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Embalming: History, Theory, and Practice, 5th Edition
Authors: by Robert G. Mayer (Author)
Comprehensive and thoroughly updated in this fifth edition, Embalming: History, Theory, and Practice is the leading text in the field. The trusted classic covers the long history of embalming, explains embalming theory, and describes present practice, including the latest trends.
Special attention has been given to the creation of a safe working environment – from the standpoint of ergonomics, personal hygiene, and the use of embalming chemicals. Expanded technical areas of the book will assist you in the preparation of the body for viewing without using standard embalming chemicals. The fifth edition is also enhanced by a full-color 12-page insert demonstrating restorative arts and mortuary cosmetology.
Turn to the field’s leading text for unmatched coverage of:
- Legal, social, and technical considerations of embalming
- Health and regulatory standards
- Chemicals and methods
- Specific conditions and causes of death that influence the type of embalming
- Special cosmetic applications and restorative procedures
- Preparation of organ and tissue donors
- Embalming for shipping
Since its inception in 1987 this textbook project has allowed me the unique opportunity to integrate onto the printed page three segments of my professional life. First, since 1968 I have served funeral homes in the greater Pittsburgh area through my trade embalming service. Second, from 1967 to 1982 I was a full-time faculty member with the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science and remain there in an adjunct position. Third, for the past 40 years I have participated, both as a presenter and as an attendee, in continuing education programs throughout the United States, England, and Ireland. Thus, I have been able to combine theory with current ideas from many individuals along with my hands-on experiences in the preparation room…. It all makes for a very unique mixture.
Nothing is more certain than change. This fifth edition is updated with new techniques, and information relative to the history, theory, and practice of embalming, inclusive of the subjects of restorative art and mortuary cosmetology. Special attention has been given to the creation of a safe working environment – from the standpoint of ergonomics, personal hygiene and safe use of embalming chemicals. Expanded technical areas of the text will assist the embalmer in the preparation of tissue and organ donors and the preparation of the body for viewing without using standard embalming chemicals.
Ron Hast, editor of Mortuary Management, has stated, “Embalming is the best known method of presenting a deceased person well throughout the memorial event.” It is incumbent on us not to overstate the purpose and results of embalming as longer terms of preservation. Artistic value coupled with preservation is primary. In time, nature consumes all who die back unto itself. Embalming was once considered a method for the prevention of the spread of virulent diseases amongst the general public. Better understanding of the causative agents, virulence and transmission of disease have demonstrated caution for those who have direct contact with the dead human body, however, only in rare instances and with warning from agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control would the presence of the
unembalmed body be considered a health hazard to the general public.
Embalming is a choice. Those we are privileged to serve need to know the values of this process to make intelligent decisions. Consistent, masterful presentation of each decedent entrusted to our care builds positive reputations.
Like many of our long held community traditions – because of cultural, social, political, religious and economic factors – the presence of the embalmed deceased is no longer the central focus of the twenty-first
century funeral ceremony, as it had once been in America in the twentieth century. Hence the memorial service, with the absence of the body, has now become as familiar as the funeral service with the body present. Temporary means of preservation are now being requested using refrigeration and wet and dry ice to satisfy the wishes of environmental groups and those with interest in Green and Natural burial. Within funeral service itself, safer chemicals are gradually replacing chemicals long known to be toxic and may very well in time be proven to be carcinogenic to the practitioner.
Embalming: History, Theory, & Practice, is designed as a basic textbook for the mortuary science student and as a reference source for the practitioner. Incorporated throughout this work is the American Board of Funeral Service Education: Embalming Basic Course Content Curriculum and Glossary (2008) and portions of the Restorative Art Basic Course Content Curriculum and Glossary (2006). The three interdisciplinary mortuary arts and sciences of embalming, restorative art, and mortuary cosmetology are presented in this single volume. Restoration of the body as well as cosmetic treatments are interdependent with the embalming of the remains. In the words of the noted Chicago embalmer and educator Edward C. Johnson, “restorative art and mortuary cosmetology are simply a continuation of embalming…each is dependent upon good embalming –they are extensions of the process” It has been stated that the art of embalming is the raising of a vessel for injection, but the science of embalming is knowing which vessel to raise! It has been the foundation of this text from its inception that the dead human body needs to “tell” the practitioner what embalming protocols need to be employed for successful preparation of the remains. The embalming case analysis at the very beginning, during, and following the preparation is the important factor. The embalmer needs to learn to observe, analyze the
observation, develop a plan of implementation, and finally observe the obtained results. In the preparation of each body, it becomes the responsibility of the embalmer to determine the thoroughness, effectiveness, and quality of the work.
Some things have not changed! Simon Mendelsohn, writing in 1944 on Embalming Fluids for Ciba Pharmaceuticals, stated that embalming serves four purposes—it provides time for friends and family to gather with the body present and viewable for ceremonies; it permits the body to be shipped back to a hometown or home country for disposition and viewing if desired; it is a means of sanitizing the deceased; and it can improve the appearance of the deceased following trauma or the effects of disease.
These reasons for embalming remain. The very definition of embalming established by the American Board of Funeral Service Education establishes the goals: temporary preservation, sanitation, and restoration of the deceased to an acceptable appearance.
Arterial embalming served the early anatomists –such as Dr. John Hunter (1728–1793). Preservation allowed Hunter and his students to dissect thousands of bodies. His discoveries included collateral circulation, lymphatic system and numerous successful surgical techniques. His embalming and preservative techniques still allow students of the 21st century to study Hunter’s anatomical specimens –housed at the Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons, London. An interesting aside is that formaldehyde would not be discovered for almost 75 years after Hunter’s death! Embalming today still allows for anatomical study of the human body.
In America the infancy of arterial embalming was at the time of the Civil War. It allowed the fallen soldier to be transported in a preserved state to home for burial. Arterial embalming today allows the fallen military hero to be transported from a distant foreign field or waters to the hometown often with the possibility of the viewing of the remains. The work done at the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs located at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, houses the largest and only Port Mortuary under the United States Department of Defense within the continental United States. There a team of experienced embalmers and mortuary personal perform what could very often be called the miraculous through the use of embalming. Presently William Zwicharowski, a former student of mine, holds the position of Branch Chief of Mortuary Operations.
The writer, poet, funeral director, and embalmer Thomas Lynch says in his book, Bodies In Motion and At Rest, “. . . ‘But remembering him the way he was,’ I say, slowly, deliberately as if the listener were breakable, ‘begins by dealing with the way he is.’ I’m an apostle of the present tense.
After years and years of directing funerals, I’ve come to the conclusion that seeing is the hardest and most helpful part. The truth, even when it hurts, has a healing in it, better than fiction or fantasy. When someone dies, it is not them we fear seeing, it is the dead. It is the death. We fear that seeing will be believing.” The science and art that the embalmer employs afford friends and family the opportunity to gather and the opportunity to see the reality by one last comforting look on the face of a loved one at their ceremony of farewell. This confrontation with the deceased, for many, begins the process of closure that leads to healing.
Robert G. Mayer