Jessica Mitford Behind the Formaldehyde Curtain

contents Advisory: I always warn students about this essay due to the fact that it has detailed descriptions of what happens to a dead body once it is embalmed and prepared because that viewing. If you are sensitve around this sort of thing, or if you have lost a loved one recently, or if for whatever reason you don"t feel up to assessing this details essay, you may choose to opt out. There will certainly be other opportunities throughout the semester to recuperate the shed points.


“The most well known (or infamous) thing Jessica Mitford wrote is The American means of Death, a critique of the funeral industry. In this selection from the book, Mitford analyzes the twin processes of embalming and also restoring a corpse, the methods she finds most objectionable. You may need a stable stomach to enjoy the selection, however in the you’ll discover a clear, painstaking procedure analysis, written through masterly style and outrageous wit. (For those who desire to know, Mitford herself to be cremated ~ death.)”

Kennedy, X.J., ed. The Bedford Reader, 8 hours edition. Bedford/St. Martin’s Press. Boston: 2003

The drama begins to unfold with the arrival of the corpse at the mortuary. Alas, poor Yorick! exactly how surprised he would be come see exactly how his equivalent of this particular day is whisked off to a funeral parlor and is in short order sprayed, sliced, pierced, pickled, trussed, trimmed, creamed, waxed, painted, rouged, and neatly dressed-transformed native a usual corpse right into a Beautiful storage Picture. This procedure is well-known in the trade as embalming and restorative art, and also is so universally to work in the united States and also Canada that the funeral manager does that routinely, there is no consulting corpse or kin. He regards as eccentric those couple of who are hardy sufficient to suggest that it can be dispensed with. Yet no regulation requires embalming, no spiritual doctrine commends it, nor is it dictated by considerations of health, sanitation, or also of an individual daintiness. In no component of the world yet in north America is it commonly used. The purpose of embalming is to do the corpse presentable because that viewing in a suitably costly container; and here as well the funeral manager routinely, without very first consulting the family, prepares the body because that public display. Is every this legal? The processes to which a dead body might be subjected space after every to some level circumscribed by law. In most states, for instance, the signature of following of kin should be obtained prior to an autopsy might be performed, prior to the deceased may be cremated, before the body might be turned end to a clinical school for study purposes; or such provision should be made in the decedent"s will. In the instance of embalming, no such permission is forced nor is it ever sought. A textbook, The Principles and Practices that Embalming, comments on this: "There is part question concerning the legality of much that is excellent within the ready room." The writer points out that it would be many unusual because that a responsible member that a bereaved family to instruct the mortician, in so numerous words, come "embalm" the body of a deceased relative. The really term "embalming" is so seldom used that the mortician must reply upon tradition in the matter. The writer concludes that unless the family members specifies otherwise, the act of entrusting the human body to the care of a funeral establishment carries through it an include permission to go ahead and also embalm. Embalming is without doubt a many extraordinary procedure, and also one must wonder at the docility of americans who each year pay numerous millions of dollars for its perpetuation, blissfully ignorant the what it is every about, what is done, exactly how it is done. Not one in ten thousand has any type of idea that what in reality takes place. Books on the subject are very hard come come by. They room not uncovered in most libraries or bookshops. In an era when large television audiences clock surgical operations in the lull of your living rooms, when, thanks to the animated cartoon, the location of the digestive mechanism has end up being familiar territory even to the nursery institution set, in a land wherein the satisfaction that curiosity around almost every matters is a national pastime, the secrecy bordering embalming can, surely, hardly be attributed come the natural gruesomeness that the subject. Practice in this regard has within this century endured a finish reversal. In the early days of American embalming, once it to be performed in the residence of the deceased, the was almost mandatory because that some relative to remain by the embalmer"s side and also witness the procedure. Today, family members who can wish to it is in in attendance would definitely be dissuaded by the funeral director. Every others, except apprentices, room excluded by legislation from the preparation room. A close look at what does in reality take location may define a huge measure that the undertaker"s intractable reticence worrying a procedure that has end up being his major raison d"etre. Is it possible he fears the public information about embalming might lead patrons to wonder if lock really want this service? If the funeral males are loath to talk about the subject external the trade, the leader may, understandably, be equally loath to go on reading at this point. Because that those who have the stomach because that it, permit us component the formaldehyde curtain. . . . The body is first laid the end in the undertaker"s morgue-or rather, Mr. Jones is reposing in the ready room-to be readied come bid the civilization farewell. The ready room in any of the far better funeral establishments has the tiled and also sterile look of a surgery, and also indeed the embalmer-restorative artist who does his chores over there is beginning to take on the term "dermasurgeon" (appropriately corrupted by part mortician-writers as "demi-surgeon") to define his calling. His equipment, consisting of scalpels, scissors, augers, forceps, clamps, needles, pumps, tubes, bowls and also basins, is crudely imitative of the surgeon"s, as is his technique, acquired in a nine- or twelve-month post-high-school food in an embalming school. The is supplied by an progressed chemical industry with a bewildering selection of fluids, sprays, pastes, oils, powders, creams, to fix or soften tissue, shrink or distend it together needed, dry it here, regain the moisture