2012-09-21

The Process - From death to funeral

    This is the process of how a body gets from the place of death to the funeral.  Not many people think about this, and even fewer know about it.  Here it is, step by step in a simple guide from when the person dies to when the coffin is sent on the funeral.

    It should be noted that this post is not graphic or explicit.  There is nothing which should make anyone uncomfortable here.  Having said this I have found some people get uncomfortable with the amount of information rather than the type of information.  Some people are quite happy to hear a few facts about the funeral industry, but start to give them details and they become uncomfortable.  Even when there is nothing descriptive, or even about bodies, some people just want to know only a few things at most.

    Do not worry, there is nothing bad in this post.  Although I am honest and do not shy away from the facts I know how to be tactful.  If you do want more detail or are unclear about something then feel free to email me.

- If you want more information for mourners or those outside the industry then go to my 'advice for mourners' page.

- If you want more information from an undertakers perspective then go to my 'working funerals' page.

- I also have a 'misconceptions and questions' page where I address some common issues or doubts.


Transfer the body:

1. The person dies, this might be obvious but it is essential.  Next a funeral home is chosen (unless one has already been chosen prior to death).

A standard transfer van.
2. Arrangers meet with the family and discuss the funeral plans.  They also prepare the relevant paperwork.

3. The transfer crew is dispatched to collect the body.  How and where the person died influences this part.  Most people will die in hospital or a nursing home.  If this is the case then the transfer crew simply go here and pick up the body.  However, if the person died from un-natural causes (such as an accident, murder, suicide, etc) then the body is taken to the coroners.  If this is the case then an autopsy and investigation is done before the body is released.  Once the body is released then the transfer crew go to the coroners to collect it.

- When the transfer crew collect the body they document any clothing and valuables that are on the body.  They also assess the body note anything of importance, such as if the deceased has a pacemaker, an infectious disease, is overweight or heavy, is decomposing, has 'fluids' and so on.

- Importantly the transfer crew will check the ID of the body and put on an ID tag.  This is of vital importance and no body should be without an ID tag.

    You can read more about the transfer process here and see pictures of a transfer van here.

4. The transfer crew return to the funeral home mortuary with the body and paperwork.  The first thing they do is unload the body ont a mortuary tray.  This is either a metal or plastic tray on wheels that can be moved into the fridge.  The head of the body is also put on a "head block" at this point.  Basically the head block elevates the head above the abdomen.  This simple act prevents the body from "purging".  Purging is an unpleasant "leakage" from the mouth or nose.  The fluids that leak out can be anything from blood to bile and are sometimes smelly and difficult to clean up.

5. Next they will fill in the white board and the mortuary register.

- The mortuary register is a special blue book that is in every funeral home mortuary.  It is a permanent record of important information about the body.  It records: name of deceased, date of death, age of deceased, place the deceased was transfered from, date of transfer, who transfered the body and valuables on the body (not including clothing).  This is not all the information in the book, but it is what is filled out when the body is brought in.  The rest is completed as the body is "signed out".  The point of this book is to be a permanent record of every body that goes in and out of the mortuary.

Inside a transfer van.
- The white board (or mortuary board) is a big whiteboard in the mortuary.  It is on display and should clearly be visible to those working in or entering the mortuary.  The white board records information like: name of deceased, if they are in a coffin, if they are in clothes, valuables (not including clothing), date of death, date they came into the mortuary and most importantly special remarks.  These special remarks include things like whether the body is heavy, has fluids, is infectious, has a pacemaker and so on.  The point of the white board is to be a visual guide for those working in the mortuary.  It tells the undertakers everything they need to know about a body before they begin their work.

6. Once the white board and mortuary register are completed the body is "put away" in the fridge.  This fridge is a large cool room.

    This whole process can take anywhere from a few hours to several days depending on the situation.


Prepare the body:

1. The undertakers look at the white board for anything they need to know.  For example if the body has "fluids" then towels are needed, or if it is "heavy" then extra people might be needed.

2. Next the ID tag on the body is checked against the name on the paperwork.  This is always the first step and often done by two people.

- If the body is to be embalmed or have a pacemaker removed or have anything else like this done then it is noted here.

3. The undertakers assess the body, clothes and what needs to be done.  They also remove the body bag or anything the body is wrapped in from the transfer.

4. If needed the clothing that is on the body is taken off.  Many bodies are in a simple hospital gown.  This is a paper like gown that can simply be cut off with a pair of scissors.  However if the body is in 'normal' clothing then more work needs to be done.

