often just after getting an obese body into a coffin almost everyone would sigh.  As I looked around the room I saw everyone had a look of exhaustion and happiness on their face.  That the job was finally over and how good it was.  how difficult the job had been and yet they had done it.  There was most certainly an air of satisfaction compared to non-obese bodies.  Especially with the body which needed to be squished into the coffin.  All 6 of us were just so happy and satisfied.  We knew that we had done a job the family would be happy with and had gotten the body into the smaller coffin.  We had done the impossible and we had done it well.

   What stuck with me was how difficult dressing an obese body is.  That they are not only similar to elderly bodies in terms of skin slip and limited range of movement but they are also heavy.  Things like fat simply get in the way of clothes and they often need to be squeezed on.  It made me think about how difficult it would be to live as obese, how a simple task such as getting dressed would be quite a job.  I also realised that things like tray sizes and door sizes might need to change in time to better accomodate the obese.

Previous post on transfer of obese bodies.


    This post is not very 'deep'.  As in I do not explain or elaborate much upon certain things.  Although more than simply descriptive I skip over details.  All I'm doing here is giving the reader an understanding of how an obese body is dealt with.  What is different and what needs to be done.  So if things appear disrespectful, odd or whatever I do not mean it to be such.  The undertakers I had the pleasure of working with often did awkward or unnecessary things to be respectful to the deceased and the living.  Plus this is a touchy topic, obesity and fat is becoming a 'dirty' thing much like smoking or drugs.  I never mean to offend or upset, but I can only be so polite without compromising on my point.

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