Ask a Mortician


That sounds awfully suspicious, how can you be 100% sure it was suicide?

I replied to myself, oops. @Mr.46


Hey, thanks @Keller !

  1. To be honest with you, I barely even remember that name haha. I’ll have to check that out though, I doubt you’d suggest a bad tv show! My favourite medical show was/is House, M.D. - Not only was Hugh Laurie incredible, but they do use a great mix of accurate medicine and medical fiction to facilitate the plot, which was also really, really fun to me.

@Scourged is correct, so I will just elaborate/rephrase what he’s said. 'CSI" is entertaining because it’s a crime drama, but it’s very loosely and conveniently based around simple facts. CSI’s are usually police officers or high ranking medical staff with police clearance and they don’t deal with the criminals themselves. They simply analyze evidence collected, and then the results are processed by a team of people who collaborate with lawyers to deem what evidence connects to what actions and if those actions had criminal intentions. It’s a very bureaucratic process that takes months of evidence collecting and case investigations. Then it all goes to court and that goes into even more depth. It can take months, and in many cases years before forensic evidence can prevail.

3.[quote=“Keller, post:13, topic:13249”]
Have you ever had to testify in court?
[/quote] Coroners, police officers, and lawyers do most of the court cases. I have had to testify in court in before, but that was because I intervened during the assault of a pregnant woman by her husband at the time and it was boring and very frustrating. Lawyers can be heroes, and they can be the hemorrhoids of the legal system. Don’t. Go. To court. Court bad. Court very very bad.

Hey, no worries babe. I did not study forensic medicine or criminalistics so it helps to have an extra brain for answering some questions. Thanks for chiming in and participating! If you have any questions of your own feel free to share!


Hey @STEVEORSOMTHING, thanks for the question :slight_smile:

I read your question wrong the first time around. I thought you meant the worst pathological condition I’ve seen. The worst condition I’ve ever seen a body in has been complete, unrecognizable pulp. Tall height jumping victims can make a mess if they hit the ground the wrong way. It’s hit and miss, no pun intended. But I’ve picked up people who have been hit by semi trucks and I’ve put an entire person into a body bag without seeing a single limb or eye. People who have been submerged in water for quite some time are also in horrendous shape. Human flesh, when dead and imbibed for days on end, turns red-purple-green from putrefaction; it looks like layered fruit rollups that smell like a millennium old aquarium that has never been cleaned. I’ve also seen someone who was in a gas-stove explosion and all they brought me was a literal right leg, and some unrecognizable bits. They all looked like Anakin Skywalker at the end of Episode III (RIP Ep. I - III). That and the final people are stabbing victims. I can always see the struggle in their eyes, and the wounds are usually so large and look excruciatingly painful…they suffer so much, and it bothers me enough to say they are probably the ‘worst’ condition bodies I’ve had to deal with. In regards to actual physical worst conditions, semi truck victims and suicide jumpers/rare explosion victims.

So far I’ve never been incapable of completing a job, embalming, arrangements or otherwise. I’ve had a few momentary lapses of emotional fortitude but one of the main reasons for that is that as a mortician, it’s my job to be focused and stable; I provide the family’s sense of reality and social distress. By minimizing my own emotions, it tells them that their situation can be handled and that it, like all bad feelings, will pass. If I break down in front of them, they may interpret that as a sign that their situation is beyond that of repair or resolution and it can have serious long term effects on peoples’ recovery times.


@BogdanMD, excellent question! I was waiting for a question along these lines. @Scourged, well done once again, you were on the right track.

