copyright © 2003 Virginia Wintermeyer


by Virginia Wintermeyer

Adapted for the stage by Todd Ristau

Everyone needs a goal. My goal last January was to learn how to embalm. I needed to learn how to embalm in order to prepare for my future profession as a licensed funeral director and mortician. An internship would prove the easiest way to aquire the skills I needed. My family has used the same funeral for all our end of life needs for generations, and this long standing relationship made getting an internship very easy. I would soon be gaining my first hands on experience in embalming.

Before embalming, I had to mentally prepare myself. I had to accept the finality of death and understand the reasons for embalming. I shadowed my embalming mentor, asking him if it bothered him.

He told me it was the last thing he can do for a family, and so he gives them his very best work....he is creating how they will see their loved one for the very last time in human form.

I kept this thought in my mind as I prepared to particpate in my first embalming.

I had to learn the rules of the embalming room...wear scrubs, a white plastic bib, and shoe covers at all time. Gloves are worn before the embalming and during the clean-up afterwards. Face masks are required, and your hair must be pulled back tight.

Once properly dressed, you can begin the embalming process.


First you position the body so that the legs, shoudlers, and neck are in natural alignment. The head must be tilted 15 degrees to the right. The eyes, mouth, and nose are disinfected with Metrigard, a multi-purpose tuberculocidal broad spectrum surface disinfectant and decontaminant cleaner formuated to eliminate the possibility of cross contamination from inanimate objects.

Then you swab the orifaces with cotton.

If the body is male, the face and neck are shaved using a damp towel. Actually, we shave the females too, if they have facial hair the family would like removed, but my first client was male. It was the first time I have ever shaved a male, alive or dead. We closed the mouth with the aid of a needle injector gun and positioned the lips into a natural shape. We used cotton and a mouth former to fill out the cheeks, then placed eye caps in the eyes and closed them. We adjusted until all the features looked natural.

Once the desired effect on the face had been achieved, we moved on to the injection preparation.

Here you have to size a body and look it over for certain characteristics that will tell what kinds of fluids are going to be needed. For example, and obese case and a trauma case are totally different, and call for different mixtures of fluids....the exact right fluids must be chosen in the exact right amounts and mixed together in the pressure mixer.

While the fluids are being mixed, you make an incision on the right side of the neck, 2cm down the collar bone. This will expose the artery and the vein so they can be lifted, and the fluid mixture injected and the blood expelled. The injecting requires a precise flow rate. After the process is complete, you suture the incision and allow the body to rest for four hours.

While the body rests, it is a good idea to use this time to clean up around the embalming table.

Next we aspirate the body.

All the organs are punctured several times with a trocar, which is a sharp and pointed surgical instrument. This will remove any left over fluids in the body. After aspirating, you fill all the cavities with 1 1/2 to 2 bottles of Cavity Fluid. Let the body rest again for eight hours and repeat until all teh cavities are filled with Cavity Fluid.

The last thing you do is bathe the body. It is very important that no blood be left behind.

My embalming mentor told me to remember that if this were a loved one of mine, I would want a thorough bathing and I should treat every single case as though it were an immediate family member of my own....If I want to be a successful embalmer.

And I do.


(lights out)


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