In the essay “The Embalming of Mr. Jones,” (1963), Jessica Mitford is describing a procedure of embalming of a corpse. She writes that people pay a ton of money each year, but “not one in ten thousand has any idea of what actually takes place,” and it is extremely hard to find books and any information about this subject. She assumes that it must be a reason for such secrecy, and may be if people knew more about this procedure, they would not want this service after their death.
Mitford writes that embalming has long tradition in America, but it used to be performed at home, and all members of the family had to witness the procedure. Now this procedure is taken care of by professional morticians, who studied their profession for nine or twelve months after high school in an embalming school. They call themselves “demisurgeons. ” After death, the body is taken to a morgue and reposed in the preparation room. This room looks like a surgery room. It is tiled, sterile and packed with surgical instruments: scalpels, scissors, augers, forceps, clamps, needles, pumps, tubes, bowls, and basin.
It is also full of different chemicals, sprays, and special cosmetics, such as pastels, oils, powders, and creams that help to soften or dry human tissue and mask any imperfection. There is even plaster to cast and replace any part of the body. There are devices that help to reposition shoulders, head, arms, hands, and feet. The first part of embalming is removing all blood and fluids. This process does not take too long in the hands of a professional. He makes tiny incisions of the veins to remove all blood and replaces it with embalming fluid. This procedure is done for disinfecting and protecting a corpse from discoloration.
There is a choice of different embalming chemicals that suit different people and produce different effects on skin texture and its color tone. The corpse’s lips are sewn together and his eyes are closed with flesh-tinted caps and special eye cement. During the next step, all content of the abdomen and all internal organs are pumped out and replaced with cavity fluid. When this done, the corpse’s face is heavily creamed to protect from chemical burns from leakage that can happen, a body is covered and left for eight to ten hours to dry. The next procedure involves cleaning and cosmetic restoration of the corpse.
Before starting restoration, the body is washed, shaved, and hair is shampooed. If the body has missing limbs, they are replaced with molds of plaster. If the head is off, its edges are trimmed and it is sewn to the torso. After cleaning and patching procedures, taking care of swollen parts of the face, the body is dressed, and the mortician makes last touches. He covers the corpse’s skin with pleasantly colored make-up, combs hair, and manicures the hands. The body is now ready for casketing. Like in any business, there are some special secrets to casketing.
According to Mitford, the right shoulder of the body has to be “depressed slightly to turn the body a bit to the right and soften the appearance of lying flat on the back. ” Positioning the hands and feet is as important as everything that was done before. There are special rubber blocks that are used for this purpose. Finally, the body is placed in the casket as high as possible, and the mortician gives attention to the last details. Now the body is ready for exposition and moved into a slumber room. The last touch can be done there; the favorite item of the deceased can be placed in his hands.
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