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Vocapedia > Life / Health > Death > Funerals



warning: graphic / distressing





























 A funeral director dressed as Darth Vader leads a cortege.


Photograph: Steve Parsons



Rise of the alternative funeral:

beaches, buses and anything but black


Tuesday 8 September 2015    00.01 BST




















At the family’s request,

a funeral home in New Orleans

posed the body of Miriam Burbank

for her service this month.


Photograph: Percy McRay

via Reuters


Rite of the Sitting Dead: Funeral Poses Mimic Life


JUNE 21, 2014
















body        USA






























































































Funeral poverty:

one woman's battle to pay for her son's burial

The Guardian    10 April 2019





Funeral poverty:

one woman's battle to pay for her son's burial

Video        The Guardian        10 April 2019


One suddenly bereaved mother, already in debt,

has to find thousands of pounds to pay for her son's funeral.


The funeral business is an unregulated industry,

with providers criticised for taking advantage

of vulnerable, grieving families,

who can then feel obliged to pay large sums of money

for an appropriate goodbye.


Across the UK the average funeral cost stands at £4,271,

having risen 122% since 2004.


The Guardian’s Richard Sprenger reports

















mark the deaths of (their) loved ones        UK










funerals        UK














































































funeral        USA









how-to-negotiate-funeral-costs-qa - September 9, 2022










































































USA > official funerals for Supreme Court justices        USA










at the funeral of N








at N's funeral        USA










Ireland > funeral procession        UK










funeral procession        USA










funeral music        UK










jazz funeral        USA


katrina-bells_x.htm - broken link








state funeral        UK
















live Web-streaming funerals        USA










astro funeral








funeral cortege        UK










funeral procession        UK










funeral rites        USA










the pomp        UK










high pomp and ritual








call for a moment of silence








adieu        USA










funeral service > graveside ceremony        USA


















funeral services        UK










funeral poverty        UK










funeral cost        UK


Across the UK

the average funeral cost

stands at £4,271,

having risen 122%

since 2004.










funeral cost        USA










cost of dying        UK












funeral expenses        USA










funeral home kiosks        USA










home funeral        USA

















last journey        USA










wake        USA










at the wake of N        USA




















funeral home        UK










embalmer        UK










































funeral home        USA









































at Redden’s Funeral Home








funeral business        UK









funeral director        UK












funeral director        USA























UK > funeral receptionist        USA

















mortuary        UK












USA > US Marines > Mortuary Affairs unit        UK


























attend a wake for N















offer his / her condolences to N










send a message of condolence to N








sign condolence books

















Around 3,000 people filled Newark Symphony Hall

for the four-hour service on Saturday.


Photograph: Nicole Bengiveno

The New York Times


Remembering Amiri Baraka With Politics and Poetry


JAN. 18, 2014
























casket        UK










coffin        UK / USA










































pine box








burial shroud








honorary pallbearers








pallbearers        UK














pallbearers        USA










horse-drawn gun carriage        USA










pallbearers and (the) other traditional trappings        UK



















Portrait by David Mansell


The final curtain

The undertaker Martyn Ginder

has dealt with the realities of death for decades

- so why is he convinced he'll live forever?

Leo Benedictus finds out.


The Guardian        Work        p. 2

Saturday May 26, 2007
























undertaker        UK














dark frock coat and top hat        UK










mortician        USA



























church bells > sound        USA
















organ        USA











basilica        USA












service        USA






















funeral services        USA










funeral mass        USA










at the funeral service








at the service for N








attend the service








deliver a homily        USA




















mourner        USA


















read passages from the Bible








read from the Bible        USA










read the 23rd Psalm


Psalm 23

is the 23rd psalm of the Book of Psalms,

generally known in English by its first verse,

in the King James Version,

"The Lord is my Shepherd".


The Book of Psalms

is the third section of the Hebrew Bible,

and a book of the Christian Old Testament.


In the Greek Septuagint version of the Bible,

and in its Latin translation in the Vulgate,

this psalm is Psalm 22

in a slightly different numbering system.


In Latin,

it is known by the incipit,

"Dominus reget me".


Like many psalms,

Psalm 23 is used

in both Jewish and Christian liturgies.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psalm_23 - 3 February 2021


















eulogize        USA














be eulogized / be celebrated        USA


rosalynn-carter-eulogy-funeral-jimmy-carter/ - November 29, 2023








eulogy        USA




















Amazing Grace        USA















farewell        UK









pinter-s-perfectly-scripted-farewell-1220043.html  - 1 January 2009








farewell / farewell to N       USA












final farewell        USA










 bid farewell to        USA

























hearse        UK






















state hearse        UK










flag-draped casket








black-draped stand








dressed in black
















lie, lay, lain        UK










lie at rest

in the sanctuary of the church,

surrounded by purple orchids, lilac roses and hydrangeas.        USA










lie in state        UK










lie in repose        USA

















pay respects to N        USA

















lay to rest        USA










be laid to rest        UK / USA






















UK > go to rest        USA










Rest In Peace    RIP        UK












Rest In Peace    RIP        USA










fional resting place        UK










resting place        USA










USA > send-off        UK










final send-off        USA










catafalque        UK










on a catafalque




















moving tribute





pay tribute to N










pay last respects to N





say goodbye to N





goodbye        UK






final good byes        USA






write in a condolence book





the late president





visitation        USA

miners-farewell_x.htm - broken link










bereavement        UK











bid farewell to N















immortality        UK






afterlife        USA





















Paying Respects

On the Street w/ Bill Cunningham

NYT    27 October 2014





Paying Respects

Video    On the Street w/ Bill Cunningham    The New York Times    27 October 2014


Is there an appropriate code of dress for memorial services today?


Produced by: Joanna Nikas

Watch more videos at: http://nytimes.com/video


















memorial        USA






at a memorial for N        USA






makeshift memorial        UK






memorial websites        UK






memorial service        UK












draped with black cloth





posthumous        UK






UK > General Register Office

Official information on births, marriages and deaths
















cryonics        USA












Corpus of news articles


Life / Health > Death > Funerals -


Warning: graphic / distressing




A Bleak Procession of Funerals

for Shooting Victims

Ends in Newtown


December 22, 2012

The New York Times



NEWTOWN, Conn. — This community laid to rest on Saturday the last of the children killed in a schoolhouse massacre.

In a town devastated by violence, besieged by worldwide attention from the news media and struggling to move forward, the burial of Josephine Grace Gay, 7, brought to an end a bleak procession of funerals that began not long after Adam Lanza killed 20 children and 6 staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“This has been a challenge for us,” Msgr. Robert E. Weiss said during his homily at Josephine’s funeral Mass at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church.

Funeral after funeral, wake after wake, he said, it had been faith, family and friendship that held the community together.

He recalled the terrible hours after the shooting stopped on Dec. 14, when he waited with families at the firehouse near the school, with parents clinging to the hope that their children had made it out unharmed.

At 3 p.m. that day, he said, Josephine’s parents were told that she had not survived.

“It does not make sense,” Monsignor Weiss said, adding that the children did not die in vain. “If these 20 cannot change the world, then no one can,” he said.

He added that it was now up to everyone to bring out the best in themselves and one another.

“You should be angry,” Monsignor Weiss said. “But don’t hold onto it.”

The shootings have resonated around the world, and have set off an intense national discussion on gun control, mental health and other issues.

That discussion continues, yet the focus here Saturday was not on questions of policy or new laws. It was on a first grader known to family and friends as Joey, who had turned 7 days before she was killed.

Her father, Bob Gay, noted that though she had autism and was unable to speak, “you don’t need words to say, ‘I love you.’ ”

Mr. Gay and Josephine’s mother, Michele Gay, shared with the congregation some of the “life lessons” they learned from their daughter.

“You can’t really appreciate a movie until you have watched it 300 times,” Ms. Gay said, before mentioning another lesson: “iPhones are not waterproof.”