Autopsies / Multipoint Injections

Autopsied bodies have had their internal organs, including the brain removed for analysis and documentation. This means that the circulatory system is compromised. In embalming, we call this a short circuit system that requires a multipoint injection. Multipoint refers to the multiple injection sites needed to embalm each limb. The internal organs, once removed from the deceased in the autopsy are referred to as the viscera and they are placed into a thick clear plastic bag and put in the ventral cavity and the body is sutured shut. The embalming process starts by taking the body out of the body bag and getting them onto the embalming table. The body is still sutured shut when I begin, so I cut the suture cord and reopen the body. I take the viscera bag out of the body and I pour in 2-3 bottles of DriCav (potent embalming fluid meant for viscera). Each bottle of embalming fluid is 16oz regardless of its index, and DriCav is a 21 index solution (21% formaldehyde), so that’s 48oz of 21% formaldehyde soaking into the viscera while I embalm the body itself. It temporarily preserves the tissues and reodorizes them so that they can be tolerated.

Anyway, while the viscera “cooks”, I line the chest flaps with SynGel, a 5% formaldehyde gel that desiccates the raw flaps so that they don’t leak while I embalm the limbs. Then I dissect the tissues to find the illiac arteries and the internal femoral arteries. I embalm down each leg, one at a time until I achieve distribution in each leg. Then I find the axillary arteries and I embalm the arms, one at a time. Then I raise the common carotid arteries and jugular veins and embalm the head up each side of the neck. While I’m doing this, I stick my hand in the back of the skull and pinch the circle of willis, which is a cerebral circulatory anastomosis that supplies a large portion of the brain / intracranial spaces with blood. If I pinch this and hold the embalming fluid in the arteries the head gets better colour, texture, and preservation. The arterioles and capillaries become plump with fluid and the person becomes slightly firm to the touch as the formaldehyde cooks the protein tissue, the same way heat cooks an egg. Once the person’s limbs and head have been embalmed, I take a large amount of kapoc (non-absorbent cotton) and cover it in the same 5% SynGel. I mush it all into a ball of astringent cotton and place it inside the skull. This will act as a fake brain, and give the head its proper weight. Then I take the calvarium (the skull cap) and I place it on to the skull. I take clamps and screws and screw the top of the skull onto the skull itself. I use a putty to smooth out the severance line, and I pull the face back over the skull and sew the back of the head up.

From there, I go to the sink and take the viscera bag out. I remove each organ from the bag, snipping it into 3 inch sections and layering it in the ventral and abdominal cavities. Once I have layered the entire lining of the peritoneum, I sprinkle a layer of paraformaldehyde over the organ bits. PFH is a powdered form of formaldehyde mixed with sawdust and clay to absorb moisture and preserve blood. I repeat this process in a lasagna like fashion until all organs are sectioned and layer the ventral / abdominal cavity. Them I placed the sternum back on top of the organs and suture the body back up extremely tightly. Then, before the suture is closed, I put a sealing powder inside to prevent leakage. As a backup measure, I then use incision sealing glue to further seal all incisions and place a thin layer of cotton towel over top of the incisions. This hides them and makes the body look “stuffed” and not "cut open’. From there I wash the person, dry them off and comb their hair, place plastic garments on their lower half, then dress them and put them in their casket and do their makeup. Final adjustments are made to their height and makeup and that’s it, give or take some details.

Disinfection, Restoration, Preservation

Embalming fluid is very strong, 50 ppm is enough to cause your eyes to tear up and your nose to burn. You know how when you cut a white onion you can make yourself cry? Embalming fluid is exactly that but about 2-3 times more effective at making you cry / your nose burn. As such, once it contacts human tissues it preserves it and perfumes it so that it doesn’t smell as bad to us. The strength of the formaldehyde mixed with the sweetness of it makes it ideal for deodorizing and reodorizing most living tissues. I remember when I first started embalming, I would compare the smell of embalming fluid to that of cherry kool aid, except 100 times stronger.

Embalming fluid is hypotonic, meaning it doesn’t absorb water, it gives water. This fluid travels through the arteries (while the blood leaves the body through the veins) and when it reaches the capillaries, it fills them up and firms into place. That is why people who have been embalmed seem lifelike and “healthy” - the natural moisture they lost during death has been restored. You can add specialty chemicals called humectants that add even more moisture if they person has dry skin. If the person had edema or ascites, you could use a hypertonic embalming solution and that would cause their tissues to shrink and tighten.

