Do you actually embalm bodies yourself?

Jeff & Theresa Spear | Hansen-Spear Funeral Home - Quincy, Illinois

When people find out that I am a funeral director, the conversation normally goes one of two directions. There is either a discussion of a recent or significant death which that person experienced or a question about embalming; “How, why and do you actually do it yourself?”

I am proud to be a funeral director because it fulfilled my career goal of being around people all of the time and being helpful to people. There are few professions that can help others as much as that of a funeral director and embalmer.

Years ago when I was actively giving tours of the funeral home to various groups (church youth, nursing students, schools, etc.) I had a lengthy discussion with Rev. Mike and Cindy Jones who were serving as the Chaddock Chaplains. Upon listening to these troubled youth “tell their stories,” we came to the realization that each had some significant incident of unresolved grief.

Rabbi Earl Grollman, a renowned grief expert and friend of my parents, once made the statement ,”When someone is born we rejoice. When someone is married we celebrate. When someone dies we try to act like nothing happened.” Grief is natural and grief is necessary. Queen Elizabeth II addressed a service following the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York and commented, “Grief is the price we pay for love.” So my job is to help people begin their grief journey (and it is a journey not just a momentary event) in a manner that points them in a positive direction.

One of the best ways to do this is to help people face the reality of death. One of the most effective ways is accomplished with a viewing of the person who died. It is beneficial to say goodbye. We learn at a young age to wave goodbye to grandma and grandpa when they leave. There might even be tears. Saying goodbye is a normal part of life. It can be helpful for one’s mental health to take part in this entirely natural ritual.

All of this is easily accomplished with embalming and/or refrigeration. By definition embalming is “the process of chemically treating the deceased human body to reduce the presence and growth of microorganisms, retard organic decomposition and restore an acceptable physical appearance.” Death can only be sugar coated so much. A loved one has died. He or she will not be the live, vital being they once were. But we can help restore the body to a suitable appearance that allows a family to select whatever form of memorialization they desire, whether it’s a private family viewing or a public visitation. In fact, with Theresa being an artist as well a licensed embalmer, our funeral home is noted for being at the top of the profession in this area of expertise.

To address a final point of people commenting ‘I want to remember them as they were’, I completely understand. Seeing the person in the casket is not the overriding memory one will carry with them. Seeing them restored to some sense of normal many times is a better picture than the memory of that person gasping for breath in a nursing home with unkempt hair or hooked up to innumerable tubes and IVs in the hospital.

Public commemoration of our loved ones is a time honored way of helping one deal with the loss. It’s beneficial to surround oneself with friends and community when we have suffered a loss. Another great Rabbi Grollman quote explains that “Joy shared is joy increased. Grief shared is grief diminished.” We invite others to celebrate with us when things are going well. People WANT to do something for you when a loved one dies. Just letting them be there is good for both them and you! And let’s be honest. This is Quincy. People will search you out to express their condolences. If you allow them a specific time and place (say at Hansen-Spear from 4 until 7 pm) they will make an effort see you there. Otherwise they will find you the next time they run into you at County Market or Home Depot and express their condolences there.

We are honored when a family entrusts a loved one to our care. Our experienced and compassionate team of professionals are committed to respecting your wishes to help your family begin the grief journey in whatever manner you require.

One Response to Do you actually embalm bodies yourself?

  1. Bob Reich says:

    I am really glad I read this – helped me realize a couple needs for the future – death is not just about the deceased

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay InformedSubscribe to our newsletter