there. There space cosmetics, waxes and paints come fill and also cover features, also plaster the Paris come replace entire limbs. There room ingenious aids come prop and also stabilize the cadaver: a Vari-Pose Head Rest, the Edwards Arm and Hand Positioner, the Repose Block (to support the shoulders throughout embalming), and also the Throop Foot Positioner, which each other old-fashioned stocks. Mr. John H. Eckels, chairman of the Eckels college of Mortuary Science, thus describes the very first part of the embalming procedure: "In the hands of a professional practitioner, this work might be done in a comparatively short time and also without mutilating the body various other than through slight scratch - so slight the it scarcely would cause serious inconvenience if made upon a life person. The is vital to eliminate the blood, and also doing this not only helps in the disinfecting, however removes the principal cause of disfigurements as result of discoloration." another textbook discusses the all-important time element: "The previously this is done, the better, for every hour the elapses in between death and also embalming will add to the problems and also complications encountered. . . ." Just exactly how soon have to one get to embalming? The writer tells us, "On the communication of such scanty info made obtainable to this profession v its rudimentary and haphazard device of technical research, we must conclude the best results are to be acquired if the subject is embalmed before life is fully extinct - that is, prior to cellular fatality has occurred. In the mean case, this would typical within one hour after somatic death." because that those who feel there is something a small rudimentary, no to to speak haphazard, around this advice, a comforting assumed is readily available by an additional writer. Speak of fear entertained in beforehand days of premature burial, he points out, "One of the impacts of embalming by chemical injection, however, has been come dispel fear of live burial." just how true; as soon as the blood is removed, the chances of live burial are undoubtedly remote. To return to Mr. Jones, the blood is drained out through the veins and replaced v embalming liquid pumped v the arteries. As listed in The Principles and also Practices of Embalming, "every operator has actually a favorite injection and drainage point - a fact which i do not care a handicap only if he fails or refuses come forsake his favorite when conditions demand it." typical favorites space the carotid artery, femoral artery, jugular vein, subclavian vein. There are various selections of embalming fluids. If Flextone is used, that will develop a "mild, versatile rigidity. The skin retains a velvety softness, the tissues space rubbery and pliable. Appropriate for women and children." It may be combined with B. And also G. Assets Company"s Lyf-Lyk tint, i beg your pardon is guarantee to give birth "nature"s very own skin structure . . . The velvety figure of life tissue." Suntone come in three different tints: Suntan; special Cosmetic Tint, a pink the shade "especially indicated for young mrs subjects"; and Regular cosmetic Tint, center pink. about three to 6 gallons of dyed and also perfumed systems of formaldehyde, glycerin, borax, phenol, alcohol and water is shortly circulating through Mr. Jones, who mouth has been sewn in addition to a "needle command upward between the upper lip and also gum and brought out v the left nostril," v the corners increased slightly "for a an ext pleasant expression. If he should be bucktoothed, his teeth room cleaned v Bon Ami and also coated with colorless nail polish. His eyes, meanwhile, are closed through flesh-tinted eye caps and eye cement. The following step is to have actually at Mr. Jones through a thing dubbed a trocar. This is a long, hole needle attached to a tube. That is jabbed into the abdomen, poked around the entrails and also chest cavity, the components of which room pumped out and also replaced through "cavity fluid." This done, and the hole in the abdomen sewn up, Mr. Jones"s face is greatly creamed (to safeguard the skin from burns which may be resulted in by leakage the the chemicals), and he is spanned with a sheet and also left unmolested for a while. However not for lengthy - there is more, lot more, in save for him. He has been embalmed, yet not yet restored, and the ideal time to begin the restorative occupational is eight to ten hours after embalming, when the tissues have come to be firm and dry. The object of all this fist to the corpse, it have to be remembered, is to do it presentable because that viewing in an perspective of healthy and balanced repose. "Our custom-mades require the presentation of our dead in sembleance of normality . . . Unmarred through the ravages of illness, an illness or mutilation," claims Mr. J. Sheridan Mayer in his Restorative Art. This is quite a big order since couple of people die in full bloom of health, unravaged by illness and unmarked by part disfigurement. The funeral industry is equal to the challenge: "In some situations the gruesome appearance of a mutilated or disease-ridden subject might be rather discouraging. The task of restoration may seem impossible and shake the to trust of the embalmer. This is the moment for minister fortitude and determination. When the developmental work is begun and influenced tissues are cleaned or removed, every doubts that success vanish. It is surprising and gratifying to discover the outcomes which might be obtained." The embalmer, having permitted an suitable interval that elapse, returns to the attack, but now the brings into play the skill and also equipment that sculptor and also cosmetician. Is a hand missing? spreading one in plaster of Paris is a simple matter. "For instead of purposes, only a cast of the back of the hand is necessary; this is within the capacity of the median operator and also is fairly adequate." If a lip or two, a nose or one ear need to be missing, the embalmer has at hand a variety of restorative waxes with which to version replacements. Pores and also skin texture room simulated by stippling v a little brush, and over this cosmetics space laid on. Head off? Decapitation instances are quite routinely handled. Ragged edges space trimmed, and also head join to torso through a collection of splints, wires and sutures. The is a good idea to have a little something at the neck - a scarf or high collar - once time because that viewing comes. Puffy mouth? reduced out tissue as necessary from inside the lips. If too much is removed, the