Why Is Embalming Still A Popular Option For Families Of Dead Loved Ones?

Simple question. I realize the emotional side, that embalming preserves the body in such a way that having a wake so grieving loved ones can “look at you one last time” and say goodbye. However, not all wake appearances go over very well, particularly with people that die from accidents that maim them in some way, and a funeral director’s makeup can only do so much. Plus the body usually looks so pale, and often not at all what they looked like while they were alive.

But…in this modern era of “going green” and “reducing your carbon footprint” and every other common catchphrase…why do people still opt for this?

You’d think that organ donation and “donating” your body’s organic matter to the earth by not having your corpse embalmed, NOT having a lead-lined, waterproof casket that costs thousands of dollars would be a more logical choice, and in fact, a better one than cremation. What’s wrong with humans not recognizing that our organic matter is no more special once dead than other animal matter, and that it does in fact literally feed the earth?

Why does this practice persist? I suppose I don’t really get it, other than to view it askance and assume its all about the mourners and on the business side, for predatory funeral directors to make money (“Don’t you want his head resting on the softest pillow for eternity”, etc).

I mean, it isn’t like you are going to dig up Grandpa a couple decades down the road to “see how he’s looking”.

I don’t know. I guess as I age I believe that people should rethink their final wishes.

State law come into play. I believe here in MN a body has to be pickled unless it is interned within a certain number of hours.
My wishes, should my family choose to follow them is to be planted as soon as possible and then do whatever memorial service they want at their convenience.
I will not care, as I am going home;).

Really? How long can a corpse stay in a morgue cooler without being embalmed if internment is relatively immediate after transport from the morgue?

I understand nobody wants a death stench emanating from a closed pine box during services and all, but…?

From Funeral Consumers Alliance:

“Embalming is rarely required by law. The Federal Trade Commission and many state regulators require that funeral directors inform consumers that embalming is not required except in certain special cases. Embalming is required when crossing state lines from Alabama, Alaska, and New Jersey. … Four other states — California, Idaho, Kansas, and Minnesota — require embalming when a body is shipped by common carrier.”

I wonder if that means that the bodies of dead American soldiers from Iraq or Afghanistan must be embalmed before “shipment” to the USA for burial.

From TWDuke’s link:
Embalming is a physically invasive process in which special devices are implanted, and chemicals and techniques are used to give an appearance of restful repose. The normal waxy-white color of a dead body is replaced with a more life-like tone by the use of dyes in the embalming fluid.

Embalming chemicals are highly toxic. Embalmers are required by OSHA to wear a respirator and full-body covering while embalming. Funeral home effluent, however, is not regulated, and** waste is flushed into the common sewer system or septic tank.**

Refrigeration is an alternative to maintain a body while awaiting a funeral service or when there is a delay in making arrangements. Not all funeral homes have refrigeration facilities, but most hospitals do.

Embalming has no roots in Christian religion and is common only in the U.S. and Canada. Embalming is considered a desecration of the body by orthodox Jewish and Muslim religions. Hindus and Buddhists choosing cremation have no need for embalming.

Private or home viewing by family members and close friends can occur without embalming and is far more “traditional” than some of the services promoted by the industry under that name.

The funeral industry promotes embalming and viewing as a means to show “proper respect for the body,” and to establish the “clear identity” of the corpse so that the reality of death cannot be denied by those who view the body. Many funeral directors are convinced that seeing the body is a necessary part of the grieving process, even if the death was long anticipated.

Few funeral directors will participate in the public viewing of a body without embalming and cosmetic restoration. While some people may be comforted by “a beautiful memory picture,” as it’s called in the trade, 32% of consumers reported that viewing was a negative experience, according to a 1990 survey.

Embalming gives funeral homes a sales opportunity to increase consumer spending (by as much as $3,000 or more) for additional body preparation, a more expensive casket with “protective” features perhaps, a more expensive outer burial container, and a more elaborate series of ceremonies.

I…did not know these things. Thanks for the link, TWDuke. How weird is it that “waste”, by which I can only assume means “normal bodily fluids”, go into the common sewer via a drain while they are replaced with pickling juice! Ugh. Why?

It’s the same way they sell $15,000 caskets, by preying on dudes who are so grief-filled they will pretty much agree to anything “for their loved one”. Funeral homes are pretty much low level scam artists who prey on the elderly and grief stricken.

