A mortuary is a place where bodies are stored until they can be buried or cremated. Mortuaries are often located in hospitals or medical centers, but can also be found at funeral homes and private locations.

A standalone morgue or mortuary will typically only focus on preparing the body for burial or cremation. A funeral home that has a mortuary will usually provide additional services such as an arrangement conference and a funeral service.

Preparation of the Body

A mortuary is a facility where bodies are kept until they’re ready for burial or cremation. It is often part of a funeral home, though some independent morgues also exist.

A body is prepared for burial in a mortuary by cleaning, dressing and possibly embalming. Embalming uses a formaldehyde-based solution to prevent the growth of bacteria and slow down decomposition. It can also enhance the appearance of a corpse for viewing purposes. Funeral homes typically provide full embalming services, although temporary or cosmetic embalming may be requested by some families.

If a body is to be cremated, it’s placed in a container designed for this purpose and then moved to the cremation chamber (a.k.a. the retort). Meticulous tagging procedures are followed throughout all steps of preparation and cremation to ensure that your loved one is properly identified and that the correct ashes are returned to you. In some cases, a pacemaker or ICD (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator) is removed before placing the body in the retort.


The embalming process is a series of steps that involve the use of chemicals that temporarily preserve and restore a natural appearance for viewing. Modern embalming fluid consists of a mixture of preservatives, disinfectants, humectants and wetting agents. It may contain formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, methanol or other compounds.

Embalming is not necessary for burial, and it does not protect the deceased from infectious diseases. It is, however, commonly performed to allow family members to attend a visitation and a funeral service.

The embalmer washes the body and massages it to get rid of rigor mortis (a natural stiffening of the joints that occurs a few hours after death). He or she closes the eyes and mouth, and might shave any facial hair that was not worn when the person was alive. The embalmer then pumps a preservative solution through the arteries, which disinfects the body and briefly slows decomposition. This is known as arterial embalming. Embalmers also use tissue building chemicals to restore the elasticity of the skin and muscles.

Arrangements for Burial or Cremation

In addition to embalming, a mortuary will typically arrange the details of burial or cremation. Those arrangements include transportation of the body, a viewing and/or a funeral service, and the resting place. The funeral home may require a basic arrangements fee that covers the cost of arranging all the details.

If a casket burial is chosen, the body will be placed in a grave or entombed in an above-ground crypt in a mausoleum. If a grave or crypt isn’t available, the remains are often buried in a cremation vault or urn.

In the past, before modern methods for verifying death could be used, people were feared to be buried alive. Waiting mortuaries were built for the sole purpose of preventing this from occurring, and they usually included large halls that were reminiscent of churches or civic buildings. Depending on your preference, you can choose to have an open or closed casket for the cremation or burial.

Funeral Services

A mortuary typically has a morgue, but the true focus of a mortuary is to prepare the body for burial or cremation and care for the deceased temporarily. The process of embalming improves the appearance of the deceased and may be required for a funeral service or other ceremony.

A funeral home can be attached to a mortuary or operate independently. Funeral homes have a larger area where ceremonies can be held and may offer additional services, such as visitation, religious rites or memorials.

The person making arrangements for the funeral is known as the customer. The customer may be a family member or a friend legally designated to make decisions under public health law, commonly called 4201. An agent designated by the customer has the same rights and responsibilities as the next of kin in determining disposition. The customer is responsible for the payment of the bill. A written general price list of merchandise and services regularly offered by the funeral home is provided to the customer at the arrangement conference.

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