surface contour can conveniently be revived by padding through cotton. Puffy necks and cheeks are diminished by removed tissue v vertical incisions made down each next of the neck. "When the deceased is casketed, the pillow will hide the suture incisions . . . As an extra precaution against leakage, the suture may be painted v liquid sealer." The opposite problem is more likely to existing itself - that of emaciation. His hypodermic syringe currently loaded v massage cream, the embalmer looks for out and also fills the hollowed and sunken areas by injection. In this procedure the backs of the hands and also fingers and also the under-chin area should not it is in neglected. positioning the lips is a trouble that recurrently difficulties the resourcefulness of the embalmer. Closed as well tightly, they tend to offer a stern, even disapproving expression. Ideally, embalmers feel, the lips should give the impression that being ever so slightly parted, the top lip protruding slightly because that a an ext youthful appearance. This takes some engineering, however, together the lips tend to drift apart. Lip drift deserve to sometimes it is in remedied by advertise one or two right pins v the inner margin oft he lower lip and also then inserting them between the 2 upper teeth. If Mr. Jones wake up to have actually no teeth, the pins can just as conveniently be anchored in his Armstrong face Former and Denture Replacer. Another an approach to maintain lip closure is to dislocate the reduced jaw, i beg your pardon is then held in its brand-new position by a cable run with holes which have been drilled through the upper and also lower jaws at the midline. Together the French are fond that saying, il faut souffrir to water etre belle. (“You need to suffer to be beautiful.”) If Mr. Jones has died of jaundice, the embalming liquid will really likely rotate him green. Does this deter the embalmer? not if he has actually intestinal fortitude. Masking pastes and also cosmetics are greatly laid on, interment garments and casket interiors color-correlated with certain care, and also Jones is displayed beneath rose-colored lights. Friends will say "How well that looks." death by carbon monoxide, ~ above the various other hand, can be rather a good thing native the embalmer"s viewpoint: "One advantage is the fact that this type of discoloration is an exaggerated kind of a herbal pink coloration." This is nice because the healthy glow is already present and needs small attention. The patching and filling completed, Mr. Jones is now shaved, washed and dressed. Cream-based cosmetic, available in pink, flesh, suntan, brunette, and also blond, is applied to his hands and face, his hair is shampooed and also combed (and, in the instance of Mrs. Jones, set), his hand manicured. Because that the horny-handed son of toil and also special care must be taken; cream must be used to remove ingrained grime, and the pond cleaned. "If the were no in the habit of having actually them manicured in life, trimming and shaping is recommend for far better appearance - never ever questioned by kin." Jones is now ready because that casketing (this is the current participle verb of "to casket"). In this operation his ideal shoulder have to be depressed contempt "to turn the human body a little bit to the right and also soften the figure of lying level on the back." placing the hands is a matter of importance, and special rubber positioning blocks may be used. The hands need to be cupped slightly because that a an ext lifelike, serene appearance. Appropriate placement the the body calls for a breakable sense the balance. It need to lie together high as possible in the casket, yet not so high that the lid, as soon as lowered, will hit the nose. Top top the various other hand, we are cautioned, place the body also low "creates the impression the the human body is in a box." Jones is next wheeled right into the appointed slumber room where a few last touches may be added-his favourite pipe put in his hand or, if he was a great reader, a book propped right into position. (In the case of tiny Master Jones a Teddy bear may be clutched.) below he will organize open house for a couple of days, visiting hours 10 A.M. To 9 P.M. All now being in readiness, the funeral manager calls a employee conference come make certain that every assistant knows his an accurate duties. Mr. Wilber Kriege writes: "This provides your employee feel the they are component of the team, with a definite assignment that need to be properly brought out if the whole arrangement is come succeed. You never ever heard the a football coach that failed to speak to his whole team prior to they walk on the field. They have actually drilled ~ above the plays they are to execute because that hours and days, and also yet the effective coach knows the prestige of making even the bench-warming third-string substitute feel the he is vital if the game is to it is in won." The win of this video game is predicated upon glass-smooth handling of the logistics. The funeral director has actually notified the pallbearers whose names to be furnished through the family, has arranged because that the presence of clergyman, organist, and also soloist, has detailed transportation for everybody, has organized and listed the flowers sent by friends. In Psychology of Funeral Service Mr. Edward A. Boy name points out: "He might not constantly do as much as the household thinks that is doing, but it is his valuable guidance the they evaluate in discovering they room proceeding as they should . . . . The necessary thing is exactly how well his services can be supplied to make the family think they are giving endless expression come their own sentiment." The religious service might be organized in a church or in the chapel of the funeral home; the funeral director vastly prefers the latter arrangement, for not just is it much more convenient because that him but it affords that the possibility to present off his beautiful infrastructure to the gathered mourners. After ~ the priest has had his say, the mourners queue up to file past the casket for a critical look at the deceased. The family is never asked whether they desire an open-casket ceremony; in the absence of your instruction to the contrary, this is taken because that granted. Consequently well end 90 every cent of every American funerals feature the open up casket - a tradition unknown in other parts that the world. Foreigners space astonished by it. An English mrs living in mountain Francisco described her reaction in a letter to the writer:

