Truths and legend

“The nails, hair and beard continue to grow after death.”

False. After biological death, certain metabolic activities remain a few moments, nothing more. The production of keratin needed to grow nails and hair is not significant after death.

“During embalming, organs are removed.”

False. The law prohibits removing any organ whatsoever, except appendages (nails and hair) that can be trimmed, and biological fluids. However, before embalming, organs may have been removed during an autopsy, for organ donation or during surgery.

“How is embalming done?”

A small incision is made near the collarbone, in order to withdraw the carotid artery and jugular vein. A preservative solution containing formaldehyde is then injected through the artery to be distributed throughout the body. The blood, driven by the solution, will be discharged through the vein. The abdomen and chest organs, still in place, will be processed locally using a more concentrated solution. Obviously, the body is washed, dressed, made up and placed in the coffin. The entire treatment lasts between three and five hours.

“The eyes and mouth are sewn during embalming.”

False. To set the mouth and eyelids, adhesive is applied locally. In some ancient cultures, according to belief, this was done to prevent the soul from escaping the body.

“If the body is not embalmed, it cannot be viewed.”

False. It is not mandatory to embalm a dead body for it to be seen. However, in cases that allow for the deceased to be exposed to the public, the law provides that the rituals must not start any later than 18 hours after death. Also, the body must be buried or cremated within 24 hours after death. In some cases, if the facility allows it, it is possible to identify the remains which have been summarily prepared, without having been embalmed. Please check with your funeral director.

“Many bodies are cremated at the same time, in the same cremation unit.”

False. It would be physically impossible to insert two cremation containers in the same cremation unit. Cremations are performed one at a time and the ashes are completely gathered before proceeding to another cremation.

“I am obliged to place the ashes in a cemetery.”

False. Currently, no legislation prescribes nor regulates the disposal of the cinerary remains. So the ashes can be placed in a columbarium, buried in a cemetery or elsewhere, brought home or simply dispersed.

“An urn cannot hold all of the ashes.”

False. At the end of a cremation, the cinerary remains consist primarily of dust from the incinerated bones. The smallest commercial urns have a capacity of about 140 cubic inches (size of a dictionary), which is sufficient to hold all of the ashes.

“A pacemaker could explode during the cremation.”

True. The battery of a pacemaker is made of radioactive elements which, under intense heat, could explode. However, precautions are taken to ensure that any pacemaker is removed before cremation.

“We opted for cremation; we will not be able to view the body.”

False. Nothing prevents the body from being exposed before cremation. In this case, the remains will be incinerated with the coffin. If permitted, it may be possible to simply identify the remains before cremation.

“The death occurred from an accident, we will not be able to view the body.”

False. After determining of the state of the body, if possible, the Thanatology Technician can perform restorative treatments to the body to give it a familiar semblance. However, the allocated time for restoration will have a significant impact on the final outcome.

“I will not sign a funeral arrangement contract (prearrangement) prior to death, because in any case, there will still be something to pay at the time of my death.”

False. Prepaid funeral arrangement contracts are fully respected at the time of death; no additional costs will be charged.

“Is it possible to be buried or cremated alive like it sometimes happened in the past?”

No. Under the law, a death must be certified by a physician. In addition, a period of 6 hours must be observed before embalming. This time is increased to 12 hours prior to cremation.

“It is useless to expose a corpse.”

False. Serious studies demonstrate the necessity to see the deceased one last time. Showing the remains allows loved ones to move on more easily and healthily in their grief.

“Is it true that, at death, the body can let out a last breath?”

True. That sigh is directly linked to the relaxation of the intercostal muscles.

“Where do the expressions “croque-mort” (mortician) and “pompes funèbres” (funeral parlor) come from?”

According to the French dictionary, the term “croque-mort” comes from “to bite”, or in this context "to make disappear "; it is the person designated to transport the dead and ensure their burial. In ancient times, according to legend, to ensure that a person was indeed dead, the mortician violently bit a toe (usually the big toe)... if nothing happened, they could bury the deceased.

As for the term “pompes funèbres”, the definition is simpler. The “pompe” (pomp) is the formality brought to a ceremony. We can speak of a “wedding with great pomp”. The “pompes funèbres” are the businesses responsible for the formality of the funeral service..