When a loved one passes, you may have many questions about the process of planning their funeral. For instance, if you’re choosing between cremation or burial, maybe you want to know more about the environmental impact of each.
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You may also be asking the basic but understandable question “How is a body placed in a casket?” After all, you want to be sure those handling your loved one’s body are exercising the proper degree of care.
Keep reading if so. Whether you’re planning a loved one’s funeral, or you simply find this subject interesting, this guide will explain the typical method for placing bodies in caskets, helping you better understand the steps involved.
How Is a Body Put in a Coffin or Casket?
Although there are different types of caskets, how a funeral team will place a body in a casket tends to be the same regardless. This general overview describes it.
Before anyone places a body in a casket, they typically need to prepare the body first.
This involves several potential steps. While the specific steps in the process can vary depending on several factors, such as how long someone has been dead, the following are relatively common:
Embalming a body preserves it for a viewing, funeral, or cremation. Additionally, certain embalming fluids, such as formaldehyde, restore some color to the skin of a body. This makes them look more “alive.” Because embalmers must make incisions to raise arteries before injecting embalming fluid, they’ll choose to do so in specific areas of the body where loved ones won’t see the incisions during viewings.
Keep in mind, though, if a funeral home has a refrigerator and loved ones plan on burying the deceased soon, there are instances when embalming isn’t necessary.
Draining blood and other fluids from the chest cavity and organs is usually the next step after embalming. A specialist will make an incision beneath the rib cage, insert a suction pump tool, and use it to drain the chest cavity. Then they’ll do the same for all the necessary organs.
The specialist responsible for draining fluid may be the one responsible for removing any remaining contents of the bowels, bladder, and intestines as well. They’ll finally complete the process by distributing cavity fluid in certain essential areas. This guards against odors.
With cotton wool, a specialist will pack a body’s nose and throat to prevent fluid from leaking out. They may also insert some cotton into the mouth to give it a plumper appearance.
Next, they’ll stitch the mouth closed from the inside, then dry the eyes, insert caps beneath the lids so they keep their shape, and sometimes add Vaseline or a similar product to keep them closed.
Washing and trimming
Once the body is prepared, someone will wash and style its hair. If necessary, they may also shave the body. Usually, they need to trim the nails as well.
While some believe the claim that human nails continue to grow even after we die, that’s not actually true. Instead, the skin retracts when a person dies. This causes the nails to appear longer than they are.
After all these steps are complete, someone will usually try their best to ensure the deceased’s face appears peaceful. Some specialists rely heavily on cosmetics, but not all, as they feel it can make a body look too “waxy” and artificial.
After preparing and dressing the body, it’s time to place it into a coffin or casket. The funeral home staff will recheck a body’s ID tag against its coffin to make sure they place it in the right one.
How they place a body in a casket depends on the equipment available to those handling the task. At some funeral homes, they use machines to lift the body and place them into caskets. At other funeral homes, trained staff members simply lift the body and carefully place it.
The process of placing a body into a casket isn’t necessarily done once the body’s inside of its coffin.
The funeral home staff (or whoever else is handling this task) will typically arrange various parts of the body to ensure it has a dignified, peaceful appearance.
At most open casket funerals, it’s customary to position the head at a slight angle. If the deceased looks like they’re staring down at their feet, they may look uncomfortable. However, if they’re laying with their head completely flat, they’ll appear too “corpse-like.” To make achieving the perfect angle easier, many will place a small block in the casket beneath the deceased’s head. When their head rests on this block correctly, the angle is perfect.
It’s also common to tilt the head to the right very slightly. This allows people to get a clear view of the deceased’s face when approaching the casket at a viewing. If the head wasn’t slightly tilted to the right, they would have to lean in too close to get a good look.
The traditional hand placement involves placing both hands so they rest on the abdomen, with the wedding ring hand resting on top of the other. It’s also important that the fingers comfortably touch. If the fingers aren’t touching, it can look as though the deceased is preparing to grab something. You can probably understand why that wouldn’t be a pleasant thought at a viewing.
To ensure the fingers stay together, the embalmer may wrap cotton around them during the embalming, that way they’ll stay together a day or two later when they remove the cotton.
