Since the beginning of civilization, funeral ceremonies have been held both to honor the dead and to help mourners in their grief. In all cultures, people have dealt with the mystery of death by means of rituals and ceremonies, often burying significant objects with their dead to aid them in their afterlife.
Embalming was practiced by the Egyptians as early as 4000 B.C. Bodies were covered with a dry powdered substance, called natron, soaked in a soda solution, rubbed with oil and spices (and sometimes tar and pitch), and finally wrapped in linen. Mummies preserved in this manner have remained intact to this day.
Modern methods of embalming were developed in the 18th century in Europe. Precise anatomical knowledge and the development of standardized chemical preparations and new synthetic materials enabled the embalmer to restore the appearance of the deceased to a condition approximating life.
Funerals, like all ceremonies, are intimately related to the society in which they occur. As society has changed, so have funerals. Emphasis in funeral customs in the United States has undergone a shift in recent years from a preoccupation with the dead to a concern for the living. Today, men and women in the funeral service industry are concerned with the emotional and physical well-being of the survivors. This shift in attitude has amounted to an increased need for sensitivity and empathy in funeral home workers.
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