Sunday, December 12, 2010

* Mourning Becomes Electric: The e-Funeral

Promise kept.
Mt. Carmel Burying Grounds, adjacent to Sleeping Giant Golf Course

Selling the Dead

My mother thought funerals were a colossal rip-off.

She coined the idea for Rent-a-Shell Coffins, beautiful mahogany coffin-shells which could be placed over plain plywood coffins for ‘viewing’ purposes, and removed to be rented again after the mourners had left the cemetery. Thus, the need for conspicuous consumption and ecological frugality could be satisfied simultaneously.

My mother was so poor during the Depression that she could not afford a dress for this photograph, in which she is draped in a camera throw.
Better Times at age 65

Brava Ma Mere!

When she died in 1985  my 71-year-old father capitulated to capitalism and bought an expensive carved wooden coffin ‘available’ at the funeral home ‘showroom.’

The Sleeping Giant, a mountain in Hamden, Connecticut

Its multi-thousand-dollar mahogany ‘craftsmanship’ (visible to mourners for perhaps 20-hours above ground) now disintegrates below ground for Eternity ---or until the next earthquake – at the Mt. Carmel Burying Ground near the foot of the Sleeping Giant in Hamden, Connecticut.

So much for the Departed’s wishes.
(BTW: Her unofficial directive was “Just throw me on the compost-heap when I die.”)*

Father, 70, Mother, 72

I took my mother’s merchandizing idea one step further, and lower, about 20 years ago.

I suggested that the inner lid of the coffin, which forms a kind of satin background to the Departed’s corpse at “viewing” hours, be transformed into a Rent-a-Space billboard.

Thus behind the sacred remains would be, not satin or silk finery lining the coffin’s lid but, advertisements for the Departed’s favorite products: in the case of my mother, the Pall Mall cigarettes which killed her at 73.

 (If you think this is sacriligious, you should have met my mother, who, btw, was a Sunday-school teacher for 30 years.)

The proceeds from the advertising would pay for the coffin itself, if not the entire ceremony, limousined motorcade and all.

It will soon be 26-years since my mother died in 1985, and I have come of dying-age now myself at 66 (12/28/44).

A hillside in Vermont

I confess that 'putting things in order’ does run through my mind. I’ve already done the tombstone and plot, but the manner of disposal is up-in-the air (not down- in-the-ground), so to speak.

My brother was cremated five years ago. I don’t favor this inferno-process from hell since rumors are that the ‘remains’ in the urn could be anybody’s ashes, and if I am going to pay for a cremation, I want to make sure I get what I pay for.

My brother, Chris, his son, Jon, and a happy St. Bernard

The public viewing and motor-parade seems excessive, especially if one dies in winter in Vermont (where I now breathe above ground) and the roads are too treacherous for a drive to the funeral home and later to the cemetery. Besides, any family I have left are scattered thousands of miles apart, and I wouldn’t subject them to a Homeland Security pat-down just to walk-around in a procession with my former self in a horizontal position.

Actually, if the ground is frozen, they just store the ‘remains’ in a stone mausoleum (burial vault)  at the base of the cemetery, till thawing season. By that time your ‘box’ may be on a shelf with several other ‘boxes’ in the little field-stone-freezer, just like  products in a grocery store,  minus the glass doors.

How poetic.

And that brings me to my point: the e-Funeral.

I suggest that the whole thing be conducted on video, and viewed at an e-Funeral Home on-line.

No one would have to leave the comfort of their homes and the mourners could offer condolences via Skype, to be taped and sent on disk to the survivors. My mother’s idea of a rentable-coffin-shell could be employed, since the final interment (lowering) is NEVER conducted in front of family, a convenient moment to remove the rental apparatus. 

A mock motorcade could be videotaped for every season of the year and inserted into the ceremony, appropriate to the season. Survivors could be video-taped in their finest attire as they entered the funeral home and left it on the day of making arrangements, or in front of a limousine or even exiting their own homes..

The completed video would be offered to the public on the day of “the funeral” and available for Eternity on the internet, appropriately, stored in  'the cloud'

As for religious services, these could be filmed in advance at various denominational edifices, and the Departed’s name inserted in key parts of the service.  St. Patrick's Cathedral could offer a video service for a "donation" of $1000.

The Temple Beth Mishkan Israel in Hamden, CT could do the same. (Where local legend from my childhood had it that Arthur Miller married Marilyn Monroe.)

(One caveat: the officiating clergy person might him or herself pre-decease the object of the service and the video-tape might be rendered useless thereby. Suggestion: only the voice of the clergy person would be heard, not their face filmed.)

Eulogizers can be videotaped in the comfort of their homes and the entire service can be spliced together by a computer-editor in two hours’ time!) 

And think of the redundant sadness and tears which could be avoided thereby.

And  joy of joys, the object of all this attention (the future 'Departed') could plan the entire videotape in advance----including eulogizers---much like the 101-year-old Queen Mother planned her own state funeral ten years befor her death, right down to the streets the parade would take on its way to the FRP (final resting place).

Voila: the e-Funeral!

PS: I have been reading Mark Twain's autobiography ---- can you tell?


*  I did keep one posthumous promise to my mother. Her cemetery is next to the Sleeping Giant Golf Course where she used to play a round of nine with friends. I promised to put a golf ball on a tee over her grave at the ceremony whenever that event occurred   --- and I did.

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