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Death Bean
03-02-2008, 03:46 PM
Having being lucky in that no one really close to me has passed away, I have little or no experience with funeral homes, and lots of questions... I'll make a list...

Do they actually embalm/dress the body in a back room of the funeral home one would walk into to make arrangements? And is that where the body gets put into the coffin?
If so, where does the body come from? The morgue at the hospital? Is it delivered naked (or with a sheet?) for the funeral home to dress?
What typical staff would be employed in a family firm?And, slightly off-topic but death-related nonetheless: burials at sea. Is the coffin watertight, and weighed down with bricks or similar to keep it from bobbing back up to the surface, or is the water allowed to leak in and so sink the coffin? Do they MAKE watertight coffins, and if so, for what purpose? And am I insane for thinking they might? :D

Any info would be great!

oneblindmouse
03-02-2008, 04:54 PM
At sea there is NO coffin. The body is weighted so it will sink.

oneblindmouse
03-02-2008, 05:00 PM
Further to your question, burial practises vary between countries and cultures. In Spain, where I live, the deceased has to be buried within 48 hours BY LAW (presumably dating from pre-fridge days) unless there is a police inquest, whereas in the UK, for example, the dead body often lies at the funeral home for up to a week!

johnnysannie
03-02-2008, 06:30 PM
[QUOTE=Death Bean;2114737]Having being lucky in that no one really close to me has passed away, I have little or no experience with funeral homes, and lots of questions... I'll make a list...

Do they actually embalm/dress the body in a back room of the funeral home one would walk into to make arrangements? And is that where the body gets put into the coffin?
If so, where does the body come from? The morgue at the hospital? Is it delivered naked (or with a sheet?) for the funeral home to dress?
What typical staff would be employed in a family firm?And, slightly off-topic but death-related nonetheless: burials at sea. Is the coffin watertight, and weighed down with bricks or similar to keep it from bobbing back up to the surface, or is the water allowed to leak in and so sink the coffin? Do they MAKE watertight coffins, and if so, for what purpose? And am I insane for thinking they might? :D


Having participated in making arrangements for both of my grandmothers, the second just over a year ago, I can provide answers from my own experience that may help you.

Do they actually embalm/dress the body in a back room of the funeral home one would walk into to make arrangements? And is that where the body gets put into the coffin?

Yes, they do embalm, prepare and dress the body in a workroom area of the funeral home. Family members are not generally permitted entrance to these areas. Family members do provide the clothing and other items that the body will wear. This includes shoes - although the shoes are not put on the feet but they ask you to provide them. And yes, that is where the body is placed into the coffin. Nowadays, you pick the casket from small samples (not the whole coffin but enough to choose color, handles, etc) but at one time - and this may still be true in some places -you picked the casket from a room full of them, something like a new car lot.


If so, where does the body come from? The morgue at the hospital? Is it delivered naked (or with a sheet?) for the funeral home to dress?

If the death happens at a hospital then yes, the body comes from there and yes, generally the corpses are naked. If DOA, the clothing is normally destroyed. I think the bodies are covered with a sheet or some covering; one of my cousins, God bless him, accompanied my grandmother's body from the hospital to the funeral home. I really don't know if that is standard; I tend to doubt it but he is a deputy sheriff (second in command in that particular county) and they know him. He wanted to do this as a last service for our grandmother


What typical staff would be employed in a family firm?[/

Funeral directors (the people you talk with to set up the arrangements, buy the casket, etc), embalmers, and office people. I think - but I am not sure - that licensed funeral directors in many states can and do also embalm. They attend mortuary school; might be a place to look up online for more details.

I'm sure if you visited a local funeral home they would be happy to help answer some of your questions.