To summarize the science of odor control: Tissue cells start to break down and give off gasses that we find offensive --> Blood starts to break down --> Remove blood, replace with perfumey chemicals --> Tissues fill up with chemicals that replace the blood --> Formaldehyde uses water molecule from tissue protein to balance its chemistry --> Tissue protein firms in place (the same way plant matter turns to wood) --> Cells that preserve do not decay --> No decay, no smell :slight_smile:

The Egyptians were the first to record embalming as part of their death rituals and they knew very little about science, but they used naturally occurring natron salts from the shores of the seas with lavender oil, wines, rosemary, clove oil and peppermint oils…probably because that was the best they could do to control the smells. Same goes for placing them in canopic jars filled with oil and wine. The organs still break down, just more slowly and underground so that their rivers wouldn’t get polluted. They still did because they buried their dead too close to the river and disease was rampant, but that’s beside the point lol


I literally never read posts that long because I’m lazy but damn I could read your posts all day. I honestly don’t know how you can go from that to your normal every day life but I’m glad that you can.

I just can’t imagine doing this, I love horror movies and TV shows but doing this and knowing it’s a real person I’m not sure I could do it. I genuinely would love to spend a day in your life though just to see if I could do it and how I would react, it’s truly fascinating to me.


@Caramoxyde Yes, my line of work is generally depressing, but there’s also a melancholy sense of purpose and belonging that comes with it that balances out how the work effects me. Yesterday I did a funeral in a small town close to mine and we went to a cemetery down the road from the church we were going to. I have been there many times before so I was not unfamiliar with the territory but it was my first time doing a funeral during a snowfall in that cemetery. It was so mesmerizing and peaceful, yet sad and cold. I felt sad for the man whose wife we were burying, but seeing how his family had come together for him made me happy. I was granted the opportunity to witness the simultaneous tearing and mending of what we collectively call the human soul, and for the rest of the day I tried to be better for the sake of the people around me. What I do can be depressing, but it can also be uplifting and enlightening.


I guess being surrounded by death and reminded of the mortality of yourself and others on a regular basis can have it’s positives. It constantly reminds you what you have and what you will one day lose therefore makes you appreciate it more and make the most of the time you have with people around you.


How often do you come across gory deaths vs say natural deaths?


@Mr.46 I too would like to hear more stories if you have anymore of interest.


Hey @tobiasrieper.48, thank you so much for your kind words :slight_smile: It feels so rewarding to see that even a few people enjoy this thread and can take something positive and useful away from it. I love educating people, because the closer we get to accepting death as a culture, the closer we are to understanding the importance of life and equality. People are much kinder and far more understanding when experiencing human loss.

Fortunately, no I don’t have to deal with a lot of deceased children. Over the course of my career, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had children 2-12, but if you count infants/stillborn then the number does go up a little more. For me, the children between 2-12 are much harder on me emotionally than infants and stillbirths because they have personalities; they have a favourite colour and number and they get excited for Santa Claus and their birthdays. Dying before you get to really live your life is a metaphysical tragedy. Infants and stillbirths are not as difficult for me, though they still do have a personal impact on my perspective. Before I was born, my mother was pregnant with twin boys. Michael and Andrew. They died during birth and my parents had me 2-3 years later, so I’ve grown up with that knowledge which has allowed me to accept the fact that no one is entitled to a life; it either happens or it doesn’t, and if it does, you are so lucky that to not cherish your life is an insult to the universe. I can’t imagine what parents go through when they lose a child, and that’s what upsets me the most. Knowing two people loved the hell out of that person and they’ll never get to watch them grow up. I’m happy to say that those types of days are very few and far between, at least for me. When we remove stillbirths from the hospital we bring a bassinet and wrap them in a blanket when we carry them out. Instead of feeling sad, I choose to feel a sense of responsibility. From the time I receive them to when they are returned to the earth, I’m their guardian and protector.

