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Psychological Effects of Embalming on the Bereaved

Significance of research

Death is a natural occurrence in the life of every human being. The loss of a loved one may actually devastate those who are left behind and such life-changing events have affected the plans, priorities and personalities of the individuals closest to the person who has passed away. Alongside the process of burial and memorial services, the family members and close friends of the departed go through a grieving process, which is generally variable, depending on the personality of each individual. The grieving process involves a series of psychological and physical reactions to the loss of a loved one and the general features of this journey have been described by several clinicians (Bowlby, 1961; Kubler-Ross, 1969; Parkes, 1972). The process of embalming the dead has been employed for thousands of years across the world and its anatomical use has been well explained. However, the psychological effect of the process of embalming on the bereaved has not been fully investigated, much less understood. This research proposal aims to determine the emotional and mental conditions that the bereaved experiences in associated to the death of a loved one.

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Review of background of the study

The death of every individual is generally associated with two broad aspects. The grieving process pertains to the psychological turmoil that the bereaved experiences and this often varies in duration, depending on the degree of loss the bereaved feels. The other aspect of death involves the preparatory steps for the burial of the dead, including embalming, dressing, viewing, memorial services and eventually, burial. Each preparatory step is known to be tedious hence the increase in the number of funeral parlors has augmented such tasks. However, it should also be understood that each preparatory step imposes an effect on the bereaved, aside from the fact that a new dimension with regards to the loved one has also changed. Not only will the bereaved never be able to see, talk and touch his loved one, but the actual physical body of the loved one is also destined to change, through each of the preparatory steps.

The preparatory step of embalming pertains to the application of a preservative to the body of the dead. The process employs formaldehyde with both retains the anatomical structure of the body for a short period of time, which in turn allows the dead to be viewed by the bereaved and other people for a few days until burial. The process of embalming also disinfects the body and prevents the transmission of any microorganisms that may be present in the body of the dead to those who would like to view or pay their last respects to the dead.

Viewing of the dead, which generally occurs after the embalming process and before burial, serves many purposes. Firstly, family members and friends may give their last respects to their dead loved one during this time. Secondly, any religious and cultural rituals associated with the death of a loved one may be performed during these few days of viewing. The third and not so obvious purpose of viewing is to confirm that the individual is indeed dead and this reality is shown to the rest of the viewing community. The actual viewing of the dead often connotes that the relatives and friends will be able to see the dead person for the last time and often times, no matter how excellent the performance of the embalmer would work, the dead person may resemble the individual as similar as everyone used to see when he was still alive.

Specific aims for research

Although the process of embalming may be necessary to prevent rapid decomposition of the body of the dead person, the process of embalming also changes the physical appearance of the dead person. This research aims to scientifically determine the psychological effect of embalming on the bereaved and on the associated grieving process.

Study design

The research will conduct a randomized controlled trial for 8 weeks. The research project will be submitted from screening and approval for implementation by the corresponding ethical review board, and informed consent will be procured from the participating bereaved. The targeted participants of this research will be family members and close friends of an individual who died during the course of the research project. The relationship, age and sex of the participants will be determined, including the length relationship of the participant with the dead person. Questionnaires will be designed that will inquire about the emotions, perceptions and ideas of the bereaved with regards to the dead person. For example, there will be a question regarding the use of embalmers on body of their loved one, wherein he would be asked if he would approve or disapprove such process, if he were given the choice. Another question may involve his perceptions on how the loved one looks during the viewing process—does he look the same or is he now unrecognizable? There will also be questions that would ask the participants to share what they understand regarding the embalming process. Their feelings and comments about the embalming process will also be requested in the questionnaires.

The answers of the participants will be analyzed using the mathematical software SPSS (ver. 17) in order to detect any significant variations in relation to the answers provided by the participants. The SPSS software is equipped with the capability to handle descriptive and bivariate statistical analyses, including t-test and ANOVA. In addition, the SPSS software can also be employed for descriptive ratio analysis. A two-tailed t-test will be performed to detect any associations between a specific belief and a particular response.

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Limitations and ethical considerations of your project

The research project may be limited in terms of collection of responses from willing participants because the duration of the project is only 8 weeks. This short project will only serve as feasibility study of the topic and if there are interesting information that will be collected during these 8 weeks, then the research study might be re-submitted for renewal, this time for a longer duration of study, such as 3 years. Informed consent will be collected from the participants of the study and should there be a need to translate the questionnaires to the language of the bereaved such as Spanish, the questionnaire will be translated. The research project may also be difficult to conduct because the death of a loved one is a very difficult time for any person and thus the bereaved may not be willing to share their thoughts, feelings and perceptions during this difficult and sad time.

Hypothetical conclusions

The process of embalming delivers a psychological effect on the bereaved by changing their physical perception of their loved one. The questionnaires may most likely show that their loved one looked different once life has left the body. Questionnaires may indicate that the body of their dead loved one does not resemble their loved while he was still alive and such sight impacts the bereaved more than the idea of death of that individual itself. The bereaved may also express that if their loved one looked exactly like how he was when he was alive, then the process of grieving may not feel so painful and lengthy.

The bereaved may also express anger and bitterness (Prigerson and Jacobs, 2001) with regards to the conduct of this research project and in turn, not enough information might be collected during the 8 weeks of research. Should this reaction from the bereaved take place, then the research project may then be modified as to the reactions of the bereaved with regards to interviews during the memorial or burial process.


  1. Bowlby, J. (1961). Processes of mourning. Int. J. Psychoanal. 42:317-339.
  2. Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On Death and Dying. New York, NY: Macmillan.
  3. Parkes, C. (1972). Bereavement: Studies in grief in adult life. London, England: Tavistock.
  4. Prigerson, H.G. & Jacobs, S.C. (2001). Caring for bereaved patients: “All the doctors just suddenly go.” JAMA. 286:1369-1376.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, September 23). Psychological Effects of Embalming on the Bereaved.

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"Psychological Effects of Embalming on the Bereaved." StudyCorgi, 23 Sept. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "Psychological Effects of Embalming on the Bereaved." September 23, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "Psychological Effects of Embalming on the Bereaved." September 23, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Psychological Effects of Embalming on the Bereaved." September 23, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Psychological Effects of Embalming on the Bereaved'. 23 September.

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