Josephine’s father said that she had taught him not to “sweat the small stuff; it’s all small stuff.” And this: “Even the smallest of us can do great things.”

In a town that was plunged into unimaginable shock and sorrow a little more than a week before, there seemed to be a determination at the funeral to be upbeat. Many people wore purple, Josephine’s favorite color.

There were two other funerals for children killed at Sandy Hook on Saturday, both held outside of Newtown.

Ana Marquez-Greene, 6, was mourned at a private ceremony in Bloomfield, Conn. She was the daughter of the jazz saxophonist Jimmy Greene, who posted a short tribute to his daughter on his Facebook page.

“As much as she is needed here and missed by her mother, her brother and me, Ana beat us all to paradise,” he wrote the day after the shootings. “I love you, sweetie girl.”

Her mother, Nelba Marquez-Greene, in a statement, recalled her budding musical talent.

“In a musical family, her gift for melody, pitch and rhythm stood out remarkably,” she said.

In Ogden, Utah, Robbie and Alyssa Parker buried their 6-year-old daughter, Emilie.

Mr. Parker was one of the first parents of a child killed at the school to speak out publicly, at an emotional news conference one week ago.

Choking back tears, he vowed not to let what happened “turn into something that defines us, but something that inspires us to be better, to be more compassionate and more humble people.”

Those sentiments were echoed in the notes and posters left at memorials across Newtown.

The piles of stuffed animals and flowers and toys have grown each day, but there was a hope that with the final funeral, the people here could begin to grieve outside of the constant glare of media attention.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who had ordered all flags in the state to be flown at half-staff after the massacre, said it was time to raise them once again.

A Bleak Procession of Funerals for Shooting Victims Ends in Newtown,






Facing the Unendurable,

Families Lay to Rest

Two Children, Both 6


December 18, 2012

The New York Times



NEWTOWN, Conn. — They were so young that their lives were defined by small, fleeting enthusiasms.

James Mattioli liked to sing at the top of his lungs and once asked, “How old do I have to be to sing on stage?” He was proud that at the age of 6 ¾, he could ride a bicycle without training wheels.

Jessica Rekos loved reading about horses and learning about orca whales. At 6, she could be so insistent about what the family ought to be doing that her parents called her the C.E.O.

The children, 2 of the 20 first-grade victims in one of the nation’s worst schoolhouse massacres, were eulogized Tuesday in back-to-back rites at the same Roman Catholic church here, St. Rose of Lima. On a bleak, sometimes drizzly day that underscored the mood of unendurable pain that gripped so many mourners at the services, the church’s bell tolled once every 10 seconds as a hearse pulled up and a coffin of a small child was taken out and carried inside to rest on the altar.

James’s coffin was white and decked with yellow and white carnations; Jessica’s was also white but it was flowerless. The coffins were not particularly small, perhaps testimony to the difficulty of finding small coffins when 20 6- and 7-year-olds in one town are killed in a single, sudden and thus-far unexplainable act.

At each funeral, a young mother gave a eulogy, a husband standing silently at her side, a child of theirs in a coffin nearby, and reminisced about the pleasures and laughter those children gave them in their short lives. Before each eulogy, a priest, Msgr. Robert Weiss, offered a solemn Mass of Christian Burial and distributed communion. After Jessica’s Mass, “Silent Night” was played, the melody particularly haunting just a week before Christmas.

After each service, the doors were opened, the coffin was carried to a hearse, the parents emerged and were embraced by weeping friends and relatives clustered near the church’s Christmas Nativity display.

The police allowed only relatives, close friends and a few dignitaries, like Connecticut’s governor, Dannel P. Malloy, to attend the funerals, but a few mourners provided accounts of the services afterward and both families wrote eloquent paid obituaries that summed up their children’s short lives.

Michael Christopher, a longtime friend of Jessica’s father, Richard Rekos, said Jessica’s mother, Krista, a sixth-grade teacher in Bridgeport, was “surprisingly composed” as she stood in the vaulted, blond wood sanctuary of the church recalling her daughter’s life, though after she had finished speaking she broke down in sobs.

“Jessica always knew what she wanted and she had to get her way,” Mr. Christopher said, reconstructing the mother’s words. “She loved horseback riding, and Santa Claus was going to bring her cowboy boots next week. She loved orca whales so they bought her the movie ‘Free Willy.’ When she got it into her mind about something she always wanted to learn more.”

She was spiritual at a young age, Monsignor Weiss recalled: she kept a bottle of holy water next to her bed, where she said her prayers.

Mark and Cindy Mattioli, in an obituary they wrote that was published in local Connecticut newspapers, remembered their son “as an energetic loving friend to all.”

“He loved to wear shorts and T-shirts in any weather and grab the gel to spike his hair,” the obituary said. “He often said, ‘I need to go outside, Mom. I need fresh air.’ ”

They recalled that James was born four weeks early at Bridgeport Hospital.

“It was an ongoing quip that James came early into the world because he was hungry,” the obituary said. “He loved hamburgers with ketchup, his dad’s egg omelets with bacon, and his mom’s French toast. He often asked to stop at Subway for a ham sandwich.”

James, who resembled his father, loved to spend time with him as he did yard work and barbecued hamburgers.

“Their love of one another was one of a kind,” the obituary said.

Both services drew onlookers, some of whom came from as far away as Queens and Boston, moved, they said, by the thought of what so many families had to endure.

Radya Martino of Howard Beach, Queens, who teaches Arabic at a Westchester Islamic center, said she and her husband, George, a retired postal carrier, came to pray near the church. She said she asked Allah “to please help these parents and give them the power to continue.”

“I am a mother,” she said. “I don’t see Muslim, Christian or Jew. I see the parents crying and we pray for them.”

Richard Rosiak, of California, was visiting New York with his wife and young daughters. He said the family felt a need to be near the funerals because of their sadness, and the inexplicable nature of the crime.

“You don’t expect funerals with little caskets,” Mr. Rosiak said.

His daughter Charlotte, 10, said she left a message at an impromptu shrine of flowers and candles outside the church.

“There’s no right of people to do this to little kids,” she said. “They’re innocent.”

    Facing the Unendurable, Families Lay to Rest Two Children, Both 6,
    NYT, 18..12.2012,






Unbearable Grief

as Three Sisters Killed in Fire

Are Remembered


January 5, 2012
The New York Times


Mourners gathered at the august Saint Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue on Thursday, to remember the three girls killed in the Christmas morning fire that ravaged the waterfront home in Stamford, Conn., of their mother, Madonna Badger.

As funeral staff carried flowers and other adornments into the church, attendees were handed programs with a picture of the girls — each with a wide smile — and the dates of their births and deaths. Lilian Elizabeth Badger: August 29, 2002 - December 25, 2011. Sarah Hudson Badger and Grace McCarthy Badger, twin sisters: October 15, 2004 - December 25, 2011.

Family and friends embraced one another on the church steps, saying little. Some wore sunglasses to conceal tears; some wore fur coats. When mourners walked into the sanctuary, attendees were greeted with holiday wreaths along the church walls. The church was filled to capacity well before the service began.

The program said that three songs would be performed to honor the three sisters: “Amazing Grace,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and “Over the Rainbow.”

Members of Stamford’s fire rescue team arrived around 9:45 a.m. Ms. Badger and the girls’ father, Matthew Badger, and other family members were expected to arrive shortly before the service was to begin.

The girls were killed, along with their grandparents, during a Christmas morning fire that engulfed Ms. Badger’s waterfront home in Stamford, Conn. Ms. Badger and a family friend, Michael Borcina, escaped the blaze, but the family and firefighters could not rescue the three sisters.

Mr. Borcina told fire officials he had tried to flee with two of the girls, but perhaps amid the chaos of the smoke and flames, the girls apparently panicked and turned around, according to the Stamford fire chief, Antonio J. Conte.

The third child was found sitting atop a stack of books near a window of the home, Chief Conte said. It is believed that the girls’ grandfather, Lomer Johnson, may have placed them there to help his granddaughter escape.

