Inside a Mortuary

    I have been asked a few times about what a mortuary is like.  Few people have seen a mortuary in person.  The only time most of us have any experience with a mortuary or morgue is on TV.  I tell people the mortuary isn't really like what is show on TV.  But this leaves people with a puzzled look, wondering "well, what is it like then?"

    Here are a collection of pictures I took inside a funeral home mortuary.  As well as a few videos and other things  by others which show a mortuary.

    The first few pictures were taken by me at a funeral home mortuary in Sydney.  Many of the photos will be blurry.  They were taken with an iPhone, not a proper camera and taken quickly in poor lighting.

    Here are some more photos from inside another mortuary.

Door into the mortuary.  Gloves are always put on before entering.
Garage entrance to the mortuary.
This is where the transfers are brought through.
    Gloves are kept next to each door inside the mortuary.  This means one never has to reach far for a glove and if one box runs out there will always be another ready box nearby.

Gloves are placed by every door, in and out of the mortuary.
    The mortuary fridge is a large room which can hold two or more bodies at a time.  It must always be between 1 and 5 degrees Celsius.  This door is fairly typical of a mortuary fridge door.  Large metal handle which is pulled to open the door.

Door to the fridge.
    Inside the fridge is basically a large concrete room.  The trays with body on top are kept at the end, straight in front of the door.  The coffins with bodies inside are kept along the wall, to the right of the door.

    Unfortunately I do not have any photos of inside a mortuary fridge.  This might violate privacy or be unappreciated by the funeral home so I chose not to take or post these kind of photos just yet.  Maybe one day with permission I can show what it is like inside the fridge.

    The lids are kept off the coffin until the day of the funeral.  This is done so people can quickly and easily check the body and to prevent condensation or damage to the lid.  While the coffin is in the fridge without a lid it will have a sheet or other temporary cover to protect the body.

Coffin lid storage
    This is the embalming and preparation area.  It is also where the bodies are unloaded from the transfer van (through the roller door to the right).  So here is where all the interesting equipment is kept. From makeup to trochar.

    The white tray shown above is a standard mortuary tray.  This is what bodies are kept and prepared on until they are placed in the coffin.  These trays are made of fiberglass, with metal legs and wheels that can be locked into position.

    The machine below is one of my favourite things in the mortuary.  It is what the embalmer uses to replace the blood with chemicals.  In the past they would have had to use gravity to do this.  A much more difficult and labour intensive method.  Now however they have this machine.

    This machine is basically an artificial heart.  It even sounds like a mechanical heart, making a rhythmic and mechanical pumping sound as it works.  There are two glass tubes on either side at the front.  They are like thermometers in that they have liquid inside and numbers running along them vertically.  As the machine pumps the fluid in these tubes goes up and down, displaying the pressure of the liquids.  It is a very cool little machine.

    Below is another standard white mortuary tray.  In this picture you can also see the red 'head block'.  This is a heavy plastic block placed under the head so as to keep it above the chest.  Keeping the head raised like this prevents purging.  The embalming tools are stored below this machine in the trays.

    This is a special little sink, although it looks more similar to a toilet.  It is used during embalming to drain blood and fluids.  Yep, all the fun things from a funeral home mortuary go down the pluming, just like the sink at home.  You can also see the autoclave to the right.  It is the white box above the metal tray.  The autoclave is used to sterilise tools.

    To the side of the embalming area is a whiteboard with information.  Thinks like how much of a certain chemical to use, embalmer details.  There is also a sink to wash up.

    Below are two milk creates.  These are used in the coffining process.  Basically the coffin is placed on these two creates, so it is just below the tray.  This makes it easier and safer to lift the body off the tray and into the coffin.  Inside the cabinets is makeup and other useful tools.

    Some gloves, disposable aprons and other stuff being stored on a shelf next to the fridge.

    You can see more photos I took inside another mortuary here.

    "Permission to Embalm" is a documentary on the funeral industry.  It look inside the mortuary and explains some tools and techniques   Quite a decent documentary for anyone who's interested.

    "For Life" is a short documentary of an Australian funeral home.  While there is little time spent in a mortuary it does show one and what is done.

    "The Embalming Room" is a short explanation of the mortuary, focusing on embalming.  It discusses tools, methods and so on.  An informative and short video.  It is also a look at women in the funeral industry.

    Here are some more photos from inside another mortuary.

    If you are looking for information about a mortuary for research (such as writing a book, a documentary, etc) then approach funeral homes.  Eventually one might let you in and have a look.  Or they might at least answer a few questions.



  1. Anonymous19/9/12 20:43

    Great insight into a mortuary. I always find the ones on tv shows like C.S.I always dark.
    Recently started in the business and I am shadowing the embalmer today yikes :)

    1. Yeah, TV show it as either dark and depressing or a perfect top lab. Really, it's more like a decent bathroom or loading dock. Hopefully the pictures give a better impression, although my camera hates fluorescent lighting so they're blurry.

      Anyway, I really enjoyed helping the embalmer. It's fun and so interesting! Some of the best work in a funeral place is in the mortuary.

  2. hi helpful to know what is fun about embalming ?

