The first funeral service was conducted in the family homes. This is because during the American Civil War, the families intended for the dead remains of their fathers, sons and husbands to be prepared for burial at their own homes. To preserve the bodies, Dr. Thomas Holmes, among the many first “morticians”, practiced the early art of embalming the dead soldiers.
Embalming is both a science and an art that temporarily preserves the dead body to delay its decomposition. This is done in order to maintain the usual appearance of the human body during the funeral service. The three purposes of embalming are restoration, sanitization and preservation.
Later on, the funeral directors, then known as “undertakers”, changed from preparing and showing bodies in the family’s homes to removing the deceased from the hospitals or homes and transporting the bodies to funeral homes. The purpose of this is for the cleaner and more systematic preparation and conduct of funeral service.
Actually, embalming is not the first technique developed for the preservation of a dead person. There is mummification, a process adapted by Ancient cultures in Egypt, Greenland and Persia, by utilizing honey, ice and salts. There is also the arterial embalming, which is pioneered in the funeral homes in Netherlands. Different chemicals were discovered and invented for embalming such as liquor balsamicum, arsenic-based and alcohol-based formula.
In Europe, Alexander Butlerov and August Wilhelm von Hoffmann discovered formaldehyde. Morticians have been using this chemical from 1867 until the present. However, the use of formaldehyde or formalin, did not remove one of the major concerns of funeral homes- the smell of the decaying body. This is where the use of funeral flowers becomes functional.
Traditional practice introduced the selection of flower ladies. The flower ladies, deemed as privileged roles, have the responsibilities of preparing, arranging and carrying the funeral flowers from the mortuary establishment to the cemetery. History tells us thatit is the 17th president of the United States who first used funeral flowers in 1874. There were still no flower ladies back then.
The story discloses that Andrew Johnson’s body was not embalmed. To mask the foul odor coming from the decaying ex-president, the undertaker covered the casket and placed a lot of fragrant flowers over and around the casket. This clearly shows that funeral flowers have more function than just being ornamentals surrounding the casket.
The first casket was made by the local undertakers themselves. Aside from embalming skill, these local undertakers are said to be adept and employed in the lumber, carpentry or furniture business. The materials used in making caskets, or coffins, can include wood, copper, veneer, bronze, twill, crepe, satin, steel or metal. The increase in preference of cremation over traditional burial gave rise to the utilization of urns.
The vessels or vases called, “urns” are designed to take in at least three pounds of cremains. Cremains are the ashes from cremated corpse. Cremation urns are made by the use of metal, ceramic, fabric, composites, marble, plastic, wood, glass, granite or biodegradable materials for use on water. There has also been the creation of cremation jewelry, locket-style accessory, for carrying a very little amount of cremains. The cremains may also be compressed and processed into an actual man-made stone. The mortuary can conduct funeral service even after the cremation of the dead body. This is to be decided by the family.
In summary, the selection and preparation of coffins, cremation urns, funeral flowers and other funeral elements have been reinvented over the years to yearn to the penny-wise demand and the appropriate personalization of funeral ambience. This serves not only to alleviate the grief but to celebrate the life lived by the one who passed away.