The fire began, officials said, after Mr. Borcina removed embers from the fireplace about two hours before the fire erupted and put them in a bag, which he then placed in either the house’s mudroom or an adjacent trash enclosure.

Family and close friends attended a private wake on Wednesday at the Frank E. Campbell funeral chapel, the Upper East Side home that has handled the funeral services.

Thursday’s memorial was to be followed by a private service at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Unbearable Grief as Three Sisters Killed in Fire Are Remembered, NYT, 5.1.2012,






Thousands Mourn

Boy Killed in Brooklyn


July 13, 2011
The New York Times


With shock and grief clutching Borough Park in Brooklyn, thousands of mourners and residents poured into a neighborhood courtyard Wednesday evening for the funeral of an 8-year-old Brooklyn boy who was abducted and killed this week as he walked home from camp.

The funeral for the boy, which was held entirely in Yiddish, swelled to capacity before its scheduled start time at 8:30, prompting many of the thousands who could not get in to gather behind police barricades, crowding neighborhood streets as they waited to pay their respects to the young boy, Leiby Kletzky, whose remains were discovered earlier in the day. Throngs of police officers and members of a local security patrol group, the shomrim, kept order as a steady stream of visitors poured into the courtyard, adjacent to a school between 16th and 17th Avenues, within two blocks of where the boy lived. One shomrim volunteer estimated that close to 8,000 people were in attendance.

“We need to separate like the Red Sea so the family can get through,” one officer announced.

Inside, a large gathering of mourners in Orthodox and traditional modest dress — men and women separated as per custom — clutched leather-bound prayer books and chanted, some in tears, others stoic. Two elderly women known for their charity work passed around tins for donations, or tzedakah. Bottles of water and boxes of tissues were passed through the audience. Upfront, the women in Leiby’s family sat together, their heads covered in scarves and their faces etched with grief.

The service began shortly before 10 p.m., and was marked by a speech from the boy’s father, whose voice shook as he stood before the crowd and addressed his dead son, saying in Yiddish that he was lucky to have had him, if only for nine years.

“Thank God we had him,” he said, according to a translator.

And then, overcome by emotion, he went silent. A moment later the principal of Leiby’s school spoke.

“He got lost, he got lost,” he said, according to the translator. “There’s nothing to say, he got lost. God wanted it.” Several rabbis also spoke in Yiddish through intermittent tears, repeatedly breaking down. They extolled the boy’s good qualities, and reminded the community to be careful, urging the adults to protect their children. At one point the rabbi of the synagogue that Leiby attended recalled the boy’s devotion to his studies.

“He was such a good learner,” the rabbi said, according to a translation. “He used to pray all day. It was a pleasure to have him in the class. We’re not the boss. Everything is as God wanted it.”

The funeral came only hours after the family learned the news that their search for Leiby, who disappeared on Monday, had come to a devastating end. According to investigators, the boy — who would have turned 9 this month — was on his way to meet his parents after leaving the Nechmod Day Camp, at the Yeshiva Boyan at 1205 44th Street, on Monday afternoon when he got lost and asked for directions. His parents reported him missing, and surveillance footage later showed him in the company of a man the police identified as Levi Aron, 35, a local supply store clerk. The police said Mr. Aron took Leiby to his home, killed him, and cut up his body, parts of which were found in a refrigerator-freezer in Mr. Aron’s tiny attic apartment, less than two miles from the Kletzky home. He was charged Wednesday night with second degree murder. The news devastated the tight-knit community of Borough Park, where residents had raised reward money for Leiby’s return and formed search parties, scouring the streets in the days he was missing.

“We feel like we lost one of our own,” said Leah Rosenberg, a resident who showed up at the funeral. “He was everybody’s child. There was a pregnant woman dismembered in this neighborhood about 20 years ago. This brings it all back. It’s like ripping open an old wound. It’s a new pain and an old pain.

“Our hearts convey our condolences,” she added, before bursting into tears.

Some of those in attendance said they had viewed their community as relatively safe, and noted that a certain level of trust that had been implicit had suddenly been destroyed.

“I don’t even know the family, but I feel like it’s a community tragedy,” said Claire Wercberger, 54, a nursery school teacher who attended the funeral. “I’m devastated, horrified. There are no words. To say it’s a nightmare is an understatement. Everybody is heartbroken. It’s an unbelievable situation. It makes me much more on guard as a teacher and as a community member.”


Adriane Quinlan and Liz Robbins contributed reporting.

    Thousands Mourn Boy Killed in Brooklyn, NYT, 13.7.2011,






The costly business of dying

Prices are rising because of increased regulation,
the industry says.
But in the hard-sell funeral game,
the truth is less savoury


Monday 28 March 2011
14.02 BST
his article was published on guardian.co.uk
at 14.02 BST on Monday 28 March 2011.
It was last modified at 14.29 BST
on Monday 28 March 2011.


In Germany, Radio Galaxy recently ran a morbid competition: win, and receive a cheque to cover your funeral costs. The €3,000 (£2,578) prize money would actually be applied to funeral insurance, not funeral costs directly – which is probably a good thing, since it's at the low end of the scale when it comes to paying for a German funeral. The average cost comes in between €2,000 and €5,000.

For those who have never had the displeasure of planning a funeral, the shock at the price tag can be significant. In the last six years, funeral costs in the UK have risen by 50%. The US National Funeral Directors Association says a funeral costs, on average, about $8,000 (£5,000). There are a lot of funerals that go into quintuple digits; a coffin alone can cost upwards of $10,000 (£6,200), with a myriad of padding and hidden costs thrown in. Refrigeration. Embalming. Casketing. Preparation of the body. Viewing. Compensation for religious officiants. Flowers. Vaults. Grave liners. Gaskets and seals. Grave markers. Opening the grave. Closing the grave. Opening the vault. Closing the vault. The grave, or cremation. Transport. Administrative fees. Facility rental. Honorariums.

Funeral directors suggest this is the result of increased regulation, causing higher consumer costs as funeral homes pass on their operating expenses. The truth is much less savory.

In 1963, Jessica Mitford published The American Way of Death, an exposé of US funeral practices. Funeral directors were outraged by the book, which covered the seamy side of the industry with attentive detail. She covered exploitative sales techniques used by funeral directors, such as the meticulous arrangement of coffins to exploit the most from consumers. Funeral directors, Mitford informed readers, would manipulate low-income clients by arranging coffins of mediocre quality at a roughly affordable price, with a few nicer specimens. Shocked by the cost, consumers would ask to see less expensive options, and would be shown to an array of cardboard boxes. "Oh, OK," they would say, taking the expensive coffin. Because you'd be ashamed to bury a family member in a cardboard box, wouldn't you?

Mitford didn't stop there, pointing out that funeral directors would look up benefits due to survivors and carefully pitch the price of the funeral, leaving survivors penniless after covering the expenses while assuring them that they were getting a special deal. Mitford also noted the push towards open casket funerals and other associated expenses, and warned British readers that far from being a series of curious practices across the pond, the American funeral industry was working on exporting itself to Britain. Funeral trends tend to cross from the US to Britain, and those trends can add significantly to the price at the same time that people come to expect them, and feel like a funeral is incomplete without them.

Mitford's exposé resulted in radical reforms for the funeral industry in the US, perhaps most exemplified by the Federal Trade Commission's funeral rule, which specifically bars many of the practices detailed in her book, which elevated consumer awareness about the pitfalls of pre-need funeral sales, a growth area in the worldwide funeral industry.

The industry surrounding death, they say, is structured to provide support and assistance to people in their time of need so they feel less isolated and alone, so they can focus on the details of the memorial and grieving rather than having to handle administrative errata. It's a selfless service, providing care to the bereaved ...

