Botched embalming?

Charles Cowling

Here’s a strange tale.

Daniel Brennan died in Monklands Hospital, Airdrie, and was looked after  Donald McLaren Ltd, est 1912. I don’t know if there was a post mortem, but we are told that Daniel’s illness was a short one.

When Daniel’s mother went to see him at the funeral home she was appalled:

“I pulled the shroud back and saw him in a body bag and covered in blood and fluid going from one shoulder to another. The smell was atrocious. His face and neck were swollen and bruised beyond recognition and I can assure you that when I left my son at the hospital, his face was in no way disfigured or marked. I was totally shocked at the state of my son’s body. It was horrific. I’ll never get the picture out of my head.” [Source]

Mrs Brennan has filed a complaint with the NAFD. It looks as if the undertaker has waived the embalming fee.

I don’t get it. Why on earth did the undertaker allow the family see Daniel looking like that? Any undertakerly insights welcome.

5 thoughts on “Botched embalming?

  1. Charles Cowling

    Just to add to my previous post, (Nick 1) I should explain for the benefit of those outside the funeral profession that the process of embalming, whilst following certain basic methods, can be much more involved than most people would imagine.

    It is, in it’s more advanced form, an art – especially where the cause of death, or previous medication is unavailable to the embalmer (very few hospitals release or share this information).

    I remember attending an embalming demonstration some 20 years or so ago given by the Dodge chemical company – manufacturers of embalming fluids. It was one of their “Dodge Roadshows” and the demonstrator was an embalmer called Don Sawyer, an american, and an icon in the global world of embalming. The sort of guy who will have forgotten many times over more than I will ever learn about the craft.

    After a lifetime in the job, he extolled the fact that “as an embalmer, you never stop learning”.

    Circumstances will occur from time to time, that you have little or no control over – you can only do your best on the day to help the family and friends involved.


    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling

    As an embalmer I have to totally agree with Nicks post. Embalming isn’t a foolproof way of keeping and presenting someone. It only slows things down. The only way to really slow things down is the American way of waterless embalming and then you have to rely on HEAVY cosmetics.
    I have in the past advised families not to view and on almost every occasion they have take this on board and remembered their loved one as they were. If a closed coffin goes home then the FD looses all control……..and some families will peek!!!

    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling

    Thanks a lot for that, Nick. Your last point is well made.

    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling

    It’s a difficult one, and I wouldn’t wish to refer specifically to this upsetting story without being in possession of all the facts.

    However, medication during an illness can cause problems afterwards. Fluid retention in the tissues (and thus it’s eventual and natural exit) combined with premature decomposition caused by some drugs, typically those used in the treatment of some cancers require careful attention by the embalmer.

    Even the most professionally embalmed such cases can often require “re-visits” to “adjust” the situation.

    I have personally observed a perfectly viewable, and most professionally embalmed body become totally un-viewable within the short period of 2-3 days following death, even with the added benefits of refrigeration.

    Where this is combined with a posted case, additional pros and cons arise.

    “I pulled the shroud back and saw him in a body bag” tends to suggest that the funeral directors were quite correctly addressing a specific problem, and the “re-adjusting” of the coffin interior by the NoK was somewhat unfortunate.

    Whether the NoK was viewing against the best advise of the FD doesn’t appear clear….


    Charles Cowling

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