Re­mem­ber me

Business World - - weekender - By Joseph L. Garcia, Re­porter

FOR mil­len­nia, hu­mans have sought for ways to pre­serve their dead, per­haps as a way for the be­reaved to re­mem­ber, and for the de­ceased to be re­mem­bered. Since the body also served as a shell for the spirit, it was also be­lieved by many an­cient cul­tures that a well-pre­served body, pos­si­bly bet­ter and purer than it had been in life, guar­an­teed a per­son to live be­yond death in a com­fort­able af­ter­life. An in­cor­rupt body could also be seen as a re­flec­tion of the soul: in the Ro­man Catholic and Eastern Or­tho­dox faiths, the body of an ex­traor­di­nar­ily good per­son that has been re­vealed to be in­tact af­ter death just may place one on the path to saint­hood — a pre­req­ui­site be­ing that this body has not been pre­served through em­balm­ing, but by some mir­a­cle. Ex­am­ples of these saints would be St. Ber­nadette and Saint El­iz­a­beth, of the Catholic and Or­tho­dox faiths, re­spec­tively. How­ever, the art, science, and busi­ness of em­balm­ing, the preser­va­tion of the body to ar­rest de­com­po­si­tion, re­ally took off dur­ing the 1800s. The Vic­to­rian pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with death was a fac­tor, but so was the prac­ti­cal rea­son of pre­serv­ing the bod­ies of sol­diers killed dur­ing the Amer­i­can Civil War. Since these bod­ies may have been killed in com­bat zones far from home, they had to be re­turned to their fam­i­lies whole; a small mercy for the loss of life. A zenith for the art of em­balm­ing was the corpse of Eva “Evita” Peron, the wife of Ar­gen­tine dic­ta­tor Juan Peron. The hugely pop­u­lar for­mer ac­tress and later po­lit­i­cal fig­ure died in 1952, and was em­balmed by Dr. Pe­dro Ara over a series of treat­ments that lasted over a year. Evita, know­ing the im­mor­tal­ity her image would achieve in death, had her hair dyed blonde and her nails painted red right be­fore she died. Her body was soaked and pumped full of chem­i­cals, and a thin and clear coat­ing was placed over her skin. The re­sult was a mar­velous corpse, en­vi­able as a Sleep­ing Beauty. Her well-pre­served

body would haunt her hus­band’s suc­ces­sors, as it served as an en­dur­ing sym­bol of her hus­band’s regime. Af­ter a dis­ap­pear­ance of 16 years, it was fi­nally laid to rest in the 1970s in a very se­cure tomb; to sleep undis­turbed and undis­turb­ing through the ages.