But of course, it's also a for-profit enterprise. Workers do not do this out of the goodness of their hearts, and the industry is heavily dominated by a handful of very large corporations interested in bottom lines with vertical monopolies to make sure they get it – a problem that hasn't gone away in the wake of Mitford's exposé, as indicated by comments filed by the Funeral Consumer's Alliance in 1997. You may go through a home, cemetery or crematorium, florist and so forth, all owned by the same company, all billing at rates that company likes, with little recourse for you unless you want to care for your own dead, which a lot of people do not or cannot do, depending on regional laws.

As funeral costs continue to rise, poor communities are hit the hardest. Funeral homes claim to provide funerals to everyone who needs them at prices they can afford, but "afford" is a nebulous term, and what people can literally bear may not necessarily be what they can "afford". Life insurance settlements and pensions are quickly eaten through by funeral costs, and people end up in the same position they were in before the funeral. In many communities, deaths, particularly of young people, are followed by community fundraisers to cover funeral costs – because their families would be bankrupted by the expense.

People want to do the right thing by the people they lose, want to care for their dead, want them to go out in style, and of course they are going to be susceptible to suggestion; sure, you could use that cheap casket. If you wanted. I'm sure it would be fine for your mother. She wasn't picky about her surroundings, right?

The costly business of dying, G, 28.3.2011,






For the Funeral Too Distant,

Mourners Gather on the Web


January 24, 2011
The New York Times


In an age of commemorating birthdays, weddings and anniversaries on Facebook and Twitter, it was perhaps inevitable that live Web-streaming funerals for friends and loved ones would be next.

It is no surprise that the deaths of celebrities, like Michael Jackson, or honored political figures, like the United States diplomat Richard Holbrooke, are promoted as international Web events. So, too, was the memorial service for the six people killed Jan. 8 in Tucson, which had thousands of viewers on the Web.

But now the once-private funerals and memorials of less-noted citizens are also going online.

Several software companies have created easy-to-use programs to help funeral homes cater to bereaved families. FuneralOne a one-stop shop for online memorials that is based in St. Clair, Mich., has seen the number of funeral homes offering Webcasts increase to 1,053 in 2010, from 126 in 2008 (it also sells digital tribute DVDs).

During that same period, Event by Wire, a competitor in Half Moon Bay, Calif., watched the number of funeral homes live-streaming services jump to 300 from 80. And this month, the Service Corporation International in Houston, which owns 2,000 funeral homes and cemeteries, including the venerable Frank E. Campbell funeral chapel on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, said it was conducting a pilot Webcasting program at 16 of its funeral homes.

Traveling to funerals was once an important family rite, but with greater secularity and a mobile population increasingly disconnected from original hometowns, watching a funeral online can seem better than not going to a funeral at all. Social media, too, have redrawn the communal barriers of what is acceptable when relating to parents, siblings, friends and acquaintances.

“We are in a YouTube society now,” said H. Joseph Joachim IV, founder of FuneralOne. “People are living more than ever online, and this reflects that.”

Some of the Web-streamed funerals reflect the large followings gathered by individuals. On Jan. 11, more than 7,000 people watched the Santa Ana, Calif., funeral of Debbie Friedman, an iconic singer whose music combined Jewish text with folk rhythm. It was seen on Ustream, a Web video service, with more than 20,000 viewing it on-demand in the days that followed.

“We intended to watch a few minutes, but ended up watching almost the whole thing,” said Noa Kushner, a rabbi in San Anselmo, Calif., and a fan of Ms. Friedman’s music, who watched the service with a friend at his office. “I was so moved.”

After Stefanie Spielman, a breast cancer activist and the wife of the popular National Football League player Chris Spielman, died in 2009, the Spielmans wanted a private ceremony attended by 900 friends and family members, said Lajos Szabo, the chief strategy officer at Schoedinger Funeral and Cremation Service in Columbus, Ohio, which arranged the funeral. But they also hoped to accommodate members of the public, who wanted to support the family in its grief. Streamed live and posted online, Ms. Spielman’s funeral has been viewed 4,663 times by 2,989 visitors since November 2009, according to FuneralOne.

Other Webcasts are more obscure, but no less appreciated. Two weeks ago, a friend of Ronald Rich, a volunteer firefighter in Wallace, N.C., died unexpectedly. When Mr. Rich called the mother of his friend to say he could not make the eight-hour drive to the funeral because a snowstorm threatened to close roads, he said the mother offered to send an e-mail invitation so he could watch the service online. Mr. Rich said he watched the funeral: first by himself and a second time with his girlfriend.

“It was comforting to me,” he said, adding that he planned to watch it again with fellow firefighters.

The technology to put funerals online has been around for a decade but was slow to catch on with an industry understandably sensitive to questions of etiquette. Some funeral directors eschew streaming funerals live because they do not want to replace a communal human experience with a solitary digital one, said John Reed, a past president of the National Funeral Directors Association. Other funeral directors worry that if the quality of the video is poor, it will reflect badly on the funeral home.

And the conversation about whether to stream a funeral online can be awkward, particularly if a grief-stricken family is wary of technology. Funeral directors are conservative, Mr. Reed said; privacy, even for the Facebook generation, is paramount. “We don’t jump on the first thing that comes along,” he said.

Still, some funeral directors offer the service for free (Mr. Reed is one of them) while others charge $100 to $300. If a family wants to keep the online service private, those invited get a password that allows access. (Mr. Joachim said 94 percent of the funerals his company Webcast were not password-protected.)

Not all real-life funeral attendees want their images captured online. Irene Dahl, an owner of Dahl Funeral Chapel in Bozeman, Mont., said a young man went to a funeral last year dressed as a woman and asked not to be filmed. “He did not want his mother to know,” Ms. Dahl said. “So we did not face the camera in his direction.”

Ms. Dahl said that nearly one-third of the ceremonies arranged by her funeral home last year — about 60 — were streamed live, at no extra charge. She became interested in this option after Dan Grumley, the chief executive of Event by Wire, visited her in 2008 and showed her how it worked.

“Being a funeral director is about helping people with their grief,” she said.

Russell Witek, the 14-year-old son of Karen Witek of Geneva, Ill., died of a brain tumor in 2009. The Conley Funeral Home in Elburn, Ill., offered to stream the funeral live to friends and family members. “We said, ‘Why not?’ ” Ms. Witek said. Her brother-in-law was working in the Middle East and could not attend. Russell’s home health nurse was out of town. “It was spring break,” Ms. Witek said.

She had met a number of friends on social media sites, including a patient-care support group and another for parents who home-schooled their children, and they could not attend, either. “I wanted them to experience it,” Ms. Witek said.

According to Conley Funeral Home, 186 people watched the funeral live on April 3, 2009, with an additional 511 watching it on-demand through Jan. 15.

Ms. Witek said her husband had watched the funeral more than once, “because he wanted to hear what was said that day,” but said she couldn’t bring herself to view it, except in parts. “After a child dies, you go into a fog.”

But for William Uzenski, the father of Nicholas Uzenski, a Marine serving in Afghanistan who was killed on Jan. 11, 2010, live Web-streaming has provided much comfort. Mr. Uzenski’s body was transported to his home, Bozeman, 10 days later. William Uzenski, himself a former Marine, said he wanted Nicholas’s military colleagues in Afghanistan to be able to watch the funeral. So Ms. Dahl arranged it through a military liaison who was assisting the family.

Ms. Dahl said that, unlike many streamed funerals, Nicholas Uzenski’s had three separate Webcasts and was invitation-only. The Webcasts included the arrival of his coffin at a local airport, the funeral and a graveside ceremony that his family said included a 21-gun salute. Ms. Dahl tracked virtual attendees. The funeral and the graveside ceremony were watched by 124 and 39 people, respectively, with the funeral viewed in 80 cities and 4 countries, including Afghanistan.

“Some e-mailed me,” Mr. Uzenski said. “Friends thanked us for sharing it with them. I do watch it again sometimes. I don’t know why, but I guess it’s healing.”

