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Embalming – A dying art or blessing in disguise?

As a Funeral Director for many years, I’ve heard a lot of arguments for and against embalming. As a respectful and caring professional, it’s part of my job to empathise with the reasoning behind people’s distaste of funerals and embalming. Many people have often been informed that the process is very invasive, costly, and unnecessary. It’s a thought that no doubt sparks a lot of negativity. It’s also generally a thought initiated by people unqualified to comment on embalming. Therein lies one of the problems.

I’m not only a Funeral Director – I have also been an embalmer for over 10 years. I am just as proud of that part of my work as I am of the funerals and Celebrations that I’ve organized for families over the last 16-17 years. The same dignity, care and respect I offer to bereaved families, I also show to their deceased loved ones. I genuinely feel that the majority of embalmers in Australia show a good level of respect for the deceased and their families. There are of course ‘bad eggs’ in many professions, and I suppose Embalming and Funeral Directing is no different. These bad eggs fortunately don’t last very long as Embalmers – negative feedback from families time and again about viewings ensures that.

‘Green / Eco’ Embalming

In the current ‘Green / Eco Funeral’ climate there seems to be renewed bad press toward embalming. However, people who talk about the evils of the process and the formaldehyde / chemicals used, have often never even set foot in a mortuary. Firstly – there have been Green / Eco embalming products available for many years. The Champion Company make a product based on a mix of essential plant-based oils. It is a non hazardous, non toxic alternative to traditional formaldehyde based chemicals, and it has been around for years. This product, going by the name ‘Enigma”, is in fact approved by the Green Burial Council for use in “Natural Burial Grounds”. The next time you read or hear somebody saying that embalming and related products are “banned in Natural Burials” you can now correct their inaccurate assumptions. We would ask those people talking of the horrors of embalming and formaldehyde to please check up on some facts before they start discussing the topic with the public.

Invasive or Non Invasive?

Another example of false beliefs is that embalming is a terribly invasive procedure. Again this is a fallacy presented by people without the actual facts or any experience. I have often heard horror stories about what people believe embalming to be. People sometimes assume that organs are removed during embalming, or that multiple large incisions are made to achieve the desired results. In fact, for the majority of the embalming that I have performed over the years, I only need to make one incision, about 1 – 2 inches long at most, to achieve good distribution of the embalming product (natural or formaldehyde based) being used. That incision is strategically placed so that I can quickly – and with minimum disturbance – find the artery and corresponding vein that I require. I have learnt and practiced the professional and correct methods of body preparation, and I treat those in my care in the mortuary with the same dignity as I would if they were still alive. The basic embalming procedure involves injecting an environmentally friendly product – or a formaldehyde based product depending on the case – into the artery. Blood is then drained from the associated vein. Following this, one other instrument is often (but not always) used, that enters the body via an opening smaller than a 5 cent piece or a dime. As you can see, embalming is hardly invasive when performed properly!

‘Full’ Embalming

Of course as with most things in life, embalming isn’t always that straightforward. In the last 10 days alone I have been called upon to fully embalm 2 cases for Overseas Repatriation, and 1 case for interment in an above ground Mausoleum. These cases of course require additional procedures to the standard case above. For Repatriation and Mausoleum interment, the deceased has to be fully embalmed and preserved in line with official Regulations. These situations involve no ‘wiggle room’ for requesting embalming or not – it simply has to be done no questions asked.  These are two situations in which embalmers are essential, and are sought out quickly when a Funeral Director is presented with either case.

Restorative Art

Also in the last week I was called upon to work on one unfortunate young man who needed another area of embalming – ‘restorative art’. This young fellow lost a personal battle in an unfortunate and horrific incident that affected his family deeply. This is perhaps the realm in which a skillful, professional, and experienced embalmer is needed most. This young mans family wished to see their son for one final heartfelt farewell. Initially it looked as if this would be extremely difficult to achieve. Of course this is not the place to go into particulars, but the work required was extensive to say the least. The results of the labour were that his family were able to see their son at peace and say a goodbye that they may have otherwise not been able to say. Situations such as these are the real ‘heart and soul’ of embalming and the embalmers art – the ‘blessing in disguise’ moments.

Best Possible Viewings

The basic embalming procedures mentioned earlier in this article are often utilized when a family requests a viewing of their loved one. Of course a family is also entitled to request no embalming when it is not required by law. When utilized for people being viewed however, basic or ‘cosmetic’ embalming ensures the absolute best presentation for bereaved family and friends. The viewing process can help people come to terms with a loved one’s death, and a well presented viewing will leave an eternally positive picture in the minds of the mourners. This is a very important aspect of embalming and funerals in general.


To briefly reiterate on embalming:

  • Often it is achieved with 1 small incision only (hence minimal ‘invasiveness’).
  • It can be INVALUABLE to a bereaved family seeking closure after tragedy.
  • It CAN be achieved with Environmentally friendly products.
  • It IS acceptable for Green / Natural Burial Grounds when using said products.
  • It IS often required by law.

Before listening too closely to embalming ‘nay sayers’, we encourage you to think a little more deeply. At Crane Funerals we like to share information openly. If you have any further questions about the subject, feel free to send us a message via our Contact Form, or call us on 03-5977 7198 or 0447 727 263.