Cool or Spooky? Funerals that Mimic Life

Louis Charbonnet, a New Orleans funeral director, arranges funerals that mimic life.

Q. My great aunt, Jane, is not afraid to talk about death. The things she loves most in life, besides family, are the Washington Redskins, playing canasta, and gardening. She often mentions how when she dies, she wants to be wearing her favorite football jersey while playing cards on the small patio next to her garden. She even indicated this in her estate planning documents.

It sounds like an impossible request to me, but when the time does come, of course we want to honor her wishes. Is there a way to do so?

Thinking about this makes me wonder about my own wishes for when the inevitable happens to me. Like Jane, I don’t mind talking about these things, and I don’t want a traditional burial. Are there other non-traditional alternatives available?

—-

Note to our readers: If you’re someone who hates thinking about death or is squeamish about the subject, then you might want to stop reading.  But if you’re curious about the various options for disposing of your body after death, please read on. . .

A, Many may not know it, but according to a recent New York Times article, there is a funeral home in New Orleans that honors requests for funerals that “mimic life,” and they are becoming more and more popular.

The services began in the United States in 2012 with the death of Lionel Batiste, a brass band leader’s family wanted to capture him doing what he loved most in life. Word spread, and Miriam Burbank, who died at 53, spent her service sitting at a table amid miniature New Orleans Saints helmets, with a can of Busch beer at one hand and a menthol cigarette between her fingers, just as she had spent a good number of her living days.

In another example, a deceased biker in Mechanicsburg, Ohio, was towed to a cemetery in a homemade plexiglass coffin, his body astride his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. There, in accordance with his longstanding request, he was buried, motorcycle and all.

“It’s been a real boom in Puerto Rico,” said Elsie Rodríguez, vice president of a funeral home that honors such requests. “People have requested every type of funeral that could possibly come to mind. We have only done six so far, because the people who have requested the funerals have not died yet.”

Despite the recent interest, organizations representing funeral home directors say this kind of viewing is still rare, and just about everyone acknowledges that it is not for everyone. However, if you are interested in learning more, you can watch this ABC News video.

If funerals that mimic life are not for you, there are several other non-traditional alternatives to disposing of a body. In fact, we wrote a blog post about it earlier this year. Below is a sampling of alternatives from the post:

  • Natural Burial: These take place without embalming and without the concrete vaults that line graves in most modern cemeteries. Bodies are wrapped in a shroud or placed in a biodegradable casket, with the idea being that they will decompose naturally. Find out more about natural burial here.
  • Green Burial: This option uses liquid nitrogen to bring the body to a eco-friendly state. The body is frozen and is then slightly vibrated which turns it into a powder and then the powder is dried. The powder can then be placed in a corn or potato starch coffin and buried. This option reduces the impact on water, air and soil compared to the traditional burial or cremation. Learn more about Green Burials at http://www.greenburials.org.
  • Cryonics: This is the process of freezing a person’s body in the hopes that later medical science will make it possible to revive them, personality and memory intact. Despite the numerous barriers to this, including the toxicity of chemicals used in an attempt to prevent damage to cells from freezing, advocates have promoted cryonics since the late ’60s. Prices can range as high as $200,000 for whole-body preservation. Learn more about Cryonics at http://www.cryonics.org/.
  • Space Burial: You can get some of your ashes shot into space on a rocket already headed for the stars. Because of the high cost of spaceflight, only 1 to 7 grams (0.04 to 0.25 ounces) of remains are launched. According to Celestis Memorial Spaceflights, a company that offers the postmortem flights, a low-orbit journey that lets your cremains experience zero gravity before returning to Earth starts at $995, while having your remains launched into deep space costs $12,500. Learn more at http://www.celestis.com/.
  • Plastination involves preserving the body in a semi-recognizable form and is often used in medical schools and anatomy labs to preserve organ specimens for education. Plastinated bodies can be exhibited and posed as if frozen in the midst of their everyday activities. Learn more here.
  • Works of art or diamonds: Remains can be turned into a blown-glass work of art, or the carbon can be extracted from the remains to create a diamond. Read the Wikipedia page on Lifegem for additional details about the process.

What if you want to be cremated and for your ashes to be sent into space or planted with seeds to grow a new tree? What if you want take a chance on science and have your body frozen? Or, what if you decide that a funeral that “mimics life” is right for you, after all? How would your loved ones know if you haven’t indicated your wishes in your Advance Medical Directive? Our proprietary 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive™ enables you to set forth your preferences with regard to organ donation, funeral arrangements, and disposition of remains. The document also accomplishes several essential things. In your 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive™, you can appoint an agent and give that person the power to consent to medical and health care decisions on your behalf. This person can decide whether to withhold or withdraw a specific medical treatment or course of treatment when you are incapable of making or communicating an informed decision yourself.

Our 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive™ also contains a proprietary Long-Term Care Directive™ that allows you to address numerous issues that arise if and when long-term care is needed. You can also indicate your wishes concerning the use of artificial or extraordinary measures to prolong your life in the event of a terminal illness or injury. If you have not done Incapacity Planning (including our 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive™ and Financial Power of Attorney), Estate Planning, or Long-Term Care Planning, or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please contact The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. as soon as possible at our Virginia Estate Planning Fairfax office at 703-691-1888 or at our Virginia Estate Planning Fredericksburg office at 540-479-1435 or at our DC Estate Planning office at 202-587-2797 to schedule your appointment for our no-cost consultation.

Leave a comment