DonnaDuck
03-02-2008, 06:43 PM
My cousin works in a funeral home and they've had to cater to a bunch of different cultural practices. What Johnny said is pretty much spot on and funeral homes will cater to the family as much as they're legally allowed. One time they had to have I think it was a Korean (Asian somewhere, at least) family and their funeral process involved something like 48 hours at the funeral home with food at the casket. Fine in their own country, very illegal here (the food part). My cousin is a funeral director so it's her job to make all of the arrangements. She's not legally allowed to embalm or any of that and they have separate people doing that and doing the cosmetics (they have a really good cosmetics person). And FYI, the fluids they pump from the body after embalming isn't considered biohazard and is just dumped directly into the sewer. I was shocked to find that one out.

Haggis
03-02-2008, 07:03 PM
If you can get your hands on a copy of The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford, it would answer a lot of your questions. I'm sure the book is out of print, but it is a classic on the American death industry.

eldragon
03-02-2008, 07:23 PM
Do they actually embalm/dress the body in a back room of the funeral home one would walk into to make arrangements? Usually there is a separate area, downstairs is common if there is a downstairs, that houses areas for embalming and cremation. The public is never allowed down there.
Arrangements are made in a comfortable area that is public. A conference room with a large table and chairs, for example. There is usually a coffin/casket display room with numerous examples of caskets and other things you can buy, like special casket liners, pillows, urns, etc.


And is that where the body gets put into the coffin?
After its prepared. Some people may not know that the bottom of a modern casket is flimsy and can be turned with a crank, lowed to allow for a larger person, raised to allow for a smaller person, etc.
If so, where does the body come from? Only big city hospitals have morgues. In a regular hospital or nursing home, the body is removed of IV's and other such medical things - and the nurse closes the patients eyes and lays the arms flat down by its side. The nurse also cleans the body of any wastes that are obvious and puts on a diaper for transport. Depending on the facility and any cultural/religious wishes, the body is dressed in either a clean sheet or gown provided by the institution or family until the undertaker arrives for it. It always wears a diaper.


he morgue at the hospital? Is it delivered naked (or with a sheet?) for the funeral home to dress? See above.
What typical staff would be employed in a family firm? I've known two family funeral homes, and in both instances, the funeral director was also licensed to embalm. In these cases, he/she picked up the body, transported it back to the facility and after the family decided what services to do, the body was prepared by the same person. That director did all the sales work, also. They handle the obituary and death notices, make sure the death certificate is complete, too. A larger firm may employ one or two embalmers and a hair dresser, and a clerical person.

Appalachian Writer
03-02-2008, 08:18 PM
Do they actually embalm/dress the body in a back room of the funeral home one would walk into to make arrangements? And is that where the body gets put into the coffin?
If so, where does the body come from? The morgue at the hospital? Is it delivered naked (or with a sheet?) for the funeral home to dress?
What typical staff would be employed in a family firm?

There is a room in any funeral home where the body is embalmed (a horrific practice involving barbaric techniques. Embalming was reserved for the wealthy until the Civil War era in America when hundreds of bodies were shipped great distances by train.) The body is also dressed there, usually in garb provided by the family but funeral homes also have garments that they can provide upon request. The body is dressed in that area of the funeral home and then placed in a coffin where the make-up is provided.

Bodies, as a rule, are shipped from the hospital but not necessarily. In the event that the patient suffered from a long illness and was under at-home hospice or nursing care, the funeral home can come directly to the home to pick up the body provided the state does not have ordinances that require autopsy in the event of an at-home death. The body goes to the funeral home dressed as it was at the time of death, but usually after the body fluids expelled while dying are cleaned and the body is washed. Some states require emblaming but others do not, and in the case of the latter, the family is at liberty to conduct a home funeral, provide their own home-made coffin, etc.

A funeral home usually employs someone who does the emblaming, not necessarily the director. The Gupton-Jones Funeral College in Atlanta, GA is the largest mortician's school in America and formally trains most morticians in both embalming techniques and the business management segment of funerals. Any number of Funeral Directors might be employed, depending on the size of the funeral home, either part-time or full-time. If the owner of the establishment doesn't have the business acumen required, there might also be someone to handle AP/AR, collections, etc. The only official within the home itself who needs licensing is the mortician/embalmer.