For the Funeral Too Distant, Mourners Gather on the Web,






Tucson Pauses in Grief

for the Youngest Victim


January 13, 2011
The New York Times


TUCSON — The first funeral in the aftermath of Saturday’s shooting rampage might turn out to be the most heart-wrenching.

Christina-Taylor Green, age 9, was wheeled from church in a child-size coffin to the mournful strain of bagpipes on Thursday, having become the focus for much of the grief that has enveloped this community — and the nation — since the shootings that left 6 dead and 14 injured.

Christina’s clear-eyed gaze, her enthusiasm — baseball, dance and student council were all passions — and the randomness in which she was killed made her death particularly devastating, for grown-ups, President Obama among them, and for her contemporaries.

As the president noted, she was attending the event at which she was shot because of a blossoming interest in politics and American democracy. “I want us to live up to her expectations,” Mr. Obama said at a memorial service for the victims Wednesday evening at the University of Arizona. “I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it.”

Christina’s Little League baseball team, the Pirates, will wear patches on its uniforms honoring Christina. The league is trying to get players across the country, from T-ball to the major leagues, to consider doing the same. Teams in California, Colorado and Florida have already bought patches.

Oro Valley, a Tucson suburb, is considering naming a baseball field where she played after her, city officials said.

The raw emotion was on display inside St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Roman Catholic Church on Thursday, where more than 1,500 mourners of all ages were packed in tight; and outside, where there were more mourners; and down the winding road, where hundreds more waited and watched; and across the city. Some dressed in white, others in baseball uniforms. Some wore angel wings. Others carried teddy bears or bouquets of flowers.

The funeral felt almost like a state affair, with rows of politicians, officers in dress uniforms and the bagpipes. It was the biggest service anyone in Tucson could remember.

Toward the end, her father, John Green, rose to speak. He looked out at the crowd. He swallowed. And then, in a scratchy, baritone voice he said her name, slowly: “Christina-Taylor Green.”

He described a girl who picked blackberries in the summer and went sledding in the winter. Most times, she was the one directing the other kids in their adventures. He told of her and her mother, Roxanna, dressing up “to the nines” and dancing around the house.

At one of the roadside memorials that have popped up around Tucson for Christina and the other victims, a somber Mary Palma and her two grandchildren, Isaac and Eva, stopped to pay their respects, and to grapple with the recent events. “It’s hard for kids to understand that something like this could happen, and it’s hard for me,” said Ms. Palma. “They didn’t know Christina, but they know her now. Everyone knows her.”

Christina was born on Sept. 11, 2001. A flag from the World Trade Center, brought to Tucson by representatives of the New York City Fire Department, flew outside the church for the funeral.

Mr. Green said his daughter’s birthday had given her an understanding of tragedy, and it sparked an interest in civic affairs that brought her to meet Representative Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday.

She had a younger brother, Dallas, and she loved to swim. She was the hero of Mailey Moser, the 5-year-old little sister of one of her baseball teammates. Mailey would wriggle from her mother’s grasp to sneak into the dugout and sit next to Christina.

At Christina’s school, Mesa Verde Elementary, where students have been holding difficult discussions about death this week, it was quieter than usual as many students, teachers and administrators left to spend the day at the funeral. Out front was a memorial with messages to Christina. There was a photograph of her hugging her friend Serenity, who wrote, “Christina remember this photo, it was our first sleepover.”

During lunch this week, Kayley Clark, 9, called her mother at home to say that she did not want to eat the school meal of turkey tacos. She has never done that before, her mother said. Getting dressed in the morning, she has been unusually picky about what colors to wear, as if the decision might be her last.

“You know that could have been your kid there outside the supermarket standing right where Christina was standing, when the shooting broke out,” said Leah Simmers, 30, a mother of three. “This hit close to home for every mother I know.”

And for every child, including her son, Dillon, 8, a second grader. “A girl like that should not be shot,” he said, noting that she was just a year older than he was.

Suzi Hileman, the neighbor who brought Christina to meet Ms. Giffords, is still at the hospital recovering from her gunshot wounds and struggling with feelings of guilt. As soon as Mrs. Hileman’s ventilator was removed for the first time Saturday night, she turned to her husband, Bill, and asked, “What about Christina?” In her foggy morphine haze, Mr. Hileman said, she has screamed out, “Christina! Christina!”

Baseball was in Christina’s blood. Her father is a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers and her grandfather, Dallas Green, managed the 1980 World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies.

She was the only girl on the Pirates, the only one with shoulder-length hair peeking from the green and yellow cap. She brought a mix of playfulness and grit to the team. She spent a week negotiating the terms of a race in the outfield between the players and the coach: kids run forward, coach runs backward, winner gets ice cream. The kids won.

She climbed mesquite trees after practice. While playing second base during warm-ups on a hot desert day, she sang a pop song to herself, and quickly brought in the first baseman and right fielder into her chorus.

But she was a tough player, too. Once, with the bases loaded, she drove a hard line drive up the middle, bringing in two runs.

Another time, after a dispute at second base on whether the runner was out, she stepped in and settled things. And then there was the time when, after getting hit by a pitch, she had the option of taking the base or staying at bat. She stayed to hit — and she did, on the very next pitch.

During his eulogy, Mr. Green delivered a message, inspired by Christina’s life, to everyone who had been touched by her.

“Everybody’s going to be O.K.,” he said. “She would want that.”


Carli Brousseau,

Jennifer Medina

and Anissa Tanweer

contributed reporting.

Tucson Pauses in Grief for the Youngest Victim, NYT, 13.1.2011,






As We Mourn


January 12, 2011
The New York Times


It is a president’s responsibility to salve a national wound. President Obama did that on Wednesday evening at the memorial service in Tucson for the six people who died in last weekend’s terrible shooting. It was one of his most powerful and uplifting speeches.

Mr. Obama called on ideological campaigners to stop vilifying their opponents. The only way to move forward after such a tragedy, he said, is to cast aside “point-scoring and pettiness.” He rightly focused primarily on the lives of those who died and the heroism of those who tried to stop the shooter and save the victims. He urged prayers for the 14 wounded, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the target of the rampage. Their stories needed to be told, their lives celebrated and mourned.

It was important that Mr. Obama transcend the debate about whose partisanship has been excessive and whose words have sown the most division and dread. This page and many others have identified those voices and called on them to stop demonizing their political opponents. The president’s role in Tucson was to comfort and honor, and instill hope.

This horrific event, he said, should be a turning point for everyone — “not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation.”

He also said that after a senseless tragedy it is natural to try to impose some meaning. Wisely, he did not try. But he was right to warn that any proposals to reduce this kind of bloodshed will remain out of reach if political discourse remains deeply polarized. Two of those essential proposals, we believe, are gun safety laws and improvement to the mental health system, and it was heartening to hear the president bring them up.

Mr. Obama noted that several of Saturday’s victims were struck down as they performed public service. Ms. Giffords was engaging in the most fundamental act of a representative: meeting with her constituents to hear their concerns. Gabriel Zimmerman, her murdered aide, had set up the “Congress on Your Corner” event. John Roll, the murdered federal judge who lived nearby, came into the line of fire while thanking Ms. Giffords for helping to ease his court’s crowded legal calendar.

Many of the other victims were performing one of citizenship’s most basic duties: listening to and questioning one of their political representatives. Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year-old student council president who was killed, was brought there by a neighbor because of her interest in politics.

The president’s words were an important contrast to the ugliness that continues to swirl in some parts of the country. The accusation by Sarah Palin that “journalists and pundits” had committed a “blood libel” when they raised questions about overheated rhetoric was especially disturbing, given the grave meaning of that phrase in the history of the Jewish people.

Earlier in the day, the speaker of the House, John Boehner, and the minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, issued their own, very welcome, calls to rise above partisanship. It is in that arena where Wednesday’s high-minded pledges will be tested most.

Mr. Obama said that it must be possible for Americans to question each other’s ideas without questioning their love of country. We hope all of America’s leaders, and all Americans, will take that to heart.