In the Philip­pines, Ar­ling­ton Me­mo­rial Chapels and Cre­ma­tory serves as embalmer to the stars: ac­tors Rico Yan and Fer­nando Poe, Jr. re­ceived their treat­ments in death, and vis­i­tors to their wakes noted the beauty of their rest­ing faces and their like­ness to life. It has also filled in the role of embalmer to sev­eral other celebri­ties and var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal fig­ures. The com­pany was founded in 1985, af­ter the father of Rafael Jose pur­chased Funer­aria Na­cional in 1982. Mr. Jose now sits as the com­pany’s pres­i­dent, in­her­it­ing it from his father. Busi­nessworld sat down with him and Vic­to­ria Pa­gayon, Em­balm­ing Su­per­vi­sor, a week be­fore All Souls’ Day in their of­fices in Que­zon City. No school in the Philip­pines teaches Mor­tu­ary Science, which is read­ily avail­able as a de­gree course in other coun­tries. All em­balmers here re­ceive their train­ing and li­cen­sure from the Depart­ment of Health (DoH). Ar­ling­ton, how­ever, takes this a step fur­ther by get­ting train­ers from the United States, usu­ally from the com­pa­nies which sup­ply their em­balm­ing flu­ids. This ini­tia­tive made Ar­ling­ton one of the lead­ers in the busi­ness, lead­ing for them to get nu­mer­ous awards from the Fu­neral Di­rec­tors As­so­ci­a­tion of the Philip­pines (FDAP). Still, the lack of a proper de­gree for Mor­tu­ary Science may ham­per the busi­ness, as Mr. Jose says, “We’re de­layed in the pro­cesses that have been learned all over the world.” Ar­ling­ton spe­cial­izes in the soft-em­balm­ing method, as op­posed to the stan­dard em­balm­ing method, us­ing formalde­hyde alone. Un­der the stan­dard method, “What we end up get­ting is a body that’s as stiff as wood.” The plump and cheer­ful Mr. Jose knocked on a wooden ta­ble for em­pha­sis. “Soft em­balm­ing is more nat­u­ral,” he con­tin­ued. “You get the nat­u­ral feel of the re­mains of the body, It’s like the per­son is still the way they feel when they were alive.” Mr. Jose did not re­veal all the com­po­nents of the chem­i­cals used in soft em­balm­ing, but he did say that lano­lin, se­creted by an­i­mals with soft wool, was an in­gre­di­ent. Ms. Pa­gayon then be­gan to take us through the steps of em­balm­ing — the fi­nal steps a per­son’s body takes in this world. The fu­neral home is called by the be­reaved, and the body is trans­ported to Ar­ling­ton. The ac­com­pa­ny­ing mem­bers of the fam­ily are taken to a room where de­tails such as pref­er­ences and the length of the wake are dis­cussed. The length of the wake is vi­tal be­cause it will de­ter­mine the work of the embalmer. Ms. Pa­gayon, mean­while, will wait for a go sig­nal from the fam­ily. “We have to have a next of kin sign it. Mean­ing, we have al­ready as­cer­tained the cause of death,” said Mr. Jose. “There are hospi­tals that some­times say, ‘un­de­ter­mined cause of death,’ which means the per­son ar­rived in the hos­pi­tal and ex­pired be­fore they can do a full study of what hap­pened. “When that is the case, we are re­quired to call the medi­cole­gal of­fice,” he added. “We’re re­quired to have the body au­top­sied — not nec­es­sar­ily [for] a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but to de­ter­mine the ac­tual cause of death. Some­times a pri­vate physi­cian de­ter­mines the cause of death.” There are mul­ti­ple rea­sons for this: one be­ing, a per­son who has died of a com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­ease such as SARS may not be em­balmed and they will then have to cre­mate the body im­me­di­ately. An­other rea­son would be the pres­ence of bul­let holes, stab wounds, and other such in­juries on the body, which might then prompt a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Once the fam­ily gives its ap­proval, they are then of­fered the op­por­tu­nity to watch the em­balm­ing process. This isn’t for some mor­bid or sen­ti­men­tal rea­son, but for rea­sons of prac­ti­cal­ity. For ex­am­ple, a fam­ily is asked how they would want their dearly de­parted hands to rest. “Once we do the em­balm­ing process, the mus­cles harden. That will stay,” said Mr. Jose. The first step is called in the in­dus­try as “set­ting the fea­tures” — a eu­phemistic term for mak­ing up the face of the dead. The fam­ily is asked to bring a pic­ture of the de­ceased when they were healthy so the em­balmers could have an image of what they looked like in life. The eyes are closed and fixed into place, and the sunken cheeks and other parts of the face are stuffed with cot­ton or in­jected with em­balm­ing fluid, to give it the ap­pear­ance of full­ness that might have been robbed by ill­ness and death. The hair is dyed, and the face is made up, with cos­met­ics im­ported by Ar­ling­ton. Some­times, re­quests by the fam­ily for a cer­tain shade and brand used by the de­ceased in life would be en­ter­tained. Ms. Pa­gayon says that there’s lit­tle dif­fer­ence in mak­ing up the face of a dead per­son from a liv­ing one, ex­cept per­haps that the dead have skin that has dried. Ar­ling­ton also uses air­brush tech­niques in­stead, be­cause it ad­heres to a face bet­ter. Some dis­col­oration and dis­fig­ure­ment can be fixed by the em­balmers: Ms. Pa­gayon re­called hav­ing to re­con­struct a dam­aged nose. Af­ter that, the body is drained of its flu­ids from all its cav­i­ties, in­clud­ing the stom­ach and the lungs: any­thing that may de­com­pose in­side. It is then in­jected with preser­va­tive fluid, while the drained cav­i­ties are filled with the same. The whole process would take about 30 min­utes to an hour, de­pend­ing on the body’s size. How­ever, the full ef­fect of the preser­va­tion method will be seen in about three to four hours, af­ter the chem­i­cals have fully pen­e­trated into the body. The body is then washed, bathed, and clothed, and pre­pared for view­ing. The whole process, from when the fam­ily first steps into Ar­ling­ton, would take about four to six hours. It’s not ex­actly how you would want to live life: to leave the land of the liv­ing for that of the dead. Mr. Jose says that he was once des­tined for a life in fi­nance, but his father urged him to stay with the com­pany, even for just a year, and he sort of fell into it. “It’s the times that your friends and the peo­ple that you serve come back and say thank you for hav­ing guided us,” that make the dif­fer­ence. He re­calls peo­ple stop­ping him at malls to thank him for ar­rang­ing fu­ner­als for their fam­i­lies. “That’s what keeps me do­ing what I’m do­ing. You know you’re able to help some­body, and they re­mem­ber you. You might not re­mem­ber them, but they’ll al­ways re­mem­ber you.” For Ms. Pa­gayon’s part, she has re­ceived this com­pli­ment af­ter the be­reaved see their loved one: “Mas gwapo pa siya kaysa noong nabubuhay siya (He looks bet­ter than he did in life).” “What­ever com­forts them; what­ever gives them peace and so­lace dur­ing that hard time, is what we’re sup­posed to be do­ing here. That’s the mis­sion that was given to us. We be­come like fam­ily to them, guid­ing them through a hard time when they can’t even think about what to do next,” said Mr. Jose. Mr. Jose some­times en­coun­ters cases where the fam­ily will refuse a view­ing, and in­stead asks for an im­me­di­ate cre­ma­tion. While he re­spects their wishes, he makes a fi­nal plea to the fam­ily. “We would like you to know that the rea­son we have wakes is for us to be able to ac­knowl­edge that the per­son has died,” he says. “If I don’t see a per­son in a cas­ket... phys­i­cally, be­fore I cre­mate; chances are, the ac­cep­tance of the death is not go­ing to come eas­ily.” Pre­serv­ing a body for view­ing also brings back a lit­tle bit of the per­son be­fore their fi­nal farewell. “What’s go­ing to stay in your mind is the last image of the per­son,” said Mr. Jose. So if one has died from a long ill­ness or else in a trau­matic way, a pre­served and beau­ti­ful body can help take away that me­mory, and re­place it with one of a per­son at peace­ful rest, giv­ing back a lit­tle bit of the life that had been taken away. Af­ter all, Mr. Jose says, “Is that the way you want to be re­mem­bered? You, sick; you, cough­ing?” Mr. Jose was asked if he be­lieves in an af­ter­life. “Yes, of course.” “We’re re­spon­si­ble for the peo­ple who come through our doors. If there is an af­ter­life, we want them to look good. We want them to feel good.”


DR. PE­DRO ARA in­spects Eva Peron’s em­balmed corpse.

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