Kathie Freeman
03-02-2008, 09:57 PM
For burial at sea the body is usually sewn into a canvas wrapper and weighted.

kellytijer
03-02-2008, 10:44 PM
If you can get your hands on a copy of The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford, it would answer a lot of your questions. I'm sure the book is out of print, but it is a classic on the American death industry.

I'd also recommend "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" by Mary Roach.

She delves into the subject of dead bodies and all of the crazy things that are done with them across cultures and eras. I'm only halfway through the book myself. It proved to be one of those reads I had to give myself a break from; it's pretty gruesome.

Don Allen
03-02-2008, 11:11 PM
I think everyone above me has answered you questions pretty well, I just wanted to add sort of a side note that as stoic and somber funeral directors seem at the the time of the wake or funeral, they are pretty cavalier about corpses, grieving families, and the business as a whole outside the view of a deceased family memebers. (...and rightfully so, obviously it's still a business and you can't walk around like death warmed over all the time) I bring this up because as a kid I used to deliver flowers to funeral parlors and would take them in the back way and see the goings on of the funeral homes. There were guys playing poker, eating hamburgers, telling jokes and going about there business while this stiff was laying on a table waiting to be dressed in full view of everyone as if some sort of wall decoration.

reigningcatsndogs
03-03-2008, 12:50 AM
I had to arrange three funerals in three months -- different religions, different communities, different funeral homes. They all had the same sort of show room for coffins. If you want a cremation, they actually will put a plain box inside a coffin so that it looks nice for the services, and then life it out of the fancy coffin for the cremation part (the inside is still lined and nice, but you aren't paying for the fancy wood and finish). you just sort of rent the nice coffin for show purposes. its much more affordable that way.

my sister works as a nurse, and they do prepare the bodies before they leave the hospital, at least in any that she has worked in, and she says the nurses who do that, do so with the utmost respect. There is a fairly detailed description of what they do, and she said it varies from hospital to hospital and from province to province (in Canada), but the basics are pretty much the same. the body is then moved to the morgue, and the undertaker is called and picks it up there.

they ask if we will provide clothes, or if they should provide them. they do what they can to make the body presentable if there are any wounds, facial or body damage. they will bring the body out, in the coffin, for viewing whenever the family wants them to. if the person dies at home without unusual circumstances (at least in BC and Alberta), the police are notified, they request permission from the medical examiner to remove the body, stating the circumstances as non-suspicious, and the undertaker will attend at the house to pick up the body.

and every one of the undertakers/funeral directors i dealt with, whispers when they talk to the family. I don't know if that's a job requirement or not!! ;)

HeronW
03-03-2008, 01:35 AM
The embalming, dress and makeup is done in a back room away from the public, NOT where one would go to make arrangements. Yes, there the body is placed in the coffin.

The funeral home will pick up from hospitals, homes, or wherever if there is no foulplay suspected and a medical examiner is not needed. The body is taken away in the state it is in--however clothed. A large black plastic zippered bag is used. The family provides the clothing they wish their loved one to wear.

Some funeral homes are large, some are small so staff in the latter may multi-task:
bringing the body to the prep room,
repairing damage (from accident or disease)
makeup
hair dressing
dressing the body.

If one died at sea, bodies are weighted to sink. Or there could be a makeshift pyre built on a small raft as a farewell.

Joycecwilliams
03-03-2008, 01:54 AM
Having being lucky in that no one really close to me has passed away, I have little or no experience with funeral homes, and lots of questions... I'll make a list...