Jessica Mitford wrote a book about this issue in 1963. It is called The American Way of Death (Amazon link)


Its really shameful and deserves more exposure. There are many, many people that get hornswaggled into buying shit for their dead loved ones that are just superfluous at best.

At this point, I’d rather be tossed into a shallow ditch and eaten by vultures than embalmed and put into a mausoleum.

I have actually read this book, absolutely fascinating!

My dad was not pickled, he left specific instructions not to as everybody in the family that would attend the planting was already local, and he was buried 2 days after he died. He had preplanned and prepaid all the details already, and everything went very smoothly. He was an organ donor but due to how he died they couldn’t harvest anything, which would have disappointed him. We did not have an open casket wake per his instructions. I believe the total cost wwas somewhere in the area of $16000 when everything was all finished but that included a bagpiper, and around $1000 for the hall rental and food and stuff for the wake.

I hate modern funeral procedures. Mostly because they cost so much money. It angers me (as do American wedding traditions). Leave it to America to make something so simple extremely complicated, unjustifiably expensive, and creepy!

I guess I agree with some religions in that I think embalming (and open caskets) is desecration - all and sundry gawping at the dead body which cost so much to preserve for a few days, and is made-up and looks nothing like a person at all, much less the person it was. Paying the undertaker to strip them naked and do all kinds of procedures with toxic chemicals to preserve them for such a short time and make them look less horrible before putting them on ice until the funeral. Eugh. If it’s all about having time to grieve and respecting the dead - I really don’t think anyone’s body should be treated like that. Let them die, wrap them in a cloth, put them in a casket, and bury or burn promptly.

You aren’t quite as dead if a piece of you still survives.

We see this psychology all the time.

I’ll just take 9/11 as a recent public example. Surviving relatives went nuts trying to use DNA to identify every little remain instead of just shuttling the whole lot off to the landfill.

All sorts of justifications are used: “sacredness of the body” “closure” “respect” But it’s all crap. The real reason is that most people don’t think you are quite as dead if there are some original cells still hangin’ around.

The underlying psychology is simple: you are not as dead–finished; gone; off the earth; done for; forgotten…-- if some component remains in its original macro organization as you are if you are back to completely distributed carbon.

Think Lenin. Or Tut.

We don’t have much exposure to traditions in the rest of the world, or world history, do we?
It’s Americans who came up with the idea of expensive and creepy weddings, funerals and other such events?

We don’t have much exposure to traditions in the rest of the world, or world history, do we?
It’s Americans who came up with the idea of expensive weddings, funerals and other celebrations?
http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.hallofthegods.org/uploaded_images/great-pyramid-sphinx-711079.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.hallofthegods.org/2009/05/was-great-pyramid-ultimate-weapon.html&h=300&w=400&sz=16&tbnid=eHN7cf21eU2G-M:&tbnh=93&tbnw=124&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dgreat%2Bpyramid&usg=__hqMOTcNvIJRVC7AxzEwSrMfbk0w=&ei=OjIyS6zII5LgMeXK5PoI&sa=X&oi=image_result&resnum=1&ct=image&ved=0CAkQ9QEwAA etc etc

Woops; pardon the double post. Wanted to post an example.

I’m leaving specific instructions that I’m not to be embalmed, casketed or buried. I’m to be cremated, stuffed into the cardboard box, and either kept in a box in the basement or scattered wherever. I’m not about to incur several thousand dollars for my survivors just so I can be hovered over while people say inane things. And since I’m not in the least religious, I don’t need some guy in a collar saying whatever over those ashes, either. Scrap that expense, too.

Also, the Catholic Church and various Orthodox Churches have a fondness for pieces and parts of their revered ones on prominent display. “Hey, look mommy! It’s Saint Rusty’s elbow!”

I have been told of some Buddhist Monks chopping up their dead with ceremonial knives and tossing the pieces to the circling vultures. Now that’s something I’d like to see more of here in the US!

Relics of other stuff, too.

And you are referring to Sky Burial. It’s lovely. There are some videos of it if you look hard enough. Gruesome but green.

OTOH, funeral customs are certainly not for the deceased.

And while a funeral home may have the necessary refrigeration facilities they’ll charge a per diem fee for it’s use rather than a flat fee for embalming.