Leg positioning is fairly simple. The goal is mainly to have the legs comfortably up against one another, with the feet pointed up. That said, depending on whether a family chooses a full-couch casket (open all the way), or a half-couch casket (open only on the top half), it's possible no one will see the legs at a viewing anyway.
It’s worth mentioning that the placements described above aren’t the only potential options in all instances. For example, if the deceased is a child, oftentimes the choice will be to let the hands simply lie at their sides, instead of being held together over the abdomen. That type of hand placement looks too “adult” or mature for a child’s body.
How is a Body Put in a Mausoleum?
Cremating or burying the dead isn’t the only option after a funeral. Some choose to place a loved one’s coffin in an above-ground mausoleum instead. This section of the blog explains how they would transfer the casket to the actual crypt within the mausoleum.
1. Casket removal
In most cases, a deceased’s casket will be waiting for those putting them to rest when they arrive at a mausoleum. Pallbearers will place it atop a wheeled cart for transfer to the crypt. The crypt is usually open already, but a curtain may cover it.
Families often can choose their own pallbearers for at least the initial stages of the process (as later stages might involve exercising a degree of care that requires training). However, it’s important to account for how much a casket weighs when choosing pallbearers. For example, metal caskets and hardwood caskets weigh more than softwood or biodegradable caskets.
Depending on the preferences of those saying goodbye to a loved one, they may hold a brief service at the crypt before actually placing the casket inside of it.
Next, it’s time to place the casket into the crypt. If the crypt opening is low enough to the ground, pallbearers will simply place it into the opening with care. A specialist might also have added a protective layer to the casket to guard against any potential damage.
However, in some cases, a crypt opening may be too high to reach directly. Pallbearers will place the casket on a lift in these circumstances. Experts will then gently guide it into the crypt once it’s reached the proper height.
The final step in the process of placing a casket into a mausoleum involves sealing the crypt opening. Usually, loved ones can choose to stay and watch this step, but they don’t have to.
It begins with the application of a special sealant to the edges of the crypt opening. Then, someone will insert an interior cover. Along with the sealant, they’ll use screws to ensure it stays in place.
Next, someone will apply the sealant to the edges of the interior cover. They may also place tape over the sealant. Finally, someone will reinstall the decorative crypt cover. It stays in place with the help of rosettes in all four of its corners. In many instances, loved ones have a few weeks to decide what text they want to include on the crypt cover.
Meaningful Casket Alternatives
If you're looking for a unique form of final disposition, you might choose to forgo the casket altogether. Here are some alternatives to the traditional burial in a casket.
1. Cremation jewelry or diamonds
If you're willing to consider cremation for yourself or a loved one, you have more options than ever for how you store the remains. For example, companies like Eterneva can transform a small amount of the ashes into a real diamond, which you can then keep somewhere special or wear in a piece of jewelry.
Other cremation jewelry incorporates a portion of the ashes into glass or resin or holds them in a stainless steel mini-urn.
2. Burial shroud
If returning to nature appeals to you, you can be buried without any casket at all. Instead, choose a burial shroud, which is designed to decompose more quickly than wood, metal, or any other casket material.
3. Tree pod burial or seed paper
An even more elaborate form of returning to the Earth is a tree pod burial. With this method, your body goes into a "pod," where it helps fuel a sapling's roots as it grows. A simpler version of this idea is for the ashes to be buried or scattered along with flower seed paper.
4. Cremation stones or glasswork
Finally, you can turn cremated ashes into beautiful, natural-looking stones with Parting Stone, or infuse them into a piece of vibrant glass artwork.
How is a Body Placed in a Casket? A Delicate Process
Hopefully, this guide has answered your questions about how a body is placed in a casket. That said, it’s important to remember that methods can sometimes vary depending on the setting, resources, and other factors.
The processes this blog described are common, but they aren’t the only way people ever transfer bodies to caskets or mausoleums.
If you're looking for more burial resources, read our guides on cremation vs. burial and how to hold a burying ashes ceremony.
- “Casket Entombment.” YouTube, Mount Pleasant Toronto, 28 June 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=70B7PHFnJgk
- “Positioning of bodies- Tips to get someone positioned in a casket just right.” YouTube, Kari the Mortician, 5 March 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-IKzHdjJHk
- “What really happens when you die?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media Limited, www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2008/feb/16/healthandwellbeing.weekend2