Do they actually embalm/dress the body in a back room of the funeral home one would walk into to make arrangements? And is that where the body gets put into the coffin?
If so, where does the body come from? The morgue at the hospital? Is it delivered naked (or with a sheet?) for the funeral home to dress?
What typical staff would be employed in a family firm?And, slightly off-topic but death-related nonetheless: burials at sea. Is the coffin watertight, and weighed down with bricks or similar to keep it from bobbing back up to the surface, or is the water allowed to leak in and so sink the coffin? Do they MAKE watertight coffins, and if so, for what purpose? And am I insane for thinking they might? :D

Any info would be great!
Usually the funeral home picks the body up from the hospital.
There is usually an embalming room where the embalming is done. It is not accessible to the general public and in most cases is in the basement of the funeral palor (unless there is no basement)
My father was a barber and would cut hair for one funeral palor. I know they also use hairdressers. Not all funeral homes are operated by families.. so many types of people may be employed. Drivers, secretary and perhaps.
When my son in law died he was wrapped in a cover (don't think it was a sheet, because it was not white) at the funeral home and nothing underneath.

KTC
03-03-2008, 06:59 AM
I don't think most funeral homes bring in extra help for grooming, make-up, etc. Usually, it's the funeral directors who perform these tasks.

kellytijer
03-03-2008, 07:24 AM
I don't think most funeral homes bring in extra help for grooming, make-up, etc. Usually, it's the funeral directors who perform these tasks.

OK, now I have a question. My mom always tells me she wants me to do her hair/makeup for her funeral. I shudder at the thought, but hey, it's her wish. Would a funeral parlor actually let me do that?

Sorry for the derail...

dolores haze
03-03-2008, 07:40 AM
They let me and my sisters do our step mom's hair and make-up. It wasn't easy, but we knew exactly how she would have wanted to look.

kellytijer
03-03-2008, 07:49 AM
That's how it is with mom, she say, "Kelly, only you know..."

Man, that means I might have to actually do it. I love my mom more than anything, but...man.

Keyboard Hound
03-03-2008, 08:31 AM
Our funeral homes allow local hair dressers the change to prepare the hair of the deceased one last time. I've been in the back of a funeral home twice with someone close to me. Once was with my grandmother and then with my dad. To those of you worrying, it was a relief to me to see them looking natural and rested and peaceful in death (and they both did). I was thankful to go with the person who did their hair and make up and have this one last time with them without others around. The experience was not scary and heart-wrenching at all, like I thought it would be. It was not nearly as jarring as walking into a viewing room and seeing the person laid out in a coffin the first time after their death.

Now that I think of it, I think what was most unusual was seeing their bodies in intense lighting used to work by and not the dim lights in the viewing rooms.

Other than the stainless steel table, regular counters with storage surrounded the rest of the room. Bins for socks and underwear sat on the counter top. I noticed that the socks were irregulars.

The bodies were neatly sheet-covered, except for the head. They lay on a stainless steel table elevated at the head and made to drain. A wedge-type pillow was under the head to allow for ease of fixing the hair and make up. Everything was neat and clinical, and all the exchanges I saw going on among staff were most respectful. They showed us to the room, asked if we needed anything, and told us where to come if we did need them.

After the hair was fixed and the makeup completed, they asked us to leave and they put them in the coffin.

I did not feel near as much peace in the viewing room later when the entire community was present as I did in that sterile preparation room.

IceCreamEmpress
03-03-2008, 09:06 AM
Thomas Lynch, a poet and funeral director, has a great memoir called The Undertaking. Also seconding Stiff.

The Mitford book is an amazing piece of journalism, but it's way out of date now. I think it was very accurate in its day, though.

Death Bean
03-03-2008, 06:12 PM
So helpful!! Thanks everyone for your advice/memories... it's just the extra inside knowledge I needed to give substance to my script. I don't know why I thought they used coffins with burials at sea... movies, perhaps?

I never knew there was such a thing as mortuary school, Johnny, I'll have to Google that I think...

It's nice to know that death as a process is still touchingly personal, with the funeral home making allowances where needed - although I think if I had to do my mum's hair when she died, kellytijer, I might just freak out completely... kudos to you on that one. :)

DonnaDuck
03-03-2008, 07:34 PM
I think everyone above me has answered you questions pretty well, I just wanted to add sort of a side note that as stoic and somber funeral directors seem at the the time of the wake or funeral, they are pretty cavalier about corpses, grieving families, and the business as a whole outside the view of a deceased family memebers. (...and rightfully so, obviously it's still a business and you can't walk around like death warmed over all the time) I bring this up because as a kid I used to deliver flowers to funeral parlors and would take them in the back way and see the goings on of the funeral homes. There were guys playing poker, eating hamburgers, telling jokes and going about there business while this stiff was laying on a table waiting to be dressed in full view of everyone as if some sort of wall decoration.