- Things like shoes, pants and jackets are removed first, then shirts or tops.  Socks and underwear are left until last as it makes getting the other clothes off more easy.

- If no lifting machines are available then a process of "rolley polly" is used to take clothes off.  This is the act of rolling the body on its side and taking the clothes half off.  Then the body is rolled on its other side and the clothes are fully removed.

- Valuables are either left on the body or bagged up and returned to the family depending on the paperwork.  This is always noted on the white board.

Coffins being stored, waiting for a buyer.
- If the body is to be embalmed or have a pacemaker removed or have anything else like this done then it is done so here.  This is where embalming and battery devices (like pacemakers) are removed.  I will talk about embalming below.

5. The body is cleaned, if needed.  Most bodies do not need much work here (depending on culture of the deceased and mourners).  Only if the body is dirty or messy is it cleaned here.

6. Next the body is dressed.  The first thing to be done is to make sure the body has underwear.  Bodies are covered to protect 'their' dignity and respect, but really it is to protect the undertakers sense of shame.  I explored this idea in an essay previously.

Nappies are made for any body that might 'leak'.  This is a simple thing, made from a plastic or cloth sheet and taped closed.  If the body does not look like it will leak then standard underwear is used.

- Socks are the next thing to be put on as this makes getting things like pants on so much easier.

- The rest of the clothes are put on, one item at a time in the same way they are taken off.

7. Now things like "eye caps" are put in.  Eye caps are small little flesh coloured disks inserted under the eye lids.  When someone dies their eyes sink, so without eye caps there is an obvious dent in the eyes.  The eye caps also have tiny spikes on the outer side which hold the eyes closed.

8. Once all the clothes are on the body and everything is done the undertakers look it over and assess the job.  They make sure everything is correct and as it should be.  That all the clothes fit ok and look respectable.

9. The body is 'coffined'.  This is the act of putting the body into the coffin.  Firstly the undertakers check the ID tag on the body against the paperwork and against the ID tag on the coffin.  Often two people will do this to make sure it is correct.  The body is then lifted (by hand or by machine) and lowering it into the coffin.

10. The undertakers will look over the body again, coffining a body often disturbes and moves clothes.  So the clothing is straightened, things like ties and makeup are put on at this point.

11. The white board is filled in, such as whether valuables are "to stay" with the body or "returned to the family".  Other details such as who dressed the body and if it is coffined are also filled in.  Then the coffin is put into the fridge.

    Each undertaker and funeral home has a different method to do this.  For example some put makeup on at step 5.  Either way, unless the body is to be embalmed this process takes a few hours.  Sometimes a day or two if there are complications or the undertakers have to wait for clothing from the family.

    Restorative arts is fairly rare in Australia (as I experienced and understood it).  Thinks like bandages and cosmetic fixes are applied, but not to the same extent or detail as we see in America.

    More information on what a mortuary is like inside.


Signing out the body:

1. The ID tag on the coffin, paperwork and body is checked.  Details like name, age, date of death and so on all need to match up perfectly.  This is often done by two people.

2. The coffin is pulled out of the mortuary.  The correct name is checked on the white board, and then the details are whipped off the white board.

3. Next and most importantly the mortuary book is completed.  Details such as who is signing out the body, the date that the body is being signed out, where the body is going, what happened to the valuables and so on are all recorded.  It is a very important part of signing out the body as this is a permanent record of everything.

4. The nose and mouth are plugged.  Cotton wadding is stuffed down the throat and up the nose to prevent leakage.  Then the mouth is sutured closed.  Many funeral homes do this at step 7, but others (such as WNBull) wait until the day the body is signed out.  Suturing the mouth closed is a simple but striking process for many people.

- A special curved needle and thread is inserted under the jaw bone, near the chin.  It is then brought up into the mouth behind the teeth, then inserted up into the nasal cavity.  The needle is then brought back down into the mouth.  Next is is brought down in front of the teeth and back out under the jawbone from the other side.  The two ends are tied together tightly which holds the mouth closed.  Basically the thread is tied to the jawbone and the nasal cavity above the mouth.  At most all that is visible from the outside is a small dimple just near the chin.  It is small and one would have to look for it to see it.  However some of the better or more experienced undertakers do not even leave this tiny dimple.  After they are done there is no mark to be found anywhere.

