preparing/holding a body for cremation

After an acquaintance died, it was four full days before the body was cremated. Other than keeping the body refrigerated for this interval, is there anything else done to it to keep it from degrading? AIUI, embalming is done when a body will be displayed at room temperature for an extended period, e.g. at open-casket funerals. But also AIUI, gut bacteria tend to begin digesting the body from the inside out as soon as GI mucus production ceases (i.e. shortly after death). Can that process be kept under control for four days with just refrigeration? Or is some sort of embalming process required?

My understanding is there are laws in some states which are mostly unnecessary about things like embalming and casket durability. These were put in place to protect funeral parlors’ profits* as cremation became more common. There’s not a big lobby against such things.

I know when my grandfather died in Florida, my grandmother and my parents complained about all the red tape. Requiring embalming even though there was to be a cremation was one thing in particular. I suspect the Florida undertaker lobby is big what with it serving as God’s waiting room.

My own will specifies a baggy and a match. <== that’s a joke.

Embalming is not always required for burials, and I doubt many of them take place in less than 4 days. According to this , mortuary schools may embalm bodies that are unclaimed after three days.

From the FTC:

“No state law requires routine embalming for every death. Some states require embalming or refrigeration if the body is not buried or cremated within a certain time; some states don’t require it at all. In most cases, refrigeration is an acceptable alternative. In addition, you may choose services like direct cremation and immediate burial, which don’t require any form of preservation.”

If a funeral home says they gotta embalm by state law, take your business elsewhere and report them.

I worked at a mortuary and there were people keep in the reefer for years, particularly those without anyone to claim / pay their funeral expenses. No one was embalmed. Every few years, they’re cremated and their ashes spread at sea. This is in Hawaii. I don’t know how cold the reefer was, but it wasn’t freezing (i.e. no frost on the bodies) and while the air wasn’t fresh, it didn’t smell bad either.

Strangely, there a busy season (fall/winter) and a slow season (spring/summer) for mortuaries and especially during the busy season, the chapels (everywhere) are sometimes solidly booked for weeks, meaning the people have to remain in the reefer. Also, since some deaths are completely unexpected, it can take some time for the family/friends to purchase and arrange for a burial plot and burial.

As for embalming, in Hawaii it’s not required. When my Dad passed, we had a private viewing and the funeral director said that if we wanted to touch him, he’d have to be embalmed, but we didn’t, the didn’t have to be embalmed. We didn’t have him embalmed because we didn’t want to have the embalming needles poked into him. We viewed him on a gurney (we didn’t want to see him in the casket) and we were allowed to walk up to him (though not touch) for as long as we wanted. We probably stayed a couple of hours before we had him created.

As for the body decomposing, it takes a good while (not sure exactly how long) before the effects become noticeable. I worked in the office during the day and did “removals” at night and removed some people who passed away days before. The only time we put on our hazmat gown was when there was a blood puddle because the guy hit his head.

Also, some Filipino families will keep the embalmed person in the house for up the week, sleeping and eating in the same room. I’m not sure how long this custom has been around, but there probably were / possibly still are times when the person isn’t embalmed before the wake begins.

I always took comfort in the fact that embalming would automatically preclude the possibility that I could ever be buried alive. I guess I’ll have to make sure I specifically stipulate it to be done.

If you’re curious, try reading Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty. She worked in a crematory and currently has the Ask a Mortician channel on YouTube. What is done to a body before cremation depends mostly on whether the family wants a viewing before cremation. Caitlin gets very specific, not only on what is done, but why. Specifically, what the body would look like if those things weren’t done.

My Dad died in Florida just under two years ago. He had pre-arranged his cremation but I was there to sign all the paperwork after the fact. I can assure you he was not embalmed.

Just after a loved one has died is a lousy time to make financial decisions regarding funeral arrangements. The funeral home will propose a package with a lot of added items and a rationale for each and it’s hard to say that grandpa doesn’t deserve the prayer cards with the gilt edges.

Cremation takes care of that possibility too, of course.

I talked about his in another thread here. When I worked at the mortuary I blew up at one of the funeral directors because she would constantly oversell services and amenities (yes, she’d push the prayer cards with the gilt edges!). Everyone complained about her, especially the other directors because sometimes the family would start off with one director, who didn’t push things to the hilt, then get assigned to her because the original director was too busy. She was always the top in monthly sales and of course the Sales Manager loved her. After I left I think she switched to pre-paid plans, not sure if it was by choice or not.

BTW, everything at the mortuary is wildly overpriced, especially caskets and flowers (the directors get a big commission on upsells). I’ve seen multi-thousand dollar caskets drop (thankfully empty) from the trolley (about 3 feet) and crack at the seams! I didn’t see it personally, but I was told that sometimes they would completely collapse, just like the movies! I’m sure it never happened at the place I worked (it’s one of the top mortuaries in Hawaii), but I’ve heard stories about expensive caskets being switched for cheaper ones if the person is to be cremated. After all, no one would ever know!

Yes, I encourage everyone to get a pre-paid, pre-arranged funeral plan so your family/friends don’t have to go through the on the spot decisions for you. Be sure to shop around as prices vary tremendously with many salespeople not better than a bad used car salesperson. In fact we used to compare the director I talked about above to a bad used car dealer. Also be sure to make a will to ease things for the survivors.

