An article in The Washington Post titled, “The funeral as we know it is becoming a relic — just in time for a death boom” starts out,
“Dayna West knows how to throw a fabulous memorial shindig. She hired Los Angeles celebration-of-life planner Alison Bossert — yes, those now exist — to create what West dubbed “Memorialpalooza” for her father, Howard, in 2016 a few months after his death.
…And how Howard was remembered! There was a crowd of more than 300 on the Sony Pictures Studios. A hot-dog cart from the famed L.A. stand Pink’s. Gift bags, the hit being a baseball cap inscribed with ‘Life’s not fair, get over it’ (a beloved Howardism). A constellation of speakers, with Jerry Seinfeld as the closer (Howard was his personal manager). And babka (a tribute to a favorite Seinfeld episode).”
Sound like fun? The article goes on to say,
“Past funeral association president Mark Musgrove, who runs a network of funeral homes and chapels in Eugene, Ore., says his industry, already marked by consolidation, is adapting to changing demands.
“Services are more life-centered, around the person’s personality, likes and dislikes. They’re unique and not standardized,” he says. “The only way we can survive is to provide the services that families find meaningful.”
Funeral parlors have to keep up with the times too…
Funeral homes have hired event planners, remodeled drab parlors to include dance floors and lounge areas, acquired liquor licenses to replace the traditional vat of industrial-strength coffee. In Oregon, where cremation rates are near 80 percent, Musgrove has organized memorial celebrations at golf courses and Autzen Stadium, home of the Ducks. He sells urns that resemble giant golf balls and styles adorned with the University of Oregon logo. In a cemetery, his firm installed a “Peace Columbarium,”a retrofitted 1970s VW van, brightly painted with “Peace” and “Love,” to house urns.
Now even the more traditional funerals are getting more real.
“…even sadness is being treated differently. In some services, instead of offering hollow platitudes that barely relate to the deceased, “we are getting a new radical honesty where people are openly talking about alcoholism, drug use and the tough times the person experienced,” Cunningham says. Suicide, long hidden, appears more in obituaries; opioid addiction, especially, is addressed in services.
West, who hosted such a memorable send-off for her father, has some plans for her own: “Great food and live music, preferably Latin-inspired,” and “my personal possessions are auctioned off,” the proceeds benefiting a children’s charity. Why can’t a memorial serve as a fundraiser?
An avid traveler, West plans to designate friends to disperse her cremains in multiple locations “that have significance in my life” and leave funds to subsidize those trips — a global, destination ash-scattering.”
And they’re getting more environmentally conscious…
More than half of all American deaths lead to cremations, compared to 28 percent in 2002, due to expense (they can cost a third the price of a burial), the environment, and family members living far apart with less ability to visit cemetery plots, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. By 2035, the cremation rate is projected to be a staggering 80 percent, the association says.
Personally, I HATE funerals and memorial services. They are often more about the living, and their MORE AMAZING relationship with the deceased than you, rather than remembering the dead. But the real truth is funerals and memorials ARE for the living. We are the only ones that can “enjoy” them. As much as we might like to think, “They would have loved this” we are clueless about what happens after, even with faith.
Just days after my good friend Michael O’Donoghue, the original head writer of SNL and one of the genius comedy writers of the last century, passed away suddenly 25 years ago, we had an Irish-style wake for him. Bill Murray announcing his death live on the cold open open for SNL that Saturday Night. Fitting as Michael pretends to die of a heart attack in the first EVER SNL cold open with John Belushi.
In their W. 16th Street brownstone, I covered all of the furniture in black fabric, and all of the mirrors in black tulle and everyone sent white flowers (at my suggestion. All colored flower arrangements were relegated to the entryway.) I made an enormous version of an arrangement Michael would always send, he called “Blood in the Snow”; a dozen white roses with one red one. Margot Kidder volunteered to go out to find the perfect red rose and three hours later, she returned with lower Manhattan’s most one. And Michael’s brain CAT scans were prominently displayed. He died of an aortic aneurysm.
Not long after his passing, I saw something in the news that was odd and very Michael and said to his widow, my friend Cheryl Hardwick (now Moore)
“That would have made Michael SO happy…”
To which she replied,
“Yes, that’s what Michael wanted… to be posthumously happy.”
(Photo, Wikimedia Commons; via The Washington Post)