Now that I have your attention, please allow me to clarify. My daughter tells me that embalming is not actually a defense against zombies since to kill a zombie (which I believe is already supposed to be dead?) you have to destroy their brain. I contend that chemical preservation should at least render a brain unusable. Whether or not that prevents zombification may still be open for debate.
Now when families question why someone should be embalmed we don’t actually mention the zombie thing. We do, however, try to gently discuss the need for time and how preservation helps supply just that. Embalming allows us to exercise a measure of control over the natural processes that begin when death occurs. This, in turn, allows families to plan the type of service they wish to have and to wait for others who may be traveling to join them. It also allows us to give that family the best possible “last picture” of their loved one. Often they come to us resigned to the fact that their parent or spouse or child isn’t going to be “viewable” because extended illnesses have taken their toll and the person they once knew is now a mere shadow of themselves. Can we make them look like they did 20 years ago? No, but many times we can erase the signs of illness and replace those haggard marks of suffering with peace. More often than not, the people who have watched the suffering and the decline find comfort in that peace. It also allows their extended family and friends to say their good-byes face-to-face, a process that experts specializing in grief contend is a necessary part of acceptance and adjustment after death.
Did you know that every student of embalming is also required to develop a talent for sculpting? When my son attended mortuary school, he was required to create a bust of someone using only a picture as his guide. Why? So when victims of accidents come to us we can, within reason, make them whole again. Perhaps the most profound example of how important that skill is took place many years ago when a young man was severely injured in a horrific car accident. His mother, who was a passenger in the vehicle, struggled desperately to pry him from the back seat where he had been thrown at impact. She stopped when she realized his head had been separated from his body. My father and my brother spent untold hours working tirelessly to repair the damage because they understood the importance of their task. His mother needed to see her son whole again. They were able to give her a better memory to hold than the one that forced itself upon her that horrible night.
This past Tuesday the funeral homes’ Facebook post involved a picture of a very old, somewhat broken monument that was held together by metal bands and straps. At its foot was a newer piece of granite engraved with the words “Margorie McCall. Lived once. Buried twice.” If you missed the post you can check it out later, but the Reader’s Digest Condensed version is that Margorie McCall was accidently buried alive and, if grave robbers hadn’t come to her “rescue” that night, would probably have stayed that way—at least temporarily. At some point she would actually have become deceased. Upon viewing that post, one of our friends tagged two of our embalmers and reminded them to be absolutely certain she was dead when the time came—and that brings me to my final positive point about embalming, one that, quite frankly, appeals to me more than the rest because I’m somewhat claustrophobic and have no desire to wake up in a small box underneath large quantities of dirt. I know if medical science has somehow missed the slightest sign of life (which has actually happened in the United States in recent years) and prematurely declared me to be deceased, I won’t have to worry about suffering Margorie McCall’s fate. If I’m not completely dead when the embalmer begins his work, I will most assuredly be by the time he finishes. For me and my somewhat irrational fear, that alone is reason enough.