When a body is brought to a funeral home, it is first cleaned, arranged, and embalmed (if requested). Once the preparation is complete, the body is then moved to the casket.
The body can be placed in the casket by being lifted by several individuals or with the assistance of a body lift. Larger funeral homes have a body lift as it is hard work to lift a body.
Once the body is carefully placed in the casket, it is then situated in a respectful position for the viewing.
Moving the Body to the Casket
Once a body is cleaned and dressed, it is then ready to be moved to the casket. A body can be moved to a casket by hand or with a body lift:
1. Placing a Body in a Casket by Hand: If the body is small or the funeral home doesn’t have a body lift, the mortician will transfer the body to the casket by hand.
If there are multiple people available to move the body, the mortician will place the foot of the casket by the head of the body so that the body can be shifted from the table to the casket with minimal effort. The body will be placed on a sheet on a table. The people moving the body will roll the edges of the sheet, and then lift the sheet together and carefully slide the body into the casket.
If the mortician is moving the body without assistance, they will position the casket horizontally-adjacent to the table. They will lift the deceased’s upper body and place it in the casket, and then lift the bottom half of the body and place it in the casket.
2. Placing a Body in a Casket with a Body Lift: Moving bodies by hand can be backbreaking work. Therefore, more and more funeral homes are making the switch to body lifts.
When it is time to move a body to the casket, straps are placed under the head, shoulders, hips, and feet. The straps are connected to the body lift, which can be hand cranked to slowly raise the body off the table.
The lift can then be maneuvered to the casket, where the body is slowly lowered down. Once the body is placed in the casket, the straps are removed.
Most body lifts hold about 1,000 pounds. Some are built into ceiling tracks, while others move on wheels. The nice thing about body lifts is that they are safer and easier for the mortician, and ensure bodies are moved as smoothly as possible.
Arranging the Body in the Casket
Once the body has been placed in the casket, the final step is arranging the body. Each portion of the body is carefully arranged to make the deceased look relaxed and peaceful for the viewing:
1. Head Placement: Coffins and caskets come with a built-in pillow for the deceased’s head. The head is placed on a slight angle so they are not looking up or down.
If they are looking too far up, it can appear as if they are looking at the ceiling and can affect their facial expression. However, if the head is tilted too far down, it can create an unflattering angle and make them appear uncomfortable.
The head is also typically tilted slightly to the right, so that the deceased is facing mourners when they approach the casket during the viewing.
2. Facial Expression: The facial expression is predominantly set before the embalming occurs. However, facial features are once again checked once the head has been placed to ensure that nothing has moved or shifted.
Morticians aim to make the deceased appear to be in a peaceful sleep. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the eyelids, mouth, and muscles in the face are all properly placed. If the facial expression is not set correctly, the deceased may appear scared, sad, or in pain.
3. Hand Placement: The hands are typically crossed over the stomach. However, if the deceased’s hands aren’t able to meet in the middle of the body, they will be placed at their sides. Kids’ hands are almost always placed at their sides, as it is seen as a more natural position for a child.
When the hands are crossed over the stomach, the left hand is placed over the right hand to display wedding rings, as appropriate. If the hands don’t rest naturally, the thumbs will sometimes be bound together to keep them from hovering above one another.
4. Leg Placement: At most viewings, only the top half of the casket will be open, so the legs will not be visible. However, most morticians will still set the legs in case they are revealed at any time.
The legs are laid out straight, with the feet pointing up. The legs are typically gently touching, so that they appear relaxed.
Preparing the Body
When a body is brought to a funeral home, it undergoes a number of steps before it is placed in a casket:
1. Clean the Body:
First, the body is completely cleaned. This is done both out of respect for the deceased and for the health of the employees in the funeral home.
2. Arrange the Body:
Once the body has been cleaned, the mortician will then flex and massage the arms, legs, and fingers of the body to relieve muscle stiffness from rigor mortis.
Once the stiffness has been removed from the limbs, the body is then positioned how it will be in the casket. If the body is to be embalmed, this will ensure that the embalming sets the body in the correct position.
To ensure the fingers stay together, they will typically be wrapped in cotton until after the embalming.
3. Set the Features:
Many funeral directors will confirm that setting the features is the most important step for preparing a body for a viewing. After all, how the features are set will denote the facial expression that the deceased gives off at the viewing.
If a body is going to be viewed or embalmed, the mortician will typically pack and seal any open orifices to keep the body from leaking and to help the face maintain a natural position.
The nose and throat will typically be packed to stop fluid from leaking, and a pack of cotton will be inserted into the mouth to help set it correctly.
Depending on the state of the body, caps will be inserted under the eyelids to help the eyes maintain their shape. The eyes and mouth might also be glued or stitched together to help them stay closed.
4. Embalm and Drain the Body:
According to a 2019 New York Times Magazine article, about 50% of the people who die in the United States are embalmed. Though embalming is not necessary, it slows the decomposition process, allowing the body to be preserved for a viewing or funeral service.
Embalming is required by most funeral homes if there will be a public viewing, if a person died of communicable diseases, or if the cremation or burial will be delayed more than a few days.
Embalming involves draining the body fluids and injecting the arteries, tissues, and organs with chemical solutions. To learn more about the embalming process, see How Long after Death You Can Have an Open Casket Funeral.
5. Cosmetics and Dress:
The final stage of the body preparation is to do the cosmetics and dress the deceased. Some families will have a beautician come in to style the deceased’s hair and makeup. However, the funeral home can also provide cosmetics if preferred.
The extent of the cosmetic procedures performed is entirely up to the family of the deceased. Morticians will wash and style the hair, and apply makeup to give the face a more lifelike appearance.
Some morticians will even dye hair, paint nails, or do other cosmetic treatments if the family requests them.
The mortician will also dress the deceased in the outfit they will wear in the casket. The clothing chosen for the deceased is typically dependent on whether they are being cremated or buried, as well as whether the family wants to use new clothing or clothing that was special to the deceased.
You can find out more about dressing the deceased at The Best Colors for the Deceased to Wear at the Funeral.
Once the body is dressed, most morticians will then cut and clip the clothing to ensure that it lies smoothly on the body. Personal mementos, such as jewelry or glasses, can be placed on the body for the viewing and then removed before the body is buried or cremated.
Morticians work hard to ensure that the bodies they prepare are treated with both dignity and respect. Whenever a body is placed in a casket, it is done carefully to ensure the body is not harmed.
If you have any other questions about how the body of your loved one will be placed in their casket, it is always best to ask your funeral home about their specific policies.