Proud to be a Specialist in Body Restoration of the Dead for that Final of Farewell from their Loved Ones | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Proud to be a Specialist in Body Restoration of the Dead for that Final of Farewell from their Loved Ones

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In order to have a peaceful “final farewell” with the deceased, there are specialists you should know about (courtesy of Tong Mi).

Death comes to everyone. For those who are departing from the living world and those who are seeing them off, it is the “final goodbye” that must be greeted. Many times, the funeral rites are completed without a sense of closure, leaving the deceased feeling that “more could have been done,” not only while he or she was still alive, but also while he or she was still in existence. In addition to being rushed by the arrangements of the funeral home and local customs, the schedule for taking time off is limited by the congratulation and condolence regulations of the company they work for, and they are forced to take various actions in a short period of time. Many people think “that’s just the way it is” and deal with it, but is this really the case?

According to the “Law Concerning Cemeteries, Burial, etc.,” burial or cremation after death “shall not be performed until 24 hours have passed,” and although there is a rule that a body cannot be buried or cremated for 24 hours, there is no law that says “by when” a body must be cremated or buried after death. (There is a deadline for death notification according to the “Family Registration Law,” but it is not a rule regarding burial.) There are options for the amount of time that can be spent on the “final farewell” to the deceased.

Yukihiro Someya, a nokanshi (a coffin maker) and the representative of “Tsunomi,” which handles body preservation and special restoration, says, “If the bereaved family says how long they wish to spend with the deceased, there are various methods of treatment.”

In the case of a child who died suddenly at the age of 16, the bereaved family requested that he be placed in the living room of his home for eight days so that they could have time to say goodbye. It took a great deal of skill and knowledge to keep the body as alive as possible, including dry ice and a special moisturizing mist, but I believe we were able to help the bereaved family send off the body in the best possible manner.”

“Body preservation is based on keeping the body safe and protecting the deceased from postmortem changes until cremation,” said Someya. We irrigate the body, change the clothes, apply make-up, and apply dry ice to prevent decomposition. This is often done by funeral homes, but if the funeral home lacks the expertise, the dry ice can cause wrinkles, pale complexion, and even cause the eyelids to contract and the eyes to open. When the time between cremation and cremation is long, the help of a specialist who can perform the appropriate procedures is necessary.

Some of the makeup products actually used. Many types of foundation alone are available to bring the deceased back to his or her former self.

When people hear the words “makeup” and “make-up,” they sometimes say, “There is no need for that,” but if the specialists take care of the patient properly, they can have a “peaceful death face as if they were asleep. If a person’s face has the marks of an oxygen mask or has become gaunt due to illness, it is the result of a person trying his or her best to live. When we look at photos of the deceased when he or she was in good health and fix the skin and facial expression, the bereaved family members are often happy to see that he or she has returned and feel a sense of peace and tranquility.

A dedicated room where the bereaved family meets the body after treatment. The Buddhist altar in the foreground can be moved, and the body is handed over after the coffin in the back is opened and checked (courtesy of Tsunomi).

Although we cannot disclose these photos in this article for reasons of privacy protection and the dignity of the deceased, we saw many of them specially as part of the interview. It was impressive to see the peaceful expressions on the faces of the deceased, all of whom had been transformed by Someya’s and others’ hands. I had many experiences of being gripped by the sight of the changed faces of the deceased when I met them for the last time at funerals, and I could picture people who wished they could have seen them off in this way.

Although requests for such specialists are generally made through the funeral home, some funeral homes do not allow such requests. For example, some funeral directors do not accept options for fixed price packages such as family funerals, in order to prevent complaints that the cost was more than they had been told. Also, cases where a high price is charged for a service that is part of the general body preservation process. We have also heard stories of excessive options being offered, such as, “We were offered expensive embalming that was not originally necessary because of the short time required for cremation.”

The temperature, humidity, and environment of the place where the body is placed depend on the quality of the cremation process, but with advanced techniques, it is possible to preserve the body for up to two weeks by using dry ice. Embalming is necessary for a longer period of time. The period for which the body can be preserved with a single embalming is about 50 days, and if the procedure is repeated after that, the body can be preserved for an even longer period of time.

However, there are cases in which embalming is performed even if the time until cremation is short, such as when “it is hard to touch the body when it is cold by applying dry ice. However, because it is a procedure that drains the blood and makes medicine circulate throughout the body, some bodies cannot be embalmed depending on the condition of their blood vessels, and it is expensive compared to regular body preservation.

If the desired response is not available, or if the company recommends an expensive option that makes you feel distrustful, changing the client is an option. However, once a request is made and the body is handed over to a funeral home, it is often difficult to change.

There have been stories of people who were at a loss because they could not come to an agreement with the funeral home and were told to take the body elsewhere. If you try to change the funeral home, the family members may say, ‘The deceased does not want us to change what we have already decided,’ and you may end up with a funeral you are not satisfied with. …… Ideally, you should organize your detailed requests and decide on a funeral home beforehand, but even on short notice, you can prevent such problems by asking several funeral homes to give you estimates. I would like you to compare major funeral homes with those in town and choose one that is flexible and conscientious about accommodating your wishes.

Illness and old age are not the only causes of death. In the case of unexpected deaths for the surviving family members, the police and other relevant authorities may prohibit them from meeting the body. In addition to accidents, incidents, and suicides, burnt, drowned, and isolated deaths are often so severely damaged that the bodies are cremated without being able to touch or see the deceased.

The police and funeral homes also tell the bereaved families that it is better not to look at the bodies so as not to shock them. They don’t know where they can go to do something about it, so they say, ‘It’s impossible. Even if the bereaved family really wants to say goodbye, they are still upset and say, ‘It’s impossible. They say, “It’s impossible,” and many of them agree to be cremated. However, there is a way to make any corpse look like a person you can meet if you don’t give up,” he says.

