Wednesday, 24 May 2017: Mr Ian Johnston: End of Life Matters
Mr Johnston introduced himself as a “Trade Embalmer”, explaining that, while there some 220 Undertakers in Northern Ireland, there are only 60 or so qualified embalmers, and of these only 8 are “Trade Embalmers”, that is, practitioners who are self-employed and work for a number of Undertakers. To qualify as an embalmer one has to complete a three year university course offered by the “Irish College of Embalmers”. The course is akin to the first three years of a medical degree with the focus on anatomy. Ian explained that it takes between one and two hours to embalm a body and then present the deceased, in their own clothes, prepared for their wake; however the time frame can be greatly extended if death has been the result of traumatic injury. Embalming cannot begin until a death certificate has been issued, something which can take time if a post morten is required, given that all PM’s are done in Belfast. While Mr Johnston said it was necessary in his trade to remain emotionally detached, he did admit that there had been cases, particularly those involving infants and children, when had felt the distress being experienced by the family. Ian emphasised that, regardless of the circumstances, deceased individuals are treated with the utmost respect, because, as a professional embalmer, he is always aware that he has been entrusted by the family with something very precious.