Pop Culture

Funky funeral? ‘Recipes’ for your remains

“Life is such a rich, complicated, joyous, mysterious, wild ride. Everyone has stories to tell and lessons to pass on, and what better way to do that than when you’re alive? It was your life; your funeral is the one time you should do and say absolutely whatever you want,” say authors Sue Bailey and Carmen Flowers. In their book, “Grave Expectations,” they lift the black veil on funerals and splash color and life into the proceedings with discussions on creative options for funerals. An excerpt.

"Grave Expectations" gives you a rare opportunity for initiating conversations about what to do when you or someone you know dies. We will take you by the hand and lead you through this inevitable journey that has a reputation for being difficult and morbid, but we don’t believe it has to be either. In fact, we think you might have the time of your life — well — you may really, really, really enjoy it.

We believe everyone should express what he or she wants at the end of his or her lives. You will end up planning your parents’ funeral, or your spouse’s —  but if you don’t do it in advance, you will be doing it when you are grief-stricken, emotionally exhausted, and dreading having to deal with all the details.

"Grave Expectations" gives you multiple opportunities to open up and talk about your fears and funeral — with your husband, wife, children, parents and partner. Just think about when you’re writing away in this book and your spouse or kids walk by and ask you what you’re doing and you get to say, “I’m planning my funeral!! Want to help me?” Doing the book with the ones you love can be an event in itself. Many people deny the fact of death, but by ignoring the inevitable (it’s 100% fatal), they miss the opportunity to commemorate and rejoice in their lives.

Ideally when you get done with this book, it should be a big mess!! We have a vision or copies of "Grave Expectations" covered in posted notes, dog eared, written in, scratched out and changed, wine — tear-stained pages, sections ripped out, big colorful hearts and doodles scrawled all over, and entire parts blacked out: like when you get documents from the government through the Freedom of Information Act.

By reading and working with this book, you will not only take care of some important business, but you will have also taken a step towards accepting your own mortality. According to psychiatrists, fear of death is the greatest fear of all (ok, maybe after public speaking), and it is the root of many of our neuroses — even though it’s the inevitable event of all our lives.

Just dive in, browse, and go after the stuff that interests you the most. You can pick it up and put it down, like you might a journal. Travel with the book, take it to work, take it to family gatherings, do it in the bathroom. No place is too exalted or sacred to plan the end. Most of all, be free in your thinking — don’t censor yourself in planning as you go through the book. Two words of advice: Don’t Worry!! This is not the time to be afraid. Don’t be embarrassed or judgmental about any strange ideas you might have. Be aware that uncomfortable feelings and thoughts and reactions will come up — just let them rise to the surface anyway. You can always change your mind later. Be totally creative, put things in the book that inspire you ever they feel inappropriate. Who is judging?

Chapter 7: Freeze, boil, liquefy and preserve, and other ‘recipes’ for the remains
As we walked through the Valley of Death, we stumbled on some stuff ...

Plastination: A new definition of hard-body
A controversial method of preserving the body has been used to create one of the most popular museums exhibits ever, inspiring many people to donate their bodies for permanent display. Nearly 25 million people worldwide have seen skinned bodies perfectly preserved and displayed, through a process described as “forced vacuum impregnation” by its inventor Dr. Gunther von Hagens, of Heidelberg, Germany.

The plastinated humans are dissected to demonstrate the workings of the body, even showing clear examples of the nervous system and the circulatory system. Most appear to be stripped of their skin in order to expose the body’s musculature. Since starting the traveling exhibits, Dr. von Hagens has shown a plastinated hurdler mid-jump, one riding a bike, another dribbling a basketball, a horse and rider split into two parts and a pregnant woman with her torso open to reveal the fetus. He has plans for creating a plastination zoo that will include a camel, gorilla, giraffe, and even an elephant.

Mummification: From here to eternity
Have you secretly harbored a wish to be like Cleopatra, Queen Nefertiti or Ramses? Summum — an official religion and a tax-exempt organization based in Salt Lake City — offers everything you need to make those dreams of mummification come true. Summum was founded in 1975 by Claude Rex Nowell, who legally changed his name to Summum Bonum Amon Ra — but goes by the name of “Corky” Ra. After your death, your body will be taken to your local funeral home where it will be prepared for the traditional viewing and funeral services. Afterwards you’ll be transported to Salt Lake City to begin the mummification rites. The mummification process is a unique, patented procedure that takes between three and four months. Mohamed al-Fayed, the father of Princess Diana’s boyfriend Dodi, has signed on and built a sphinx with his face on it. It’s on display at Harrods Department Store in London.

The company has an informative and entertaining website for the whole family.

So let’s just say you’ve decided to cremate your body and your family has a nice pile of ashes to do something with. Here are some fabulous options — most rather cutting edge.

Eternal reefs
There’s another kind of green burial: helping to save coral reefs. Eternal Reefs has designed a way of restoring our coastlines using a patented design for cement “reef balls,” and now they have given you the opportunity of choosing to be a part of that “healing” by mixing your ashes into a memorial reef. These are large cement balls with holes in them, allowing water to flow through the form, thus preventing them from being rolled over when placed on the ocean floor, even during major storms. When a family wishes to memorialize a loved one (you perhaps), they will participate in casting one of these reef balls, with the deceased’s ashes folded into the cement mixture.

Ashes to ashes, dust to diamonds
Has anyone ever told you your eyes sparkle like diamonds? What if your eyes were made into diamonds — along with the rest of your body — or at least a few ounces of your cremated remains? In the new age of commemorating your loved ones, instead of giving a diamond to express your love, they can make you into one. Unlike an urn of your ashes, which frequently ends up in the closet — this is something your family can have with them always.

The Cremain-ing options

Paint by embers
There is a way they won’t be able to forget you, even if they want to — have a portrait painted of you using paint mixed with your cremains! You may even want an abstract painting where the painter tries to channel your energy as they paint (no joke). If it works, it’s a wonderful way to be remembered — you’ve always been a work of art, anyway!

Pencils (don’t chew on these!)
If you’re the very practical type, or you’re a writer, or you are a great note taker, or you’re constantly bugging your kids to do their homework — you may like your ashes made into pencil. It certainly says something about your sharp wit!

Beam me up: The living end
If it’s good enough for Scotty, then it’s something to consider. “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry and actor James Doohan both chose a most appropriate way for their final send-off — into outer space. They’re circling Earth right now, happy to be in their favorite environment — the last frontier (after death, that is) well the ashes. Comet-spotter Eugene Shoemaker must have had connections, because he had his ashes buried on the Moon.

Fireworks are perhaps the most celebratory way of making a blowout statement about who you are and how you feel about life. We love the idea of our cremains shooting out in a blaze of glory. Actually, compared to the average cost of a funeral, it’s not a bad deal and much more fun. Who can be sad when they see fireworks? This kind of send-off expresses so much: Life was a blast and I loved it! Whoopee! I’m free!

Excerpted from “Grave Expectations” by Sue Bailey and Carmen Flowers. Copyright (c) 2009, reprinted with permission from Cider Mill Press Book Publishers.