As We Mourn, NYT, 12.1.2011,






In a Private Service,

Last Goodbyes for Jackson


September 4, 2009
The New York Times


GLENDALE, Calif. — More than two months after he died, and following a steady trickle of gossip over how and where he would be laid to rest, family members and friends gathered Thursday night for a private entombment of Michael Jackson at a highly guarded mausoleum in a Los Angeles suburb.

With closed streets, nervous guards and restricted airspace over the grounds, the proceedings were taking on the feel of a presidential visit at the cemetery, Forest Lawn Glendale, where guests began arriving for an evening service.

Only a smattering of fans of Mr. Jackson, one the biggest-selling entertainers of all time, gathered at blockaded streets around the cemetery, with one group unfurling a large white banner that read in part “Gone too Soon.”

Members of the news media — 460 people from the around the world received credentials — far outnumbered the fans, and they greeted every car turning into the gated grounds with a bouquet of camera flashes and quizzical looks. Was that Elizabeth Taylor? Joe Jackson?

The police had the streets and airspace around Forest Lawn virtually locked down, in keeping with the family’s wishes that the service be invitation only.

A memorial service attended by several thousand fans, family members and friends had already been held for Mr. Jackson, 50, who died June 25. The memorial, on July 7 at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, took place in the arena where he had been rehearsing for a series of London concerts expected to revive his career.

But the family never announced burial plans, and news station helicopters lost track of the hearse carrying his gleaming gold coffin after it left the arena.

Representatives of Mr. Jackson inquired about a burial at the Neverland Ranch he lived in for several years until after his acquittal on child molesting charges in 2005, but that proposal would entail months of red tape, local and state officials said.

A couple of weeks ago, his family announced he would be entombed at Forest Lawn Glendale, joining Walt Disney, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, W. C. Fields and many other famed Hollywood figures.

The cemetery, about eight miles north of downtown Los Angeles, covers 300 verdant acres and includes the statue-studded, castle-like Great Mausoleum that was chosen as Mr. Jackson’s final resting place.

The cemetery prides itself on a high level of security, with guards shooing away loiterers and restricting mausoleum visits largely to people authorized by the family of the deceased.

Mark Masek, who maintains cemeteryguide.com, which tracks entertainers’ graves, said that a couple of weeks ago guards stopped him from taking pictures outside the mausoleum and forced him to delete the images.

“They are not kidding,” he said, predicting fans would have trouble finding and documenting Mr. Jackson’s crypt.

“If they wanted to restrict access and keep people out, they could not have picked a better place,” he said.

William Martin, a spokesman for the cemetery, declined to discuss security arrangements for Mr. Jackson’s crypt or what steps might be taken to keep out unwanted visitors.

“We are very cognizant of what may happen in the near future, and we are taking the necessary steps,” he said.

The Glendale police have said the family will pay for the costs of security for the event. The police asked for and received a restriction on the airspace to safeguard helicopter patrols, a police spokesman said.

A judge Wednesday approved Mr. Jackson’s estate paying the costs, with the total described in court papers as “extraordinary,” but the actual amount blacked out. A Glendale police spokesman, Tom Lorenz, said police costs would be no more than $150,000.

The family bought a bloc of 12 spaces in the mausoleum as a single unit.

“Mrs. Jackson and her family wish to honor her son by a funeral that seeks to offer solace to his multitude of fans and by which the family also may be comforted,” Burt Levitch, a lawyer for the singer’s mother, Katherine Jackson, wrote in a court declaration.

The investigation into Mr. Jackson’s death continues. The coroner has ruled he died from a mix of the anesthetic propofol and another sedative, injected by somebody.

Mr. Jackson’s personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, has told investigators he gave Mr. Jackson a mix of drugs, including propofol, to help him sleep, but it is unclear whether he will face criminal charges. Dr. Murray’s lawyer has said he did not cause Mr. Jackson’s death.

In a Private Service, Last Goodbyes for Jackson, NYT, 4.0.2009,






A Final Farewell

for a Slain Police Officer


June 5, 2009
The New York Times


The men and women in blue scuffed their feet and chatted quietly, spread out in spidery tangles. There were police officers everywhere, outside Al’s Food Market and One Mary Nails and El Pancho Grocery.

The officers had not yet tugged on their white dress gloves, and many of them had tucked them under their shoulder straps. One of the men brushed a wrinkle from his jacket.

Rain dripped from the skies. No one wanted to be here. Everyone wanted to be here.

The elegant Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic Church on Throop Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, was where thousands of officers converged on Thursday morning for the funeral of Officer Omar J. Edwards. He was only 25, a man who had been one of them for not even two years and whose life was ended by police bullets. If there was no expectation of meaningful understanding in one two-hour service, there was at least hope of catharsis.

Some of the thousands of officers had come off shifts that had wound up only hours before, and were rubbing sleep out of tired eyes. They slid into muffled, random conversations. Some had come a long distance, because of the limitless bond of a profession. Officer Brian Glover stood alone, because he knew no one. He had driven up the night before from Washington, where he works. Originally from Brooklyn, he stayed overnight with his parents.

“I had to be here,” he said. “We all wear a similar uniform. We do the same job.”

Few of the New York officers knew the man they came to mourn either, and his résumé was slim. That was not the point. You wanted to be here.

These sorts of funerals are always echoes, the recurring full police ceremony known as the inspector’s funeral. It is how the Police Department buries officers who die in the line of duty.

But every funeral is also its own, belonging to a single officer who led his own life. This was the funeral of N.Y.P.D. Shield No. 12734.

He died while doing a job that does not always bestow second chances, and in the worst way possible. On Thursday night last week, according to the police, he was in plain clothes, gun drawn, chasing a man in Harlem who had broken into his car. Mistaken for a criminal himself, he was shot three times by a fellow officer, Andrew P. Dunton. It was the first time Officer Dunton had fired his gun.

Fraternal shootings are extremely rare, and some think they should never happen. But those were the circumstances that this was about.

It was also about this: Officer Edwards was black; Officer Dunton is white. Did race matter? That combustible question was an inescapable undercurrent of the funeral and remains lingering for the formal investigation. For now it had unknown importance, and emotions about it, while evident on Throop Avenue, were largely muted, conclusions hesitant to be drawn.

“You hope to never come to these things,” said Detective Robert Hood, who works in the Bronx. “Today we just talked about how sad the situation was. You wouldn’t have your deeper conversations at a funeral.”

The rows of officers, outfitted in their meticulous navy blue uniforms, swiveled their heads, looking for what they knew had to come.

Led by pipers and drummers beating black-draped drums, the hearse crawled past the long blue line, and with gripping sadness they all saluted.

Six officers carried the coffin inside. A piper played “Amazing Grace.”

The majority could not nearly squeeze into the sanctuary, and so they remained huddled outside, listening with damp eyes to the proceedings over loudspeakers.

The officer’s wife, Danielle, sat weeping up front, with their two sleeping young sons, Xavier, 1 ½, and Keanu, 7 months. Some mourners wore T-shirts with Officer Edwards’s picture emblazoned on them.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg told of how Officer Edwards had wanted to be on the police force since he was 5, and how his allegiance to the New York Giants was so intense that when the team lost, “he refused to take phone calls for the rest of the day, especially from William, his father-in-law, who for some reason roots for the Dallas Cowboys.”

Officer Edwards was still a rookie, his probation not scheduled to be up until next month. But the mayor announced his posthumous promotion to detective, retroactive for a year, allowing more generous death benefits for his family.

“He protected our city,” the mayor said, “and he built a better city.”

The Rev. Paul W. Jervis, the church’s pastor, was the only eulogizer who mentioned Officer Dunton, saying that he “now lives to regret the fatal results from what he did in the line of duty.” He added: “He too needs compassion. Officer Dunton needs our prayers.”

