Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Putting F-U-N in Funerals

Few people are able to reprise Tom Sawyer’s appearance at his own funeral. But a few people at least want to show their face.

Miriam BurbankMiriam Burbank made plans through a New Orleans funeral home to preside over her funeral in a pose her friends would find extremely natural – wearing sunglasses and sitting at a table like the one on her front porch with a cigarette, Busch beer and miniature New Orleans Saints helmets.

Morticians embalm dead bodies for sanitation, presentation and preservation. The “sitting dead” style of funerals puts a higher premium on presentation. Instead of seeing the dearly departed slumbering on the wings to the after-life, funeral-goers get to see a person one more time as they knew them in their customary surroundings.

Puerto Rico apparently is at the vanguard of the “muerto parao” – dead man standing – style of funeral. It has become a bit of a boom for the the Puerto Rican mortician business.
Reputedly the first such funeral there was in 2008 and involved a 24-year-old murder victim being tied to the wall of her family’s living room. Subsequent funerals featured an elderly woman in a rocking chair, a boxer in a ring and a man dressed as Che Guevara.

queria-velaran-aseguro-tia_IECIMA20140201_0038_19But the practice pre-dates then. A man was carted to the cemetery in a plexiglass case riding his Harley. They were buried together, too.

And then there was Willie “The Wimp” Stokes, Jr.,  who commanded attention at his 1984 funeral by steering a coffin decked out like a Cadillac.

The Charbonnet-Labat Funeral Home, known in Big Easy for its funeral parades, is being bombarded by new requests for muerto parao. The daughter of a socialite followed her mother’s wishes to “be at” her own funeral, greeting guests from a bench and holding a glass of champagne. That would be similar to the send-off arranged by Charbonnet-Labat for Lionel Batiste, a dapper brass band leader, who peered smiling at his mourners in 2012 while leaning on a cane with his hat rakishly tipped to one side.

At a time when many cost-conscious survivors elect cremation for their loved ones, the proprietors of Charbonnet-Labat insist that a sitting dead funeral isn’t that much more expensive than a traditional one. It certainly is a lot more startling, as was Tom Sawyer’s “restoration” in the middle of his funeral.

This style of funeral isn’t everyone’s can of beer. And some funeral directors and community pillars think such displays are inappropriate and sacrilegious. They don’t see the f-u-n in funeral.

Jeter JerseyEven funeral directors who think the idea is okay, as long as it fulfills the wishes of a dead family member, believe there are limits. One funeral director nixed the idea of showcasing a corpse in a bathing suit.

I’ve tried not to give much thought to my own burial plans. My funeral is not something I would be keen on attending. However, my wife has a good idea. She thinks it would be appropriate and useful to dump all my old baseball gear into the casket. I just hope she remembers to toss in my Derek Jeter jersey.


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