On that note, something I find delightfully unconventional is that the government office where I register deaths is literally right next to the government office that registers marriages, so whenever I go to register the death of anyone, including a child, I see people applying for marriage licenses. Where there’s marriages, there are children, and I take solace in knowing that for every child lost, another child is born and gets to grow old. The circle of life continues. As Ron Sexsmith said, “All in good time, the bad times will be gone.”


I would never be able to handle what you do @Mr.46, but society thanks those who can.

I’ve listened to police officers/fireman who regularly attend road crashes and they talk of having an ‘empathy bucket’. Slowly the bucket fills and eventually the emotion of witnessing such tragic/horrific accidents becomes absent. Do you agree with this analogy from your personal experience? Or will you still have a strong emotional response to certain cases?


Thanks so much for your thoughtful and detailed response @Mr.46. My brother is a firefighter and EMT, and he sees more horrific shit every couple months that I will see in my lifetime. He has kind of a gallows sense of humor about it, though. Several times I’ve heard him say that any motorcyclist who rides without a helmet should be automatically registered as an organ donor. One time he described an accident scene that he got called to, guy got hit by a train, as a “snow shovel job”. Holy crap, I can just imagine what that means.

ETA: Oh, and Quincy was a show from the late '70s, Klugman (Oscar from The Odd Couple) played the L.A. Medical Examiner. It was kind of a precursor to the CSI-type shows that are so popular now. My mom loved all those ABC Friday Night Movie shows, like Columbo and McCloud and McMillan & Wife (what a weird sexist title, now that I look at it). I watched it as a kid and always thought Quincy was cool, he didn’t charge around with a gun beating people up but figured it out like Sherlock Holmes.


I patiently waited for you to get to my question and you really delivered the best possible explanation, I imagined myself standing next to you while you’re doing all that. My respect for morticians/embalmers increased tenfold, I had no idea the process was so complex, can only imagine what a gruesome experience were funerals before embalming became a thing in our society.

I’m curious though if embalming fluid has a different smell than pure formaldehyde, my contact with the substance was in my anatomy classes where we worked with preserved bodies which I assume have underwent a similar embalming process you described (except all the organs were still in place) and while the smell is unmistakable and made my eyes water and my nose burn while standing right next to the body, I wouldn’t call the smell perfumed. :sweat_smile: I’ve also smelled what I think was pure formaldehyde (had to do some pest control at my country house) and the smell was identical to the one I remembered from the anatomy class. Still, I would definitely prefer that over the stench of death. :grin:


I hope you’re not letting life get in the way again @Mr.46 :joy::stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:. @BogdanMD has a question and I want more gruesome stories haha.


He put more thought in this thread than I did in 400 posts so he doesn’t have to hurry on my account. :wink:


Haha I know I’m just messing with him.


Have you ever had to work on a rotted body? If so are they any different to work on? More difficult or anything?


Hi! I really hope this thread is still active all this time later. I have a question about the education required to own a crematorium. I am an ordained minister and have extensive experience planning and officiating funeral services. I would like to start a small business focused on cremations. It’s the growing trend with funerals and I don’t want to deal with embalming.

I know as a funeral director, a degree (associate’s) is required with a year internship. Are the standards the same if I will be doing ONLY cremations and offering funeral services as well? This would include pickup of the body, storage, cremation, processing, selling of urns, and officiating services.

I know there is a required certification needed to work an incenerator, but I’m curious if that’s all I would need to start this business. Any input?

** Welp. I just saw he is suspended for the next 1,000 years…so…


Hi there, I’m a trainee embalmer myself and recently I’ve come into some makeup issues. I was wondering if you think alcohol activated Sfx makeup would be okay to use on deceased?
It’s fab for correcting and creating natural skin tones and such and would be brilliant for covering yellowing or browning or greening or any discolouration. I just worry that the alcohol might cause issues with the skin.
However it’s not massively drying on live people skin so I’m not sure.
Especially considering dispray and dry wash shampoo is majorly alcohol based.
Just wanted an expert opinion!


OP @Mr.46 is not active because of ban. So I don’t think anyone would be able to help you here.
I miss Mr.46