Embalming a Body Before Cremation

Updated

Some people will look at the title of this article and quickly click away to a more pleasant topic. We get it. Death is brutal enough to think about without thinking of related issues, such as embalming, burial, and cremation.

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However, some of you wish to be completely informed before deciding on your future end-of-life plans or planning a loved one’s funeral. If you fall into the second category, kudos to you. There’s a lot of misinformation regarding embalming, and being informed may help you save money on funeral expenses. As a courtesy, we will present this material as delicately as possible. 

Let’s answer some of the most popular questions about embalming and cremation. We will also discuss the pros and cons of embalming. 

What Is Embalming?

Before we discuss cremation and embalming, please allow us to give you a general understanding of the embalming process

Typically, embalming refers to the process of temporary body preservation, which is done in the following steps:

  1. The body is cleaned and disinfected. 
  2. The body is placed into a natural position. Procedures are performed to correct the appearance, including suturing and setting the face, placing eye caps, and setting the eyes in a natural position. 
  3. The mortician removes the blood from the body and simultaneously adds embalming chemicals into the arteries. 
  4. The remaining fluid is removed from the organs, and the body cavity is filled with embalming fluid. 
  5. A smaller hypodermic needle is used to inject embalming fluid into any remaining areas. 
  6. The mortician applies embalming fluid, as needed, topically onto the body. 
  7. The body is washed and dressed in the clothing the family provides. The staff may apply makeup and style the hair, and the body is positioned in the casket. 

Embalming helps preserve the body for a short time. The length of time depends on a variety of factors, including the chemicals used, the methods used for injecting the chemicals, and the temperature and humidity in the surrounding area where the body is stored.

Are Bodies Typically Embalmed Before Cremation?

No—typically, bodies are not embalmed before cremation. However, certain situations might warrant the family paying for the process.

Why Do People Embalm Bodies Before Cremation?

In the U.S., embalming began to gain popularity during the Civil War. When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, his “funeral train” traveled through 180 cities and seven states, from Washington, D.C. to Illinois. The body was embalmed, which allowed citizens to gather along the route to see their martyred president. 

The act of body preservation began to gain in popularity during this time, and it continued for decades. Some say that the process is necessary if the body is to be displayed at an open-casket visitation prior to the cremation. It is said that the embalming process will ensure that the body will be in an appropriate condition for viewing. 

While it is worth noting that embalming is typically not required by law, most funeral homes encourage the practice if the body is to be displayed in the casket at a viewing, wake, or other type of end-of-life service. After all, the funeral home’s reputation would be harmed if a body was inappropriately displayed at one of their services.

However, embalming is never required as long as the body is properly preserved with refrigeration. If the body must wait to be cremated and refrigeration is not available, however, embalming may be required. Embalming might also be suggested to save on money as opposed to paying for refrigerated storage until cremation can take place.

Another reason that families may choose to have their loved one’s body embalmed is if they are waiting for a family member to arrive to have a private viewing of the body before cremation. 

Finally, some states require embalming if the deceased is to be transported across state lines in a plane or train before cremation. Those states are California, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, and New Jersey. First, of course, confirm that these laws are still in effect, and you also might want to ask the funeral home or cremation center the laws regarding transporting a corpse across state lines in a hearse.

How Much Does It Cost to Embalm a Body Before a Cremation?

Embalming costs between $500 and $1,000 in the U.S. 

The embalming process varies depending on the body’s condition when it arrives on the mortician’s table since part of the process includes the aesthetic preparation of the deceased. Bodies that have been in an accident, and those that have been autopsied, take more time to prepare for viewing. 

Some funeral homes might bill for the chemical embalming separately from work needed to give the body a life-like appearance. Other funeral homes may package the two services together. 

Extreme embalming may be available in some areas. 

Pros of Embalming a Body Before Cremation

Are you unsure whether you should request that the body be embalmed before cremation? Here are some thoughts about why families choose to have their loved one’s body embalmed.

Embalming may allow for an open-casket visitation

As we mentioned, typically, a body is embalmed if the family plans an open-casket portion of the end-of-life service. 

Even if some of the family was able to see the body immediately after death, other family members and friends might wish to have the opportunity to view the body before cremation. This is one reason that families opt for a viewing. 

Perhaps you feel no need or desire to see your loved one’s deceased body. However, other people in your extended family may need to see the deceased’s body to obtain closure. Others might want to touch or kiss the body one last time. Still, others want to see a person’s body to verify in their heart and mind that their loved one has really passed.

Seeing a body in a casket is not important to everyone, but it is crucial to some. 

Refrigerated storage isn’t available

If you must wait more than several days to cremate and there is no refrigeration available, you must embalm. 

You need to postpone the cremation until all family members can view the body

Perhaps illness, military service, international travel, or a pandemic have made it difficult for some of your family members to see the deceased before the body is cremated. As a result, the family may choose to have the body embalmed while waiting for out-of-town family members to arrive. 

It makes the family more comfortable

Of course, people view death differently. Some prefer the idea of their loved one’s body being preserved for as long as possible. So if there is any length of time between the death and cremation, they may discuss embalming options with the funeral home. 

Cons of Embalming a Body Before Getting Cremated

Here are some reasons people choose to have the body of their loved one cremated without being embalmed.

Embalming increases the costs of your loved one’s funeral

It costs more money to have an open-casket portion of an end-of-life service. If you skip the open-casket visitation, you can save on the costs of embalming, casket rental, transportation costs to the funeral site, and the cost of storing the body. 

If you wish to save money on your loved one’s end-of-life services, direct cremation is one of the least expensive options. Direct cremation occurs when the body is immediately moved from the place of death to the cremation center. 

Embalming chemicals aren’t eco-friendly

Proponents of green burials promote the idea of natural decay. This, of course, does not occur when the body is embalmed. However, most cemeteries also require a vault for burial, which further inhibits the natural decaying process.

On the other hand, some argue that traditional cremation is also not eco-friendly. 

Embalming is not required by law

Some families erroneously think that embalming is always required by law. However, in most cases, this isn’t true. Some also say that embalming isn’t necessarily needed to have an open-casket service, as long as not too much time has passed after the death. This, of course, is assuming the body was found immediately after death and has been stored appropriately.

It makes the family more comfortable

Some families are uncomfortable with the idea of embalming and would prefer for the body to be cremated without undergoing the process.

Create an End-of-Life Plan

Most people form opinions when forced to consider embalming, cremation, and burial. In fact, you may already know your preferred method of disposition and the course of action you want to have taken after you die.

However, your choices won’t necessarily be followed unless you leave behind a written end-of-life plan. The reality is that even if you tell your family the types of services you would like to have after your death, they may not remember when the time comes. After all, the death of a close family member is a traumatic event, and survivors often experience brain fog when death occurs. 

They may have also blocked out the details of your conversation because they didn’t want to think about your passing. 

Whether you wish to be cremated immediately or embalmed first and then cremated is up to you and your family. But if you have a preference, make sure you record it in an easy-to-locate plan. 

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