  3. Can I ask what makes you ask this question? A bit more info might help me answer better...

    To answer; I think it's different for each person. Some don't like it, others do. And people like or dislike it for different reasons. So my answer might not be applicable to others. Also, I have fairly limited hands on experience with embalming. I did a fair amount of mortuary work, but embalming is different.

    But I personally find it fascinating, how the body works and interacts. Then again, I find most things to do with people interesting. Others I have spoken with say how they like the idea of embalming as a way to 'help' people. Everyone would have slightly or wildly different reasons for enjoying embalming.

    To be honest you have to like it to do it. The skills needed are quite high, it's a 3 year course with a lot to learn. So just to get started you need to be dedicated for one reason or another.


  4. its my first time that i have see a mortuary. Awesome thnks admin for posting this. keep it up
    Funeral homes

  5. thanks for posting it, it is a depressing place, funeral directors are very special people and they deserve a big pay for the job they do.

  6. Thank you so much for posting these, this has given me a little bit of insight on what a mortuary is like. I'm currently trying to get into the industry as I also find it so interesting and fascinating at the same time. How did you get your foot in the door?

    1. I got into the industry through luck. Basically Iwanted a break from university and saw a job for a funeral home, I applied because I'd just done a course called 'living and dying' at unsw and had found it interesting. Actually didn't think they would offer me a job, but they did! I worked for InvoCare through one of their branches and enjoyed it thoroughly.

      I would suggest keeping an eye out on 'seek.com.au' and trying to start with InvoCare. There are many wonderful funeral companies out there, personally I think the vast majority would be great to work for. InvoCare tends to have more jobs as it has more work, and no other company can offer the diversity that InvoCare can. Plus they do try to look after their staff and care about happiness and safety. But honestly, just about any funeral company would be good to work for.

      It's often a busy job but it's worth it. So give it a go!


  7. thanks for posting . im not sure if you would know but ...

    do funeral homes collect and keep floral arrangements with the coffin in the funeral home building?

    Also would the programme designing be done at the funeral home or elsewhere and then the programmes are collected?

    And please correct me if i am wrong but for some if not all funeral homes that do cremations the cremation process is done elsewhere and then the cremains are collected from that organization and returned to the funeral home where it can be placed in the urn the family desires?

    1. Collecting flowers depends, sometimes flowers are delivered early (like a day or two before the funeral), or if the funeral service has multiple stages of a day or more there might be flowers. In these cases it's common for the funeral home to keep the flowers with the coffin. This is simply due to practicality as it both saves space and means the flowers wont go with the wrong coffin.

      Again, program designing really depends. It's up to the deceased and/or the mourners (whoever is in charge of the funeral). So it can be done at home by the mourners, by a printing/design place, or in some cases by the funeral home. However, some funeral homes don't offer this. If the funeral home doesn't design and print the order of service it's simply delivered the day before or on the day. It's not uncommon for it to be delivered as the funeral is starting.

      Funeral homes can collect ashes after a cremation, as can the family/friends, to be placed in a nice urn. It's not uncommon for funeral homes to collect ashes and decant them into a nicer urn for the family/friends who simply don't feel up to the job for several reasons.


  8. Anonymous25/2/14 21:16

    You're based in Sydney, but would you happen to know anything about the Melbourne area? I'm unsure of who to contact in order to complete my work experience in high school, it would be very helpful to find out whether or not I would actually be allowed to participate in something like this. Any advice would be greatly appreciated

    1. I know several funeral directors and morticians who got into the industry through high school work experience. So it's possible but not very common, and doubt many funeral companies would be willing.

      I'm not very familiar with the industry in Melbourne, but I do know Tobbin Brothers (http://www.tobinbrothers.com.au) is one of the larger funeral homes there. As far as I know Tobbin Brothers also run some training courses, such as an embalming course. They might be a good place to try and contact.

      Following that InvoCare is also very large, however they're a corporate organisation and doubt they would have much room or desire for work experience. So I'd suggest simply calling various funeral companies in your area to see if anyone is interested. Also, try places other than funeral homes such as crematoriums and cemeteries as they have a lot to offer.


  9. Anonymous22/4/14 22:09

    Hello, I wonder if you might know the answer to a question about how bodies are stored in the morgue. Under what circumstances might a body need to be stored in the morgue on its side instead of its back? It's for a story I'm writing. I know somebody whose relative this happened to and it meant the blood pooled on one side of her face and they couldn't cover it with makeup so had to cancel the open casket. It may have been because of her physical disability but I wondered if there were other circumstances you knew of.

    Many thanks!

  10. Funeral homes have always fascinated me and it is interesting to see what one looks like beyond the funeral area. I think a lot of people get grossed out by the whole preparation process, but I think it is really amazing. I don't know if it is a job that I could handle, but I do see the art in it, and it seems to give people a lot of closer to see their loved ones looking so peaceful. http://www.suessfuneralhome.net/?page=services

  11. I enjoy all of your post and information you provide. I am about to start mortuary school and your post are already helping me out so much

  12. what would be a good book for someone interested in working in the morgue?

  13. Anonymous8/11/15 17:11

    Funeral home mortuaries & hospital morgues are somewhat different, without going into specifics.
    shame about your spelling......Should be plumBing not pluming. Crates Not creates.
    I have yet to see a funeral home do realistic work on "makeup" / facial work.

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