The new death

Baby boomers are changing everything--including death and funerals, apparently. The Wall Street Journal reports on an emerging trend of designer funerals:

In funeral rites, venerability once provided solace (the community's traditions live on even as individuals die) as well as caution (your day will come too, buster). For many Americans now, by contrast, ancient rituals are intolerably old-fashioned and rigid, at once crusty and procrustean. "In an era where options surround us everywhere from the toothpaste selection at the grocery store to a hundred versions of white paint at the hardware store," Amy Meyerson writes in Obit, the Web site of a soon-to-be-launched death-centric magazine, "it's natural that our choices regarding the dead be equally complete and equally reflective of the individual consumer."

A stroll through the exhibit floor of the National Funeral Directors Association convention, in Las Vegas earlier this month, suggests that death options are indeed as plentiful as toothpaste brands. You can get a casket that's biodegradable wicker, or big-and-tall, or cowboy-style ("rustic pine" with "hand-forged iron hinges"--and it "can be personalized with a brand"). Coming soon: a casket modeled on "the popular 'Photon Torpedo' design seen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." Even hair reliquaries have a distinctive 21st-century look. Trifac Inc. markets shapely models called the Lotus, the Lumen, and, um, the Hymen.

. . .

The funeral association's neo-necro products represent only part of the new mortality. "Deathcare," as it's called, is abuzz with change. Some folks get buried with their BlackBerrys--survivors can text their sorrows away. A developer in Las Vegas has proposed a "stylized version of the Coliseum in Rome," featuring a mausoleum, a gift shop, a "virtual casino"--whatever that is--and, balm for bereavement's sting, a tavern. In The Threepenny Review earlier this year, Bert Keizer described one frolicsome funeral: A woman biked to the grave, pulling a cart that bore the colorful casket. The dead man's young son sat atop the casket and pretended to drive. To Mr. Keizer, it seemed like "a desperate attempt at saying 'Howdy!' to Death."

According to anthropologist Nigel Barley, a family in Lancashire, England, a few years ago, wanted "Dad" chiseled on the churchyard tombstone, but the vicar insisted on "Father." If "Dad" were permitted, he said, "it will not be long before we have Cuddles, Squidgy and Ginger, which would make the last resting place sound like a pets' cemetery." Such a dispute is unimaginable in the U.S., chummy yet individualistic, and, it should be said, increasingly fond of burying its pets, a lucrative sideline at the funeral directors' convention. Hidebound tradition is the grimmest reaper of all.

Is there something wrong about this? Some think there is much lost by the loss of tradition:

What's wrong with all this? At the individual level, funerary frivolity trivializes both the death and the life that preceded it. At the social level, tradition and ritual, passed from generation to generation, create a common framework for discussing life's ultimate questions. When we choose customized, individualized, let-it-be-me funerals, we start slipping from lingua franca to tabula rasa. Soon, we're talking only to ourselves.

Read it all here.

Comments (2)

Strangely enough, I happened to moblog the eye-popping display of caskets at Costco yesterday.

You know, close up, they look really, really cheesy, and the decals on the corners peel right off. So it's good that they offer them for sale at Costco, where you can get a much more reasonable deal, rather than buying under duress from the "aftercare" industry.

Good point, ginny gibbs. Predatory business that.

Boomer narcissism knows few if any bounds. Some of those folk are in for a huge surprise. The universe doesn't revolve around them after all.

Which I think is a difference between 'spirituality' as in 'I'm spiritual but not religious' and 'religion'. In the former I call the shots; in the latter I answer to somebody else.

The humorist P.J. O'Rourke once wrote that in hard times the former goes out and the latter comes back.

Too bad it takes things like that to get people's heads on straight.

In any event dona eis requiem.

Add your comments

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Reminder: At Episcopal Café, we hope to establish an ethic of transparency by requiring all contributors and commentators to make submissions under their real names. For more details see our Feedback Policy.

Advertising Space