Special wax used to restore damaged or missing parts of a corpse (courtesy: Tsunomi)

In the case of a body that is severely decomposed or damaged from an isolated death, regular funeral homes or companies that handle special restorations are unable to handle the body, and often refuse to do so. However, Someya says , “We do not refuse any kind of body. Even in cases that are considered ‘impossible’ in terms of technology, we will do everything we can to accommodate the bereaved family’s wishes,” he says. In fact, the company has accepted bodies rejected by many companies and fulfilled the wishes of the bereaved families. In recent years, many companies have refused to take in the bodies of those who have died in isolation, which has become a social problem, because of the smell and insects caused by decomposition, or because the bodies have been found too late and have turned halfway into a skeleton.

In the case of a son who had been out of touch with his mother for decades and whose death was discovered much too late, the mother, who was in her 80s, requested that we restore the body based on photos of her before her death. When we met with her, she said, ‘I finally met my son, whom I had lost touch with for a long time. I am so happy to see him at last.

Before the restoration, the body of the deceased was far from what it had been before his death due to decomposition. After removing the cause of the odor and using special wax to restore and prepare the body, it regained the look of a photograph from a bygone era and showed a peaceful, sleeping face.

When a person who had died in a train accident was brought to the hospital, the funeral home asked us to take a look at the body and explain the situation to the family. The family asked me to explain to the experts, not the funeral home. When I actually saw the body and explained the situation from an expert’s point of view, the wife took my hand and asked me, ‘I want to meet him again and say goodbye somehow.

There were so many defects and tears that it was hard to tell where her face was. To be honest, we were in a state of uncertainty, but I said, ‘I don’t know how far we can go, but we will do our best as a company, so please give us some time.

Some of the tools used in special restorations. In addition to general medical instruments such as forceps, syringes, and needles for sutures, instruments suitable for dealing with the body are used. The fifth from the left, “annulism hook,” is used when treating arteries and other blood vessels.

The time until the body is handed over is three days. Several people worked on the body, and the missing parts were molded with a special wax, but the skin was held together as much as possible, and hair was left in place.

The condition of the body was quite severe, but we did everything we could to give the bereaved family a figure they could be satisfied with as a final farewell. When we handed him over, we said, ‘Please touch his hair. I told them, ‘You can touch his face, too,’ and they actually did. ‘It has a proper skin feeling, and the hair is his own, so we can say goodbye to him properly. Thank you so much.’ He said, ‘Thank you very much. …… It made us realize once again the significance of our work.

In some cases, burnt bodies are difficult for the bereaved families to touch directly, and in others, most of the bones have turned white.

It takes up to a week to completely restore a corpse from its skeletal state. If it is difficult to do so due to time or cost, we wrap the body in a special cotton sheet, dress the body in a Buddhist robe, and place the body in a coffin. Even through the sheet, we can reduce any lingering feelings by touching the body for the last time to say goodbye. It is our job to create an environment that is in tune with the bereaved family’s feelings and wishes as to how they would like to face the deceased and say goodbye.”

However, some bereaved families are conflicted by the idea of altering the body through special restoration.

There are cases where the primary cancer site (the lesion where the cancer first developed) is located over the face, such as in the eyes or oral cavity, and the tumor has grown up to the face. The daughter was not sure about it, but the deceased’s husband convinced her to have it done. When we met him after the restoration, his daughter murmured, “It’s perfect. I was so glad that I had the opportunity to do this work, because I had kept a picture of her before she became ill and thought, ‘I want her to see her family again with this face.

As more and more people are thinking about their final activities, the number of people who choose to leave their graves or scatter their ashes is increasing, and the way graves are being used is becoming more diverse. From the perspective of grief care for the bereaved, there seems to be a need to reconsider the meaning of a proper “final farewell.

Mr. Someya has seen off more than 300,000 bodies to date. He spoke of his attitude of being close to the bereaved families with a calm expression on his face throughout the process.

The episode of special restoration may remind some of the drama “Angel Flight: International Hearse Repatriation,” distributed by Amazon Prime Video.

Mr. Someya had taken over the work of the character modeled after the main character played by Ryoko Yonekura (47) and said, “Like the character in the drama, I felt that he was an amazing person with great dedication and enthusiasm for his work. Although the work is a work of fiction, I think it really depicts how the family’s feelings change when they see the deceased off after coming into contact with the body,” he said, adding that some of the lines left a strong impression on him because he was in a position to work closely with them.

In the latter half of “Episode 2 – Development Assistance Shattered by Terrorism,” after Nami Izawa, played by Yonekura, sends a body back to the bereaved family after restoring it, she says to new employee Rinko Takagi, played by Hoka Matsumoto (26): “‘Our work should be forgotten.

I strongly sympathized with the line, ‘Our work is a job to be forgotten. In this kind of work, inexperienced staff members are somewhat inclined to want a ‘thank you. But that is not true. Receiving words of thanks is not the goal. For example, as long as a nokanshi is called ‘a good nokanshi,’ people say, ‘You’re not good enough yet,’ but our job shouldn’t be about being present.

If we have done a job that truly deserves to be appreciated, I am sure the bereaved family will not be able to put into words how they feel at that moment. …… We feel that the ideal way to be is for the bereaved to forget we are there and for the bereaved to approach the body without a second thought.”

  • Profile Yukihiro Someya

    Born in Saitama Prefecture. He is a body preservationist, a nokanshi (coffin) maker, and a grief care supporter. After working for the Teito Rapid Transit Company (now Tokyo Metro) and the Blood Center of the Kanto Medical Research Institute, he switched careers to work for a yuban nokin company.

  • Photography and text Miho Kuwata

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