What Is a Mortuary?


Often times, a standalone mortuary will only offer a quick viewing for immediate family members and on-site cremation without full-service offerings. This is an important distinction, especially for those with religious preferences and rites to be observed.

Any refrigerated space spacious enough to hold a body can act as a mortuary during an emergency.


A mortuary is a place where people can be held after death. It is commonly attached to a funeral home and may focus on preparing the body for burial or cremation, or both. It can also assist with arranging services and ceremonies.

The preparation of the body starts soon after death in order to prevent complications from rigor mortis – a stiffening of the muscles and joints that usually sets in within two to seven hours of passing. This process includes washing the body, dressing and positioning it and making arrangements to transport it.

For bodies that will be buried, embalming is done in the morgue to improve the appearance of the corpse before the wake or ceremony. The body can then be dressed, fixed with makeup and prepared for display in the casket or urn. It can also be frozen for body donation or green burial purposes, or prepared for air or ground travel to another state for an autopsy or organ donation.


The embalmer replaces the blood in the body with chemicals. Often this is done by forcing fluid into the major blood vessels via an incision made on either the carotid or jugular vein. The embalmer then pumps a mixture of formaldehyde, methanol, isopropanol, detergents and dyes through the vessels into the body.

This process does not prevent deterioration, but it slows it down greatly. The body can be preserved for up to 3 weeks with this technique.

During this time signs of ageing like bruises can be smoothed out and signs of illness, like sunken eyes, closed with a fine coating of mortuary makeup. Many people are surprised to see how much their loved one looks the same after they’ve been embalmed.


Depending on culture and religion, a burial may or may not be part of the end-of-life ritual. A number of cultures bury their dead; these include:

The dead are dressed in clothing of choice and placed in a casket or other container, which is then placed in the ground. Some burials are heavily ritualized, and embalming or mummification is often used to delay decomposition. For example, the ancient Egyptians buried their dead in tombs and crypts.

Some mortuaries also have chapels where a funeral service is held before the body is buried. They can also provide a space for family members to receive friends and loved ones after the death, before the final viewing. Some have a full range of services, including on-site cremation, while others are less focused on the mortuary science and more about helping grieving families through their mourning process. The term mortuary is sometimes used interchangeably with the term morgue, though morgues are typically attached to hospitals and departments of forensic medicine.


A mortuary will typically handle the body until it’s ready to be transferred to a funeral home. This may include arranging for caskets or urns, and preparing the body for viewing. Some mortuaries will also arrange for burial or cremation services as well.

Cremation has increasingly become the method of choice for many families. The process involves placing the body into a machine which heats it with natural gas and then uses a scrubber to filter out any remaining ash. The ashes are then usually spread over a memorial site or turned into jewelry, but some families choose to bury the remains instead.

There is always a chance that a morgue worker could contract an infectious disease while working with a corpse, but if proper precautions are taken the risk should be low. Generally, only highly trained professionals work at a mortuary. Sharps such as scalpels, scissors and lancets should be placed in a sharps container after use and disposed of by a medical waste contractor.

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