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Cooling the Body

If keeping the body at home for less than 24 hours, turning on the air conditioner or opening windows to let cold air in may suffice. However, if the vigil is to last a number of days, other means will be necessary to keep the body cool in order to slow down the process of decomposition. You can easily cool the body with frozen gel packs, such as Techni-ice,* or dry ice.

Embalming was used after the civil war, when it was necessary to preserve bodies and refrigeration or other cooling was not available. These days embalming is neither necessary nor required as there are more natural, less toxic, and effective ways to cool the body. In some states cooling the body after a certain amount of time may be a legal requirement.

Whether using the frozen gel packs or dry ice bundles, put them in a pillowcase or paper bag, and place under the body in these locations:

An alternate method is to place sheets of gel packs or dry ice under the torso starting at the shoulders and extending to the lower back with one small coolant on top of the lower abdomen.

The goal is to cool off the torso and internal organs, not freeze the entire body. The skin should have a little give to it when pressed. For small bodies, such as a child, frozen gel packs may be a better option so the body does not freeze completely.

Check the frozen gel packs or dry ice once or twice a day. Add more dry ice or change out the gel packs as needed. Be prepared to have someone help roll the body to the side when you check or replace the dry ice. Keep the head slightly elevated as you do this. Have a washcloth nearby, and protect the clothing and bedding with a towel just in case the movement causes a bit of fluid from the stomach or the lungs to exit the mouth or nose.

* “Techni-ice” is a brand name of frozen gel pack we have found to be effective. There are other brands also.

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Most recently updated 2018-08-15