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The Importance of Hands (Part 1)

Posted by Matt Black on January 1, 2017

  While making my rounds visiting funeral homes I happened to arrive at the conclusion of a cremation service viewing. I overheard the deceased’s granddaughter asking her mother why grandpa’s hands were covered with that funny blanket. As the family walked out of the funeral home, I was wondering why his hands were covered. “Her mother wanted grandpa’s hands covered,” the funeral director said to me. Together we walked to the cremation casket and pulled the blanket off of grandpa’s hands. The WWII veteran’s hands were quite emaciated, very bruised and discolored. On the left hand was a wedding band and on the right hand was the stain from chewing snuff for many years. Can you just imagine if those hands could talk?

  Think of how people express themselves with their hands. “Hand gestures are really powerful aspects of communications, from both the speaker and the listener,” says Dr. Carol Kinsley Goman an expert in body language. Our hands express the story of our lives. Men and women take great pride in the care of their hands. Statistics show that manicures are no longer just for women! Proper nail and hand care is essential for a polished look claims Askmen, the website dedicated to improving the lives of men. Both men and women wear jewelry and have tattoos on their hands, causing attention to be drawn to them.

  Your lifestyle shows on your hands. A mechanic’s hands are usually stained with grease, the creases look like a road map. A coal miner can also have stained hands due to the ever present dust that coal seems to produce. Some people have nicotine stains and others chew their nails until they are misshapen or miniscule.

  Do you have a personal protocol for hand care of the deceased? How does hand care fit into the preparation time that you spend on the deceased? Is it part of it at all? Or do you say to yourself, “the hands are ok. They look good enough.” That last opinion is from a mindset that needs to be abandoned.

  Funeral Directors and Embalmers should realize the impact that hands and arms have on a viewing. Not only for the family, but for the visiting public! Neglect of the hands and arms is not the correct protocol for care of the deceased. I have seen dirty fingernails, emaciated hands that could have been built up with feature builder, blue and discolored fingertips, bruises, discolored tissue, non-manicured or untrimmed jagged nails, dried blood, hands that were not adequately embalmed and, of course, hands that were completely hidden with the blanket.

  Isn’t it our primary goal to recreate a pleasing natural appearance for the family? The hands and arms should take priority in our work. It is not correct to strive to perfect the face and ignore the hands and arms. To achieve proper presentation of the deceased to loved ones we must focus on the body as a whole. These are actually small details but become profoundly large when ignored! Little things make BIG things happen and that can mean good things or bad things. Our craft is truly based on presenting the deceased in the best possible way that we can.

  Have you ever looked closely at your own hands? If you do, you will notice roundness of the fingertips, the variation in colors, scars, the shape of fingernails, fleshy or bony areas, etc. Shouldn’t we strive to recreate or enhance these details to provide a more natural look? This extra effort given to hands might give the family the comfort they need! This could be the difference between a wonderful memory and a failed memory for the families we serve.

  With the increasing nature of non-viewed services, families are valuing our craft less and less. The importance of viewing is a fleeting idea. The future is in our “hands” and abilities to demonstrate there IS value in viewings. You should never say “it looks good enough,” in regard to presentation of the deceased.

  The care of hands should start from the time you make the transfer. Many firms use mechanical devices to keep hands in an upward position for transport. An extremities positioner is a favorite among many to keep the hands in an elevated position. You do not want the hands to lay flat at the side of the deceased while they are on the transfer cot. This could cause discoloration, swelling, staining and other post mortem conditions from blood pooling in these areas. While making the dignified transfer all rings, jewelry and other valuables should be documented/cataloged or returned during arrangements.

  In our next issue we will discuss pre-embalming techniques dealing with the hands and arms. Bleaching bruises and stains, using humectant accessory chemicals to your advantage, as well as some other tricks and treats.


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