The art of caring for and burying the dead has evolved over time. Practices today are more diverse than those in earlier days when funeral homes, limousine hearses, embalming and cremation were unheard of, and the whole affair was much simpler.
In early America, back when funerals were not the elaborate process that people know them to be today. Most American families cared for their deceased family member without much professional help. Each community simply had a group of women who came in to facilitate the process of preparing the deceased. The deceased would be prepped at home and the visitation would be done at home too.
During that time, it was popular for homes to have patios or an area where they receive their guests. They made sure that these rooms are furnished with the finest furniture, decors, portraits, possessions and other trappings. These rooms, being usually clean, uncluttered, formal and suitable for entertaining visitors, would by default then become the room where the deceased is laid out for viewing when the need arises. This would serve as a model for most modern funeral homes today.
Embalming has not been invented yet at this time and all that there was to it was the visitation at home, then a procession to the church and the cemetery. There was no need to preserve the dead for extended periods of time. Embalming was not a procedure that was done during that time. Caring for the dead was always a simple and upfront affair.
It was only in the mid 1800s that this custom began to change. At the height of the Civil War, American soldiers were sent to the battlefield and many died. The fallen soldiers’ remains needed to be brought home to be buried at the request of their surviving family members. And since the means of transporting these bodies – and the speed with which this can be done – had logistical obstacles, they had to find a way to prevent the dead bodies from decomposing fast. It was at this time when the practice of embalming was first used. One of the pioneers in the field of embalming was an American doctor by the name of Dr. Auguste Renouard (1839-1912). This early procedure paved the way for the modern-day practice of embalming.
Embalming the dead body and putting it in a casket is a practice that is carried on until the present day. Over time, however, the practice of viewing the dead at home was replaced by the more convenient funeral homes. This afforded the family members much ease and convenience in arranging and getting the whole thing done.
As for the burial, the dead was buried in their own backyards in the past. Today, most people prefer to have the deceased buried in the more aesthetically-appealing local cemeteries. There are national military cemeteries intended for the fallen soldiers of the war and public cemeteries for the ordinary citizens. Military personnel still continue to be buried in these military cemeteries up to this day.
The practice of preparing the dead body for burial was also professionalized. Experts were trained to do the job in behalf of the family. These professionals were first called undertakers, and then eventually referred to as morticians and funeral directors in the modern times.
It is worth noting that modern funeral homes of today have perfected this craft. They have somehow come a long way, judging by the grandeur with which these services are provided, the appearance and size of the viewing chapels where people keep vigil and pay respect to the deceased, and the materials and craftsmanship of the coffins, to mention a few. Rightfully so, there is no other way to bid farewell to a dear departed than give him the amount of respect fit for a king.