I myself have actually attended only one funeral right here - the of an elderly fellow worker the mine. ~ the company I could not understand why everyone was walking in the direction of the coffin (sorry, I average casket), but thought i had far better follow the crowd. It shook me rigid to get there and find the casket open and also poor old Oscar lying over there in his brown tweed suit, put on a suntan makeup and also just the wrong the shade of lipstick. If I had not been very fond of the old boy, I have a awful feeling the I could have giggled. Then and there I decided that I might never face an additional American funeral - also dead.

You are watching: Jessica mitford behind the formaldehyde curtain

The casket (which has been relaxing throughout the service on a standard Beauty Ultra metal Casket Bier) is now transferred by a hydraulically operated device called Porto-Lift to a balloon-tired, Glide basic casket carriage, which will certainly wheel it come yet another conveyance, the Cadillac Funeral Coach. This may be lavender, cream, light green-anything but black. Interiors, of course, space color-correlated, "for the man who can not stop brief of perfection." in ~ graveside, the casket is lowered right into the earth. This office, when the exclusive rights of girlfriend of the deceased, is currently performed through a patented mechanically lowering device. A "Lifetime Green" man-made grass mat is at the prepared to conceal the sere earth, and overhead, to conceal the sky, is a portable Steril Chapel tent ("resists the intense heat and also humidity of summer and fantastic storms the winter . . . Accessible in silver Grey, rose or Evergreen"). Now is the moment for the routine scattering of earth over the coffin, together the solemn words, "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust come dust" space pronounced by the officiating cleric. This can boldly be achieved "with a only flick of the wrist v the Gordon Leak-Proof earth Dispenser. No grasping of a handful of dirt, no soiled fingers. Simple, dignified, beautiful, reverent! The contemporary way!" The Gordon planet Dispenser (at $5) is that nickel-plated brass construction. That is not just "attractive come the eye and long wearing"; that is likewise "one the the "tools" for building far better public relations" if presented as "an ideal non-commercial gift" come the clergyman. That is shaped something prefer a saltshaker. Untouched by human hand, the coffin and also the earth are now united. The is in the function of directing the participants v this maze of gadgetry that the funeral director has actually assigned to himself his relatively brand-new role of "grief therapist." He has relieved the family members of every detail, he has actually revamped the corpse come look prefer a living doll, he has actually arranged for it come nap because that a couple of days in a slumber room, he has actually put ~ above a well-oiled performance in i m sorry the ide of death play no part whatsoever - unless it was inconsiderately pointed out by the clergyman who carried out the religious service. He has done whatever in his power to make the funeral a genuine pleasure for everybody concerned. He and his team have offered their all to score one upset win over death.

Mitford, Jessica.

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The American way of Death. Simon and also Schuster. Brand-new York: 1963