Officer Dunton did not attend, according to a person familiar with his plans, because he did not want to be a distraction. While the funeral was going on, both he and members of the 25th Precinct anticrime team attended a church service near his home in Suffolk County.

Father Jervis said, “Officer Omar Edwards would not have died in vain if the circumstances of his death could teach our policemen and women of all races to avoid similar experiences in the future.”

In his eulogy, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly drew laughter when he said, “I’ve heard that after Omar graduated from the academy he was so proud of his police shield that he wore it around the apartment.”

When his locker was opened, Mr. Kelly said, they found a photo of his sons inside his police cap.

Of his death, he said: “We owe Omar’s family our deepest sympathy, our everlasting loyalty and a total accounting of the facts. We owe it to Omar to learn from this tragic event and to remember him as he was in life.”

The coffin, covered with the green-and-white police flag, was hoisted into the hearse a final time. A bugler played taps. Police helicopters thundered overhead in missing-man formation. The hearse was to carry the coffin containing the dead police officer to St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale, on Long Island, where it would go into the ground.

The silent officers watched it gently accelerate into the lengthening distance, and the exodus began. The weather had turned better, and the skies had cleared.

A Final Farewell for a Slain Police Officer, NYT, 5.6.2009,






Springfield Journal

A Funeral Museum

at Death’s Door


March 9, 2009
The New York Times


SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A week or so ago, Duane Marsh noticed an elderly couple from Iowa standing hesitantly at the door of the Museum of Funeral Customs, a shrine here to embalming tools, coffins and other artifacts of the rites of death.

“This is his idea, not mine,” Mr. Marsh recalled the woman saying, as she pointed at her husband. “I’m not sure I want to go in.”

Mr. Marsh, the executive director of the Illinois Funeral Directors Association, which operates the museum, was able to convince the woman that it was really not such a ghoulish place, and then led the couple on a tour.

A stone’s throw from Lincoln’s tomb, this unusual cultural repository is an unmistakable reminder that everyone’s days are numbered. Now it seems the same might be true of the museum itself.

Unable to attract enough visitors — the Iowa woman is apparently not the only one who gets the creeps about this place — the museum is struggling to stay alive. The curator position has been eliminated, and the museum’s hours have been cut to appointments only.

These have been difficult days in Springfield, the Illinois capital, as the economy has nose-dived and many people have lost their jobs. Not even funeral parlors are immune, Mr. Marsh said, as survivors sometimes choose thriftier ways to pay respects.

The association of funeral directors has had other problems, too. A trust it once managed — focused on “pre-need” funeral planning — declined sharply in value, prompting a handful of civil lawsuits alleging financial mismanagement. Although the museum used no money from the trust, Mr. Marsh said, the association’s budget took a hit.

But the museum’s problems are more basic: Since its founding in 1999, it has failed to become a destination. In recent years, the museum has attracted about 8,000 customers annually; tickets for adults are $4 and those for children are $2. It has not been nearly enough to cover expenses.

“The original idea was that we’d get enough spillover from people visiting the Lincoln sites,” Mr. Marsh said. “But for whatever reason, that just hasn’t happened. When a business isn’t paying its way, as everyone knows, you have trouble.”

Smack in the center of Illinois, surrounded by corn and soybean fields, this city is mostly known for colorful politicians (prosecutors have used the word corrupt) and tourism ventures that almost invariably make some tie to Honest Abe.

The funeral museum has a replica of the coffin that carried Lincoln from Washington to Springfield in 1865. It also features embalming equipment, a horse-drawn hearse from the 1920s, a long black Cadillac that carried the dead in the 1970s and black mourning clothes worn in the Victorian era. The museum explores the differences among religions and cultures in marking death, pointing out that slaves held funerals deep into the night because many plantation owners refused to give them a break from work during the day.

Plenty of people in Springfield say they would lament the passing of the funeral museum. Sarah Vaughn, an assistant manager at the Feed Store, a restaurant across from the Old State Capitol, said that it had been several years since she had visited the museum, but that she would never forget it.

“It’s really quite a cool place,” Ms. Vaughn said. “I know that sounds macabre to say. But it’s very interesting. I remember learning about Native American burials when I went there. It’ll be sad for Springfield if it closes.”

Mr. Marsh, a second-generation mortician who lived in a funeral home until he was 6, said the museum helped “demystify” notions about what happens to the body after death. He recalled some difficult moments when he worked as a funeral director, especially the times he had to prepare the body of a child. “I remember one time I got so tearful,” he said, “that I just had to get up and walk away for a while.”

But he said a wake can be a heartening experience, too, a chance for people to tell stories and laugh and share their fondness for a lost loved one. “I’m telling you,” he said, “there were times when you couldn’t tell if it was a funeral or a wedding.”

A gift shop at the funeral museum includes key chains and paper weights that look like little coffins, and books on funeral customs like “Do It Yourself Tombstone.” There are coffin-shaped chocolates and even T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Everybody’s Gotta Go Sometime.”

Mr. Marsh said he was working on a plan to keep the museum from closing, but he would not disclose details. He said a decision would be made soon.

“This is valuable history,” he said. “Can we save the museum? I’m determined to find a way to make it work.”

A Funeral Museum at Death’s Door, NYT, 9.3.2009,






At last...

a coffin you might actually want

to be seen dead in


Sunday, 13 July 2008
The New York Times
By Paul Bignell

Increasing numbers of people are choosing coffins that reflect their idea of a beautiful final resting place. From Rolls-Royce cars and ballet shoes to environmentally friendly wicker casks, people are spending more time planning for their time six feet under.

The latest company to join the market is Guernsey-based Creative Coffins, which has turned to biodegradable cardboard to provide a green alternative to wooden coffins. The firm, originally a design agency, also saw a market for printing on coffins.

"As far as we're concerned, it's just packaging," said Geed Kelly, co-founder of Creative Coffins.

The company began producing coffins in May, and its website has been inundated with requests. "We get hundreds of enquiries every week," said Mr Kelly. "We've had interest from Hollywood to Australia, and South Africa to Indonesia. We've had very positive feedback from funeral directors."

Creative Coffins started after a simple request from a friend who was planning his funeral but couldn't find an environmentally friendly coffin. It is now producing caskets that range from £295 off-the-shelf to £1,250 bespoke. Designs vary from garden sheds with the words "gone to seed" to wine-bottle motifs.

Other companies have likewise seen an increase in sales of alternative funeral supplies. Mary Tomes, founder of Colourful Coffins, said: "Since we started about five years ago, it's really begun gaining in popularity.

"We've sold over 2,500 coffins since we started and we're trebling the number we sell each year. We've just done one with a painted aquarium on it with the gentleman's favourite fish."

Dr Bill Webster, a bereavement counsellor, said: "It's a symbolic act to have this personalised colourful coffin. They are saying their loved one was special."

Dr Webster, whose wife died in 1983, says people do not talk about death enough, or their plans for when it happens: "We avoid it as much as we can. When death happens, we wonder: 'What would they want?' I believe a good funeral is the beginning of a healthy grief process."

However, Adam Heath, spokesman for the National Association of Funeral Directors, warns that the business of selecting coffins needs to be taken seriously: "I'm slightly reserved about some of the more wacky ones – you don't want people regretting the choice of design years later."

At last...
a coffin you might actually want to be seen dead in,






In a Funeral Parlor in East Harlem,

Nine Coffins Point Toward Mecca


March 12, 2007
The New York Times


Francisco’s Funeraria in East Harlem is not a large operation; when someone calls about a body in the middle of the night, the phone rings at the home of Elefterios Filipoussis, the funeral director.

Since early Thursday, Mr. Filipoussis has barely slept. Four days of near incessant work was evident in the dark circles under his eyes. It also was evident in the meticulous display prepared yesterday in a bare-walled viewing room inside.

Nine unvarnished boxes were aligned at the far end of the room, the heads of each pointed east, toward Mecca. On the lids were the names of the dead scrawled in thick black ink, in English and in Arabic.

