The Importance of Final Memories


How Embalming and Restoration Can Help Families Heal

When we opened the doors of our first funeral home in 1862, things looked a little different. Horse-drawn carriages were the primary mode of transportation. Abraham Lincoln was president. Tweeting was something that birds did, photographs were developed on glass slides, and embalming was new to funeral care.


A lot of things are surprisingly the same, though. You can still spot horse-drawn carriages on the Cape, even if they’re mostly ridden by tourists. People still pose for photographs, even if they’re mostly taken with cell phones. And embalming continues to be an important aspect of funeral care, even as other customs have changed.



The Origins of Embalming 

Embalming is a method of delaying the natural processes of decay that follow death. It was invented in ancient Egypt as a step in the mummification process, which people believed would preserve the mortal body for the journey to the afterlife.


Modern embalming is a bit different. The process we currently use was first popularized during the Civil War. It allowed soldiers to be returned home to their families for mourning and burial. By the turn of the century, embalming had become the standard in America, and it continues to be more common here than anywhere else in the world.


Embalming can be performed whether a person will be buried or cremated. Although embalming is not necessary for a direct cremation, it is usually recommended whenever a viewing or visitation is planned. As part of a traditional funeral, these viewings play a big role in helping friends and family grieve in a healthy way.


The Purpose of Restoration

Embalming is one aspect of restoration work to prepare the deceased for viewing. Other steps include washing, styling their hair, and applying makeup. In some instances, additional work might be done to restore features damaged by trauma or illness. The goal is always to allow funeral guests to see the face they love and recognize one last time.


People have differing opinions about this type of care. Some cultural and religious traditions require different steps to be taken when someone dies, for example. Some people may choose natural burial out of environmental concerns about the use of embalming chemicals. But a large number of people find that seeing their loved one’s familiar appearance restored for the funeral can be a tremendous comfort in a tumultuous period of grief.



Saying Goodbye in Person 

The choice to have an open-casket funeral or public visitation before a burial is a personal one. What you decide will depend on your loved one’s final wishes, your religious and cultural traditions, and your family’s needs. But what we have seen, time and again as funeral directors, is the power of saying a final goodbye.


Grief is a strong, painful emotion, and our minds will often turn to denial as a way to cope. Even when we know rationally that our loved one has passed on, the more primitive part of the brain is often convinced that it’s not quite real. Seeing the deceased at rest as part of a formal grief ritual can make the loss feel real and permanent. Once you’ve moved past denial, you are a step closer to acceptance, closure, and healing.


The way that you say goodbye can vary. You might schedule a private viewing for just close family prior to a graveside service or larger memorial later on. You might arrange for a traditional open-casket funeral or to have a public visitation prior to a funeral. Whatever you choose, having an opportunity to see your loved one before they’re laid to rest is important.


If you have recently experienced a loss, know that Chapman Funerals & Cremations is here for you to help plan for tomorrow, and what happens after. We have served the families of the Cape Cod and South Shores areas, including BridgewaterEast Bridgewater, Falmouth, Harwich, Marstons Mills, Martha’s Vineyard, Mashpee , Wareham, West Falmouth , and Yarmouth, Massachusetts for generations. Contact us with any questions or to begin making arrangements.

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