A mortuary is where bodies are stored and looked after before they are buried or cremated. You can find these spaces inside funeral homes and in hospitals and medical centers.

A standalone morgue will only focus on preparing the body for burial and will not offer the same services as a funeral home. The funeral home will also provide embalming, a meaningful funeral service and on-site burial or cremation.


In a mortuary setting preparation usually involves washing and disinfecting the body, suturing or packing openings, embalming (if required), dressing and arranging the remains in a coffin. Often embalming includes the application of cosmetics which is designed to give a more life-like appearance.

Once the body has been dressed it is transferred into a casket where it will remain until time for the funeral. If a funeral home is involved in the arrangements, the funeral director will then proceed to ‘cosmeticize’ the face and hands of the deceased. This is a subtle art that adds dimension and warmth where blood vessels normally appear and helps to create the illusion of life.

A mortician will usually be responsible for a lot of the management and service work in a funeral home while a funeral director oversees the actual preparation of the deceased. This is an important distinction as a standalone morgue will only offer a quick viewing for immediate family members and onsite cremation without the full offering of memorialization services that you’ll find at a funeral home.


Embalming is the process of preserving a body to delay the natural deterioration that occurs after death. It allows for a more peaceful appearance of the deceased and is often chosen if you are having an open casket funeral service or wish to spend time with your loved one after their passing.

Historically, people have used a variety of preservatives to prevent decay and embalming has been part of this practice. The ancient Egyptians used salt to preserve their bodies; the Admiral Nelson returned home from the Battle of Trafalgar in a barrel of brandy.

Modern embalming uses a combination of chemicals to disinfect and preserve the remains. A small incision is made to insert a trocar (sharp surgical tool) into the abdomen and chest cavity; the organs are punctured, drained of fluids and gases and filled with formaldehyde-based chemicals. After completing this procedure, cotton is placed in the nose and throat to absorb any liquids and help set facial features. The mouth is then shaped and wired into place while the eyes are positioned using eye caps and glued shut. The face is cleaned and cosmetics are applied if desired.


Mortuary science is a field of study for students interested in becoming morticians. The study encompasses everything from the biology of deceased bodies to funeral home management. Students also learn about the grieving process for bereaved families.

A coffin is the box in which a body is placed during burial or cremation. Coffins can be made of wood, metal or another material. They can be decorated or plain, and they can be open or closed.

The type of coffin used depends on the situation. For example, a pauper’s coffin may be built from the cheapest pine available, while a wealthy person might opt for mahogany and a fine lining, brass fittings and decorations.

A mortuary can be located in hospitals, medical examiner’s offices or some cemeteries. A mortuary can be attached to a funeral home or it can be an independent facility. In addition to mortuary services, funeral homes are also able to assist with memorial planning and grief counseling.

Final Arrangements

When you have decided on a funeral plan (either burial or cremation) you need to make arrangements for final disposition of the body. This involves arranging for transport of the unmbalmed remains from the mortuary to the place of burial and purchase of interment property from a cemetery. There is a basic arrangements fee that covers the availability of a funeral director, arrangement conference, filing of the death certificate and authorizations, visitation and coordination with clergy and cemetery for services.

To make the arrangements, you will meet with a funeral director at the mortuary or, in some instances, at your home or over the phone. This is a time of great stress, but there are some things you can do to help with the process. For example, determine if your loved one left behind a pre-arranged plan and work with the funeral service provider they selected. Also, check with the person’s insurance agent or life insurer to see if there are any death benefits available.

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