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Funerals that liven things up

Posted: June 26, 2014 9:00 a.m.
Updated: June 27, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Back in the 1970s, a guy I knew keeled over dead of a heart attack.

His family, wanting to send him out in style, dressed him in a lime-green leisure suit -- 100 percent polyester, of course -- and laid him out in the coffin for everyone to see.

In the breast pocket of his leisure suit, they fanned out individual photos of his family. In one hand, he was holding a St. Louis Cardinals baseball hat. In the other hand was a bag of Red Man chewing tobacco.

That’s what I call going out with pizzazz.

But it’s small potatoes compared to a growing trend among a few funeral homes -- providing “live” poses of stiffs, engaged in their normal day-to-day activities.

News stories this week told of a funeral home in New Orleans which staged a recent service in which the deceased, a middle-aged woman, was embalmed and then posed in her best finery, sitting up at her kitchen table, which was covered in miniature New Orleans Saints helmets.

She had a can of Busch beer in one hand and a menthol cigarette between her fingers, which was a pose she had obviously enjoyed quite often before breathing her last.

It’s an idea that’s catching on. The funeral home director’s not only getting calls from potential clients who want to know how their funerals can be spiffed up, but from other morticians from across the country.

“Hey, how do you do this?” they’re asking.

Well, they’re doing it niftily down in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Viewings there, the story said, have included a paramedic propped up behind the wheel of his ambulance and a man dressed like revolutionary Che Guevera with a cigar in his hand and seated cross-legged, Indian style.

They’ve also had a boxer propped up against the ring ropes, which gives a whole new meaning to getting knocked out. Permanently.

Everybody in the funeral business isn’t enthusiastic. The New Orleans mortician has received lots of calls from fellow funeral home owners criticizing him for throwing dignity out the window.

He’s sloughing off the criticism, though, and pointing to other establishments and families which are picking up on the trend.

A dead biker in Ohio was towed to a cemetery in a Plexiglas box, his body astride his Harley-Davidson. He and the motorcycle were buried together.

And another New Orleans woman -- a socialite -- greeted her mourners from a bench in the lobby of a historic downtown theater. She had a cigarette in one hand and a martini in the other, ready to move on in style.

Hey, it might not be for everybody, but it sounds pretty cool to me.

Here in Camden, it would set things buzzing to have a deceased steeplechase jockey mounted on a stuffed thoroughbred, crossing the ultimate finish line.

There are lots of diehard Clemson and South Carolina fans around. Maybe stadium officials at those two schools would agree to have  them sitting in their seats, clapping for one final touchdown.

The foodies in town could be propped up in a booth at their favorite downtown restaurant, a glass of Pinot Grigio in front of them, along with an appetizer of seared tuna.

Guys who have had trouble with the law might want to go to their final resting place handcuffed in the back of a police car, though I’m not sure Sheriff Jim Matthews or Chief Joe Floyd would be willing to provide the props.

And for Lake Wateree aficionados, what could be better than a stiff in shorts and a T-shirt, behind the wheel of a pontoon boat, clutching a cold beverage in a coozie.

It wasn’t that long ago that being cremated and having your ashes scattered was considered daring. Now it’s mainstream. Things are changing.

So staging a “live” funeral might be the wave of the future. After all, there’s nothing wrong with mixing a few laughs with all the grief and  tears, is there?

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