Stéphanie, embalming practitioner: “I agreed to see the unacceptable”

Stéphanie, embalming practitioner: "I agreed to see the unacceptable"

Stéphanie Sounac has a job like no other: embalmer. She performs conservation care on the deceased to slow down the natural process of decomposition.

It is within the premises of the marble MDA Stone Lux, in Oberpallen, in the middle of funerary articles, that we find Stéphanie Sounac, to talk about her job, which is atypical to say the least: the young woman is an embalmer. She performs conservation care on the deceased in order to delay the putrefaction of the body, as well as reconstructions when it has been too damaged.

A process that will allow the skin to retain a natural appearance, eliminate cadaveric lividity (red spots due to a build-up of blood) and rid the deceased of the stigmata of suffering or shock possibly suffered at the time of death.

For this, “a formaldehyde-based product is injected into the arterial system, concentrated in different percentages depending on the condition of the deceased, the condition of his skin and the number of days during which he must be absolutely intact. “, explains Stephanie Sounac. “This liquid will push the blood that is collected at the exit by a cardiac puncture as well as by drainage in the thoracic and abdomino-pelvic cavities.”

Avoid visual shock

Conservation care can require between an hour and an hour and a half of work on a so-called “integral” deceased, but it can go up to six or even seven hours when reconstructions are necessary. Because Stéphanie is sometimes brought to do a real work of “sculptor” on the bodies, when they have been injured or when there has been an autopsy.

Sometimes, however, no repair is unfortunately possible. It is Stéphanie who estimates when it is necessary to refuse to intervene. “The family will pay for the conservation care, so I have an absolute obligation of result. If I feel that the result will not be what is expected, I do not intervene. But everything depends on the practitioner, depending on whether he is more capable, more trained, more artistic. Thus, on the same case, two practitioners may have a different opinion and feel capable or not of achieving something good.

“It is essential not to have this second visual traumatic shock, in addition to the psychological shock”, adds Stéphanie Sounac. Nothing prohibits seeing the body of a deceased loved one, regardless of their condition. But professionals are there to warn families, or even dissuade them when necessary. “If they are advised not to see the body, there are great reasons for that. In general, our opinion is followed. Once, a mother did not want to believe in the death of her son and absolutely wanted to see him. We then made sure to just show him the hand.”

A little-known profession in Luxembourg

In France, the embalmer can intervene within two or three days following the death, the coffins can legally remain open for six working days, a period which can therefore extend up to 12 days with Sundays and public holidays.

But in Luxembourg, embalming is still little known and the population instead resorts to preparers, for a simple mortuary toilet. Stéphanie Sounac, who divides her time between the funeral directors of Colles in Arlon (Belgium) and the Erasmy funeral directors in Luxembourg, therefore currently works in the Grand Duchy only in the context of international repatriations. “The mourning rituals are not the same here: the coffins are closed very quickly. There is a hyper-taboo relationship with the deceased body,” she notes.

“However, many families need to see the body, especially in the case of brutal deaths, so it is important that they know that we exist”, she insists, specifying that “families have the right to call a embalmer directly and are not obliged to go through the funeral directors, some of which could charge more for the service”.

Even if it’s rare, Stéphanie sometimes leaves the laboratory where she works to come into direct contact with the family of the deceased. “I intervene especially during important reconstructions, to give instructions, such as not to touch the deceased or not to be too many in the funeral chamber because of the supply of oxygen. A funeral director cannot explain certain things because he does not practice them. Above all, I will make sure that the relatives have understood these instructions. I can see very well in their eyes if this is the case.

Difficult times, during which Stéphanie Sounac must hold on, she who finds herself to be a pillar to which the family will be able to hang on. “The brain is very well done: before arriving on an intervention or with a family, I have a kind of dissociation and will enter the room as a “professional me”, and not “me human being “. It may sound despicable, but it’s the only way I have of not crying with the families – it wouldn’t be legitimate for me to cry at that moment, it’s their pain, their deceased. On the other hand, when I will leave the room, I will collapse. We must not forget his humanity, from the moment we forget it in this profession, we must leave it.

Lots of psychology

A job that obviously requires a lot of psychology. While bereavement psychology courses are given during embalming training, it is up to each technician to train in more depth afterwards. Above all, “we do not arrive in this profession, without a history with death in our life”, testifies Stéphanie Sounac.

“I lost my dad when I was 7 years old. He died of a motorcycle accident. It was extremely brutal. I then wanted to understand why people die. I was obsessed with knowing what had happened to him in detail, if he had suffered – I didn’t see it. Questions that make me build myself differently during adolescence. Without my studies, I would never have had a family, never a child. I would have always had this anguish of abandonment. This job has reconciled me with life.”

This is what is striking when you see Stéphanie Sounac: she is all smiles, resolutely rooted in life. “To survive in this profession, you also need to have a very keen sense of life!” she confides. And airlocks. His ? His social networks (his TikTok channel thana_nanou has more than 130,000 subscribers!), the horses, his family of course, the loud music in the car, but also the amusement parks: “We scream, we don’t have to justify why, we evacuate everything! It’s a moment when you feel emotions, when you feel alive.

“In this job, you see things that a human being shouldn’t see. I accepted to see the unacceptable, it was clear in my head from the start. But I don’t see myself doing anything else,” concludes Stéphanie Sounac, who is now also a trainer. “It is very important to transmit. If I hadn’t had the masters I had, I might not be the professional that I am.”


Embalmers are prohibited from performing conservation care on the bodies of Muslims and Jews, whose ritual toilets are performed by people trained in their own faith. “The only times we intervene is to remove a pacemaker,” said Stéphanie Sounac.


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