When a Body is Embalmed are the Eyes and Lips Sewn Shut?
When you embalm a body is it true that you sew the eyes and lips shut?
I can honestly say that I have never heard of an embalmer who sews the eyes and/or lips closed. (Although I have been asked this question many times by people who had heard that we do.)
To keep the eyes closed, the embalmer will generally place an "eye cap" on each eye. This is something like an oversized contact lens: very smooth on the side the touches the eye and textured on the side that has contact with the eyelid. A very small amount of cream is often placed on the "eyelid side" to help keep the delicate tissues of the eyelid moist, so that the skin stays soft and does not dehydrate. The eye cap not only helps retain the rounded shape of the eye, but also keeps the lid closed.
The lips are also often coated with a small amount of cream and simply positioned together over the teeth. The cream not only moistens the tissues, but also keeps the lips together.
When people arrive at the funeral home, their mouths are sometimes already closed, which means that nothing needs to be done before embalming to insure that the mouth will stay closed. (Embalming tends to firm the tissues, so a closed mouth will remain closed.) If the deceased's mouth is open, the embalmer may loop a single piece of thread through the upper and lower jaw (sometimes through the gaps between two of the upper teeth and two of the lower teeth) to hold the jaw closed during the embalming process.
I think this practice of the loop of thread is what lead rise to the rumor that we actually "sew the lips closed."