My cousin and the people she works with do this as well. You have to desensitize yourself to it all otherwise you won't be able to function. Granted there are a few instances that get through but most of the time, they act as if they're in an office and the bodies are desks. It's nothing personal but they need to step back in order to do their jobs properly.

I don't think most funeral homes bring in extra help for grooming, make-up, etc. Usually, it's the funeral directors who perform these tasks.

It depends on the funeral home. The one my cousin works at hires someone specifically skilled in applying death make-up. I've heard they're one of the best and the skill of the person doing it shows on the face of the deceased.

OK, now I have a question. My mom always tells me she wants me to do her hair/makeup for her funeral. I shudder at the thought, but hey, it's her wish. Would a funeral parlor actually let me do that?

Sorry for the derail...

I think it depends on the funeral home. Especially for a base make-up, it's not yoru standard Almay they use but a thick, almost paint-like substance in order to make the person, well, not look like death. I would think though, if that were the deceased wishes, they'd allow you to apply the make-up after that initial layer or, at the very least, they'd let you supervise the hair and make-up to make sure they get it right.

StephanieFox
03-07-2008, 05:34 AM
I have friends in the funeral business:


Do they actually embalm/dress the body in a back room of the funeral home one would walk into to make arrangements? And is that where the body gets put into the coffin?
Maybe not in a 'back room", but somewhere in the funeral home. My friend's funeral home would embalm/dress/makeup everything in a room in the basement, then put it in the chosen coffin and bring it by elevator to the public part of the home.

If so, where does the body come from? The morgue at the hospital? Is it delivered naked (or with a sheet?) for the funeral home to dress?
My friends were on call 24/7 to go pick up bodies from hospitals, nursing homes (even the airport). They don't go out and pick up bodies where they landed. From nursing homes, they'd pick them up in the clothes they were wearing.


What typical staff would be employed in a family firm?
That would differ per family. This one had people picking up bodies, embalming them, doing make-up, people to arrange and run the memorial service, people on the business end and even a bulldog who worked as a greeter.

Haggis
03-07-2008, 06:35 AM
I don't mean to steal the thread, but I have a question about body preparation too, and I'm hopeful someone can answer it (it's for a story). It also might be gruesome to some of you, so please stop reading here if this sort of stuff bothers you.





My understanding is that it used to be normal practice for funeral homes to sew the cadaver's lips together to prevent the jaw from slacking. I've presumed that's also what they do to keep the eyelids closed. Is this current practice, or are there glues or something else that is used instead today?

sheadakota
03-07-2008, 06:41 AM
I only have one small detail to add to all the fine information you got- If the person dies in a hospital less than 24 hours after admission then it is a coroners case and an autoposy must be performed by law (at least in Pa) Nothing can be removed from the body including IVs, indwelling catheters or endotracheal tubes- everything is capped and the body is sent to the morgue naked in a body body bag- yes with a toe tag and a tag on the zipper of the bag for ID.

Don Allen
03-07-2008, 06:47 AM
Haggis, i heard that as well, also back in the day i dont think they do this any more but a good embalmer would cut the tendons of a corpse because they could tighten up and the corpse would spring to life so to speak and scare the bejesus out of the wake crowd. i don't know how they prevent that these days.

Haggis
03-07-2008, 06:58 AM
Haggis, i heard that as well, also back in the day i dont think they do this any more but a good embalmer would cut the tendons of a corpse because they could tighten up and the corpse would spring to life so to speak and scare the bejesus out of the wake crowd. i don't know how they prevent that these days.