Fortunately, we had to go through the ordeal of making on the spot funeral arrangements only for my Dad and we had a longtime director with a solid reputation (from other directors). Since my Mom hospitalized and later in a care home the last year of her life, we were able to get a good pre-paid, direct cremation plan with her knowledge and consent.

I wish more people would understand that they don’t need a multi-thousand dollar casket. I understand that the family wants the casket to look nice (for the whole hour or two that anyone sees it) and to some I’m sure the adornments are a bit of a status symbol. But I wish people would understand that they don’t need to pay more for a rubber gasket or solid wood or high quality (interior) cloth and a super comfy pillow.
I’ve seen some that were specifically sold as ‘long lasting’ because the copper/stainless steel doesn’t rust.
Again, I know people want it to look nice but it seems to me, a casket is the right time for metal painted to look like copper/SS or a Cherry veneer wrapped around cheap wood and the cheapest interior you can find…does it really matter if the cloth is scratchy?

As for the gasket, I recall some documentary I was watching mentioning that all that happens when you make a casket water/air tight is cause the body to putrefy instead of decompose “nicely”.

When I’m gone, just stick me on a pine box and be done with it.

I say the same thing. Make sure I am dead and just chunk me in the ground.
We have our own cemetery so we can be as cheap as we want with caskets and the like. The state came and tested the ground to make sure no ground water can be affected. We passed all the perk tests and Mr.Wrekkers Mom, Dad and brother are all buried there. I assume I’ll be there, as will he.

You don’t have to worry about that. Embalming is automatically done unless the family requests otherwise.

Right. Anaerobic bacteria are the ones that produce the really nasty results.

And not that it really matters if you putrefy or decay, I just can’t see paying extra for it to be one way or the other. They’re really preying on the ‘your loved one will be preserved [longer] this way’ thing.
Now, if I was planning to keep my dead grandpa propped up in the living room, sure, that would make sense. But six feet under, never to be seen again, ever, yeah, not paying the extra to make sure he’s in a comfortably lined coffin while he turns to slime.

ISTM what makes the most sense is an coffin that easily decomposes set in a vault or liner with (lots of) vents/holes in it and possibly no bottom, then filled with dirt before it’s closed. This will keep the ground from collapsing, but also allow the nature to do it’s thing.

But, like I said, it I guess it doesn’t really matter what happens to the body after it’s buried, I just hate to see people spend so much extra money for things that do nothing more than [supposedly] preserve the corpse a bit longer.


"[b\Make funeral arrangements without embalming.**

No state law requires routine embalming for every death. Some states require embalming or refrigeration if the body is not buried or cremated within a certain time; some states don’t require it at all. In most cases, refrigeration is an acceptable alternative. In addition, you may choose services like direct cremation and immediate burial, which don’t require any form of preservation. Many funeral homes have a policy requiring embalming if the body is to be publicly viewed, but this is not required by law in most states. Ask if the funeral home offers private family viewing without embalming. If some form of preservation is a practical necessity, ask the funeral home if refrigeration is available."

So at least in the U.S. embalming is not required and certainly not done automatically as certain religious beliefs (e.g. Orthodox Jews and Muslims, Baha’i) forbid it. I recall reading about at least one Orthodox Jewish family suing the mortuary because the deceased was embalmed. I think it was accidental. Yes, it happens as well as the wrong person being placed in the casket for viewing.

As I stated above, the deceased can be kept in the reefer for years without any decomposition or visible physical changes, and I’ve seen people that were left unattended for days without any visible decomposition.

Really? Because when my spouse died I was asked if I wanted him embalmed, along with what else was to be done with remains. lingyi’s post also seems to indicate that in Hawaii it’s not automatic.

Funeral practices do vary from state to state in the US.

But I agree with the folks who say let people know what you want in advance. If you don’t have family and/or friends to take care of your remains after you’re done with your body you can still have a legal statement to that effect, you might want to consult a lawyer on how to make sure your wishes are known in such circumstances. My sister, who works as a doctor in hospice, tells me that she’s had a number of patients with no kin who’s medical directives and power of attorney are handled by a lawyer on their behalf.

Cremation is far more popular over here, partly at least, driven by cost. They use the waste heat from our local crem’ to heat the water in the nearby swimming pool. Embalming is relatively rare and there is a growing trend for those who don’t want cremation, towards ‘woodland’ burials using ‘sustainable’ coffins or no coffin at all.

Here, the custom is no embalming, no cremation and no casket - just wrap them in a shroud and put them in the ground, preferably within 24 hours of death.

When my (Jewish) grandfather died, we discovered that he and my grandmother had bought prepaid funeral packages years before, but that only covered the cemetery plots (and maybe the services, I don’t remember). I went with my mom and aunt to discuss the rest of the details with the funeral director, because neither of them was in any shape to drive.

When we told the funeral director that we wanted a plain pine box, he told us we had to have something leak-proof. Apparently Grandpop had bought a mausoleum slot, which was above ground, so we had to buy something that would prevent odor and leakage. I bet if he had understood what was going on by then, he would have made different arrangements.

Caitlin Doughty’s podcast, Death in the Afternoon, just released an episode that it sounds like you’d enjoy. What luck! Listen, if you dare, to Embalmed Alive!