Thursday, March 06, 2008

Funeral Planning Gets Funky

On successive mornings recently (Feb 25, 26, & 27, 2008), the CBS Early Show televised three segments about funeral planning, in a series entitled "Funerals To Die For". These videos now can be viewed over the Internet.

For thousands of years, the rich and powerful have been buried with weapons or treasures, and with great fanfare.

Now, more and more "average" Americans are planning their own funerals, personalizing and customizing them, going out in style, in ways that are sometimes elaborate, sometimes non-traditional -- and sometimes -- even fun -- perhaps making the Grim Reaper a little less grim!
The three segments were described on the website of The Early Show, as follows:
Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008: "Thinking Inside the Box"
  • In South Korea, some people are getting a jump on the grim reaper, staging their own funerals, as a way of appreciating their lives.
  • As CBS News correspondent Celia Hatton reports, they go so far as to get sealed into coffins for 15 minutes and have gravel thrown on them.
  • To watch Hatton's report, click here.
Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2008: "Making Your Own Funeral Tribute Video"
  • Tribute videos for funerals are becoming big business.
  • Many baby boomers are forgetting about traditional home videos and opting for elaborate, high-end productions to share with future generations. And they're spending big bucks while they're at it!
  • CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy told the story of Jack Susser, who set out to make a tribute video and ended up starring in a $75,000 short film!
  • To see Tracy's report, click here.
Monday, Feb. 25, 2008: "Planning Elaborate, Sometimes Fun Funerals"
  • Boomers are at the forefront of the movement, as Tracy explained.
  • He spoke with someone who might best be described as a "funeral concierge" -- Mark Duffey, who runs Everest Funeral Planning. Tracy also chatted with two people who already know just how they want to go to the Great Beyond.
  • To see Tracy's report, click here.
CBS Early Show's funeral series webpage also provides Internet links to resources about funeral planning and vendors featured during those segments.

The trend towards funny or funky funeral planning appears to be growing as the "baby boomers" age.

On June 12, 2007,
Agence France-Presse posted a lengthy article entitled "US funeral planners help the living go out with a bang", which reported: "Even in death, Americans want a say."

With wedding planners already big across the United States, the latest trend in the mighty burial business is funeral pre-planning -- helping the living organize their final event on earth.

According to funeral planner Mark Duffey, the trend is driven by the baby-boom generation born in the aftermath of World War II, many of them recently faced with the overwhelming task of arranging their parents' funerals.

Death for them is no longer a taboo subject and they are determined to do things their way, down to the last detail.

"They don't want to go slowly, quietly into the night. They want to go out loud, kicking and screaming," said Duffey, whose company Everest, billed as "the first nationwide funeral planning and concierge service," has helped organize some 65,000 made-to-measure funerals. * * *

Will some of those funky funerals make history, or make it into a museum? It could happen.

There is just such a museum dedicated to funerals, and it prospers, according to a New York Times article published January 24, 2004, entitled "A Crab-Shaped Coffin? Funeral Museum Showcases Unusual Sendoffs":

From Mass cards under glass to a cross-shaped coffin that was popular among undertakers in the 1800's because it had ample shoulder room, the National Museum of Funeral History, on Barren Springs Drive here [Houston, Texas], offers a wide survey of funeral articles in 20,000 square feet. * * *

Robert M. Boetticher is vice chairman and president of the museum, 20 minutes from George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Mr. Boetticher spent 40 years as a funeral director, starting when a natural fascination led him to spend time at a mortuary as a teenager. * * *

The museum was started by Robert L. Waltrip, the founder and chairman of Service Corporation International, a national funeral, cremation and cemetery company. The museum, operated separately from the company, is a nonprofit with an annual budget of $200,000 and is connected physically but not financially to the Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Service, a college of mortuary science popularly known as Undertaker University.

Aside from the physical trappings of funerals, one of Mr. Boetticher's biggest fascinations is the interplay between the consistency of religious funeral rites over the years and the comparatively faddish nature of the more secular customs surrounding death.

''The religion portion of funerals hasn't changed,'' Mr. Boetticher said. ''It's the everything before and afterward that has.'' * * *

The National Museum of Funeral History was featured by Roadside America ("Your Online Guide to Offbeat Tourist Attractions"), which commented in its online review: "[W]hat this place lacks in ambiance it makes up for in the scope of its collection. It is quiet as a tomb, which, given the displays, is appropriate."

(While there, visitors could also take in other nearby attractions in Houston, Texas, as reviewed by Roadside America, including
Beer Can House, Art Car Museum, and the Transparent Woman.)

Video segments -- such as those recently aired by the CBS Early Show -- about the funeral industry, remain somewhat rare.

The last one that I watched was
The History Channel's "Modern Marvels" series show on "Cemeteries" (Episode #135):
More than 2-million people die in the U.S. each year. That works out to about 5,500 burials a day, with roughly 80 percent taking the long goodbye in a casket, and the remaining 20 percent electing to be cremated or finding some alternative method of crossing eternity's threshold.

We take a look at dealing with the dead throughout the centuries, and at today's $20-billion funeral industry. Any way you look at it, it's a healthy business, with new generations of customers year after year!
That show first aired on October 30, 2001. I first watched it in late October, 2007. Yes, I did.

I anticipate that it will air again later this year -- probably again at Halloween.

Update: 03/06/08 @ 10 am:

Professor Gerry W. Beyer, of Texas Tech University School of Law, who authors the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog, sent an email message to me about this posting, specifically the Museum:
I’ve been there – back when it was the American Funeral Home Museum.

It is too far to take my students (it is near Houston which is about 600 miles away). So, instead, I show them pictures. You can follow this link and then click on the "American Funeral Home Museum pictures" link to view my photos.
Gerry mentioned that he was leaving on a trip to Tasmania, and I replied with my best wishes:
Mate --

While there, don't be lookin' at a badger or a mutton bird near a celery-top pine, and then trip over some boobiallas and fall into the arms of a lubra comin' from a badger box. That could make for a lawsuit from you acting like a yaffler, a nointer, or a rum’un.<br><br>Instead, hoist a fizzy cordial, and have a ringtale roarer of a holiday!


- Neil H.

To translate, see: "Tasmanian Words - a lingua francam>".
Update: 03/13/08:

Recently, the
Leimberg Information Service posted reference to this Blog entry on its home page; and that is a compliment. But, to get to my posting, you must pass through a data-mining exercise, which I have not endorsed.

Update: 03/29/08:

Attorney Stephen W. Follet, author of the
Arizona Estate Planning & Probate Blog, noted this posting with one of his own, dated March 28, 2008, entitled "
Funeral Planning, The New Way".