That's one I haven't heard, Don. Thanks. I'll check that out.

dolores haze
03-07-2008, 07:04 AM
My understanding is that it used to be normal practice for funeral homes to sew the cadaver's lips together to prevent the jaw from slacking. I've presumed that's also what they do to keep the eyelids closed. Is this current practice, or are there glues or something else that is used instead today?

My hubby used to be a mortician (true!). They used a device that wired the jaw closed. This prevents a slack-jawed look in the deceased. For eyes - they used small plastic caps that were placed on the eyeball. The eyelid was pulled down and the cap (which had tiny nubs) kept the eyelid in place. Glue would still be used on the lips if the mouth was persistently open.

Haggis
03-07-2008, 07:06 AM
My hubby used to be a mortician (true!). They used a device that wired the jaw closed. This prevents a slack-jawed look in the deceased. For eyes - they used small plastic caps that were placed on the eyeball. The eyelid was pulled down and the cap (which had tiny nubs) kept the eyelid in place. Glue would still be used on the lips if the mouth was persistently open.

Invaluable, Dolores. Thank you so much. *kiss*

dolores haze
03-07-2008, 07:08 AM
Haggis, i heard that as well, also back in the day i dont think they do this any more but a good embalmer would cut the tendons of a corpse because they could tighten up and the corpse would spring to life so to speak and scare the bejesus out of the wake crowd. i don't know how they prevent that these days.

Hubby can't speak as to what they did back in the day, but says the cutting of tendons is not current practice. He then went on at length about "breaking the rigor" to ensure a relaxed corpse, but I don't think I'm up to giving the details.

Haggis
03-07-2008, 07:14 AM
Hubby can't speak as to what they did back in the day, but says the cutting of tendons is not current practice. He then went on at length about "breaking the rigor" to ensure a relaxed corpse, but I don't think I'm up to giving the details.

My understanding is that rigor mortis begins to reverse after 24 hours or so. This is for an unrefrigerated body. But "breaking the rigor" is interesting....

*scurries off to Google*

Haggis
03-07-2008, 07:39 AM
My understanding is that rigor mortis begins to reverse after 24 hours or so. This is for an unrefrigerated body. But "breaking the rigor" is interesting....

*scurries off to Google*

I found a fascinating link (http://books.google.com/books?id=ioN368DebtcC&pg=PA204&lpg=PA204&dq=breaking+the+rigor&source=web&ots=oz_HV3ishv&sig=kTZnjbuHBYu3dm55AV8Ozf5Jgrc&hl=en#PPT1,M1), thanks to Dolores's comments, which answered the rest of my questions.

Thanks, folks.

Shell
03-09-2008, 09:12 AM
I only have one small detail to add to all the fine information you got- If the person dies in a hospital less than 24 hours after admission then it is a coroners case and an autoposy must be performed by law (at least in Pa) Nothing can be removed from the body including IVs, indwelling catheters or endotracheal tubes- everything is capped and the body is sent to the morgue naked in a body body bag- yes with a toe tag and a tag on the zipper of the bag for ID.


My dad died in the hospital after a week there - and his body was sent to the funeral home with the cast still on his arm, the IV's & catheters in, etc.. Don't know about his state of undress. He was only wearing a hospital gown when he died anyway. No autopsy was performed.

The funeral director seemed surprised that they had to remove all that stuff themselves - it was odd in their experience. (This was a very busy mortuary in Queens, NY - close to a very large hospital - so these guys weren't mortuary virgins or anything.)

Death Bean
03-10-2008, 07:03 PM
Glad you posted, Haggis - very interesting, I didn't know they fastened the lips at all... or the eyelids... :D

P.S. I'm also finding this strangely comforting... knowing what's likely to happen when my contract finally runs out. ;)

Haggis
03-10-2008, 07:29 PM
Glad you posted, Haggis - very interesting, I didn't know they fastened the lips at all... or the eyelids... :D

P.S. I'm also finding this strangely comforting... knowing what's likely to happen when my contract finally runs out. ;)

Thanks, Death. It's really integral to a story I'm working on.

It's all strangely comforting to me too, as it confirms my decision to opt for cremation. :D