Brace yourself – some of this info is kind of gory…
Embalming involves draining blood out of the body and replacing it with a formaldehyde-based preservative. In addition, the abdominal organs are punctured, bacteria and visceral fluid are vacuumed out, and the area is filled with more formaldehyde. This treatment slows, but does not stop, decomposition of the body, and it can plump up the skin’s appearance.
My friend Kathleen told me about the unique viewing her family had for her father. He died in 1987 of gallbladder cancer that had spread to his liver, rendering his skin jaundiced and deeply creased at the time of his death. The family didn’t want a general viewing at the funeral, just a private one for immediate family the night before.
Her dad was an avid deer hunter and fisherman who rarely wore a suit. The family just couldn’t see burying him in something he wouldn’t have been comfortable in. They provided his favorite plaid shirt, jeans and fishing hat to dress him for the viewing. The mortician worked magic with embalming and makeup.
“When my siblings and I saw him the night of the viewing, almost simultaneously we exclaimed, ‘It looks like Dad’s taking a nap!’ It gave us such peace to see him at rest in the kind of clothes he was most comfortable in,” said Kathleen. The family decided to share this peaceful vision with others and held a viewing the next day at the church just prior to the funeral service.
The religious traditions of Jews and Muslims prohibit embalming, as the blood is considered a part of the body to be buried with the deceased. In addition, nothing should be done to retard, or in the case of cremation, accelerate, the returning of the body into the earth.