5. Once all the paperwork and valuables are checked by both people the lid is put on the coffin.  The thumbscrews are tightened and it is closed tight.


Loading the hearse:

1. The coffin is wiped over with a cloth.  This is done to remove any dust and condensation.

Click to enlarge.
2. The coffin is brought to the back of the hearse.  A special roller bar at the back of the hearse is pulled out and the coffin is lifted, then slid into place.  The hearse driver alines the coffin and tightens it into place with a goose neck.

3. If the hearse is not leaving immediately then the back is left open to prevent condensation building up again.

    It should be noted that this whole process can be very different for each funeral and each funeral home.  Different funeral homes have different ways of doing things.  For example some have machines to help with processing the body so only one person does the paperwork.  Or they might put makeup and use restorative arts on all bodies.  The culture of the deceased and mourners also influences the process, some cultures use makeup a lot more, others have the family members dress the body.

    So while this guid is not comprehensive of every funeral it should give a good idea of how a body makes it from the place of death to the coffin in the hearse.

    If you want to see pictures of inside a hearse then click here.  For more information on the funeral process go to this page.


Embalming:

    Embalming is the chemical preservation of the body.  There are many opinions out there on the validity of embalming.  many are against it, arguing that it is unnecessary for most bodies, bad for the environment and mainly something funeral homes push to get more profit.  All of these arguments are quite valid.  However at the end of the day a method for preserving bodies is a necessity and unavoidable.  Bodies must be embalmed if going over seas (by plane or boat) to prevent decomposition, fluids being spilled and so on.  Or if the body is going into a crypt/valut then this will stop rotting off the coffin, fluids going everywhere and a smell in the cemetery.  Or if no refrigeration is available, then a body can be embalmed.  Or to extend the 'life' of a body, for example if family cannot make it to the body for a few weeks but want to see it for closure or custom.

    Anyway, with that aside there are two main types of embalming; TP (or 'temporary preservation" and Full embalm.

- The TP method is a simple and quick process to just replace blood with preservation fluids.  A trochar is also used to remove and replace fluids inside the torso of the body.  This method is quick and will not preserve a body forever, but it does get rid of fluids and can preserve a body for a long time.  This method must be used on all bodies that go into crypts or vaults.

- The full embalm method is a much more intensive and difficult process.  Not only is the blood replaced but all organs are actually removed.  With the TP method the abdomen is essentially 'stabbed' with the trochar, but in a full embalm the torso is cut open and every organ is removed (including the brain).  The organs are then diced up into chunks.  This can be done with scissors, knives or whatever the embalmer prefers.  Next the organs are dried with a special preserving power.  This powder is scattered into the open and empty torso before the organs are put back.  The body is sewed up and "made like new" as they said.

    With embalming all orifices are plugged.  Wadding is inserted into every orifice ("from nose to ass" as someone once said) to prevent leakage.  many find this strange, some even sexualise it.  I read an interview with an open necrophiliac who commented that it was strange when embalmers did this.  But to them it is just part of the job, it is not sexual or strange.



More Information:

- If you want more information for mourners or those outside the industry then go to my 'advice for mourners' page.

- If you want more information from an undertakers perspective then go to my 'working funerals' page.

- I also have a 'misconceptions and questions' page where I address some common issues or doubts.



An~~

5 comments:

  1. Very well illustration and information about the process of dead in funeral.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous17/6/14 01:21

    What happens if a body is not embalmed

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous31/7/14 04:44

    thank you so much for this very informative post.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous18/9/14 01:10

    Hello, I appreciate all of the information regarding the process. I've lost several individuals whom I cared for deeply in the last two years. As a scientist, I'm curious about everything. This topic is one which I feel is difficult to gather detailed information in tactful manner. One question has been on my mind since my best friend passed away due to an opiate overdose: Why would a funeral home put plastic (or something similar) on the arms of the deceased? My initial thought was due to decomposition, tissue leakage and/or ulcerations due to decomp (he was found a few days after he passed). After reading a few posts, I think I'm probably on the right track. Is there a special "protocol" (for lack of a better term) for treatment of a body that has begun to decompose? Thank you for being kind and answering rather odd questions.

    ReplyDelete
  5. gross funeral people are pervs n freaks. jus nasty!!!!

    ReplyDelete

Never hesitate to ask a question or comment on something, this is an open minded and free space.

If you want to contact me privately do so at: theothersideoffunerals@gmail.com

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