Some of the boxes lay on gurneys; others rested on dark pedestals, including the one that held the 7-month-old twins. The smallest, just under 3 feet long, for a 1-year-old boy, was propped on two foldout chairs.

The room held a faint scent of pine, the wood of which the boxes were made. The boxes bore nine children and one adult who perished in an unforgiving fire on Wednesday in the narrow house they shared in the Bronx, a household of immigrants from Mali and their American-born children.

“We had never cared for so many people from the same family at the same time,” Mr. Filipoussis said.

Funeral homes frequently cater to a specific population, whether based on the color of their skin, the country of their birth or the name of their God. But in a city of intertwined cultures, overlapping religions and blurred ethnicities, such divisions are not easy to maintain.

So it was that the Magassas and the Soumares were taken to a funeral home in a Hispanic neighborhood run by the son of Greek immigrants and owned by a man with an Irish name.

From a nondescript storefront on First Avenue, between a florist and a nail salon, the funeral home has made it its business to serve whoever needs it, Mr. Filipoussis said — the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans who make up the bulk of East Harlem’s Hispanic residents, the area’s dwindling Italian population, the Irish and blacks from adjoining neighborhoods. But Francisco’s also has a reputation as a preferred mortuary for sub-Saharan immigrants from New York City and beyond.

“We don’t differentiate,” a weary Mr. Filipoussis said yesterday from behind the front desk. “We never turn away a family.”

Just after noon on Thursday, he said, the bodies of the five Magassa children began to arrive: Bilaly, 1; Djama, 3; Abudubary, 5; Mahamadou, 8; and Bandiougou, 11. Then, on Friday, came the Soumares: the twins, Harouma and Sisi; Djibril, 3; and their mother, Fatoumata, 42.

At 10 a.m. Saturday, Mr. Filipoussis received the blaze’s latest fatality, Hassing Soumare, 6. She died on Friday night, about 48 hours after the first firefighters arrived at her home on Woodycrest Avenue in the Bronx.

Mr. Filipoussis said African Muslims had come from as far as Virginia to seek his services. And the family of Amadou Diallo, the Guinean immigrant who died in a barrage of police bullets in 1999, also sought the funeral home’s services.

The funeral parlor has always been a mirror of its neighborhood; in the 1950s it was called the Ralph Giordano Funeral Chapel and in the 1970s the D. Grimaldi Funeral Home. Mr. Filipoussis, 32, stocky and with a goatee, said he was not quite sure how the funeral home came to attract so many Muslim families from Africa; the owner, Timothy O’Brien, was away yesterday and unavailable to elaborate.

But among Muslims, Francisco’s Funeraria has become known for its attention to the painstaking rituals of Islamic burial.

Behind a thick door in Chapel A, where the pine boxes holding the Magassas and the Soumares sat yesterday, is a tiled room with pale Formica cabinets along the side walls. In the center is a steel bed where the bodies were laid one after the other and washed with oils, warm water and clean cloths, Mr. Filipoussis explained. The bed — shiny, cold to the touch — is slightly angled toward a sink that collects the runoff.

Once the bodies were cleaned, they were wrapped in cotton shrouds and placed in the boxes. “They’re ready to rest,” Mr. Filipoussis said.

The boxes will leave the funeral home today in eight hearses, bound for the Islamic Cultural Center on East 166th Street in the Bronx, where services are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., after the noon prayers. If the weather allows, the boxes will be carried outside and each will be assigned an imam, who will recite the burial prayers over the coffins.

At the Islamic center yesterday, Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Mali’s minister of foreign affairs, Moctar Ouane, joined the grieving fathers, Moussa Magassa and Mamadou Soumare, pledging to aid them however necessary. Inside the mosque, Muslim men wept when Mr. Soumare recited in Arabic a verse from the Koran. “Guide us to the straight way,” he said. “The way of those on whom you have bestowed your grace, not the way of those who earn your anger nor those who went astray.”

Women and children listened from a back room, where they had met with Governor Spitzer moments earlier. “It is one thing to read about it; it is another to see in the eyes of children the loss that they have suffered,” the governor said afterward. “It is very, very difficult.”

At a house across the street from the home that burned, Manthia Magassa, the mother of five of the fire victims, sat on the edge of a bed on the first floor, hugging visitors who came by to show their respects, while a group of women cooked fish with spiced rice. Upstairs, children chased one another in a game of tag.

Two of Mr. Magassa’s children and another wife remained hospitalized yesterday. The condition of one of the children, a 7-year-old girl, was upgraded from critical to stable, according to Hannah Nelson, a spokeswoman for Jacobi Medical Center. The other child and the wife, Aisse, who are at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center, were in fair condition and showing signs of improvement, said Jill Brooker, a spokeswoman at the hospital.

Donations for the families continued to come in, including a $21,000 check from the office of the Bronx borough president, Adolfo Carrión Jr., and 30 boxes of clothing from a synagogue. On Friday, the New York Yankees offered to pay for funeral expenses in the United States. A Long Island contractor said he would rebuild the home ravaged by the fire, which is owned by Mr. Magassa. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is providing the families with four buses to take mourners to Jersey State Memorial Park, a Muslim cemetery in Millstone Township, in Monmouth County, N.J., where the Magassas will be buried this afternoon.

The Soumares are to be buried in Mali, although it remained unclear whether Mr. Soumare would have trouble returning to the United States afterward. City officials said he was denied asylum in 1998 after immigration officials said he failed to file the proper paperwork and missed a court appearance.

Francisco’s Funeraria plans to take his wife’s and children’s coffins to the airport tomorrow; Air France will fly them free.

Mr. Filipoussis joined Francisco’s Funeraria when he was 24, drawn by the idea of helping families in mourning, much as his own family received help after his father died of skin cancer 16 years ago and was buried in the Greek island of Tinos, where he grew up.

“I remember how distraught we were and how the funeral home made it easier for us by being there for us, by not having us have to think about what we had to do to bring my father home,” Mr. Filipoussis said. “That’s what I hope to do for these two families who have lost so much.”

Just then, a white woman with green eyes and short gray hair walked in. He shook her hand, offered his condolences and led her into his office.


Sewell Chan, Kate Hammer

and Trymaine Lee contributed reporting.

In a Funeral Parlor in East Harlem, Nine Coffins Point Toward Mecca,
    NYT, 12.3.2007,






For Central Park Carriage Horse,

Death Arrives Inelegantly


September 16, 2006
The New York Times


Juliet the carriage horse held forth for about two decades on the south end of Central Park taking tourists on slow romantic rides through the park. She was the cute white horse whose owner outfitted her head with the elegant white tassel that bobbed as she clip-clopped ahead of her carriage on loops from the Plaza Hotel to Tavern on the Green and other prominent spots.

But as elegant as Juliet was in life, she was undeniably inelegant in death on a rainy morning yesterday, lying flat on her back on the dungy concrete floor of a Hell’s Kitchen stable, her legs stiff in the air.

“I can’t believe this is my baby, Juliet,” said her owner, Antonio Provenzano, 47, of Brooklyn as he lifted a blue tarp off the horse. “For a million tourists, she was what they remember of Manhattan. Her picture is all over the world. And look at her now.”

She lay lifeless as the day shift of carriage drivers hitched up their horses and clopped out to work. Only Mr. Provenzano and a coterie of skinny cats seemed interested in her at the West Side Livery stable on West 38th Street near 11th Avenue. Never again would she come home to her third floor stall, with the window looking out on Midtown’s skyscrapers and high rises, and enjoy her hay and salt lick.

But Mr. Provenzano had more than his grief to deal with yesterday. Enforcement officers from the A.S.P.C.A. arrived at the stable and took Juliet’s body away for a necropsy and opened an investigation into her death based upon an incident Thursday night that attracted an angry crowd and the police.

Juliet collapsed in Central Park about 9:30 and Mr. Provenzano, who said he was acting on telephone orders from his veterinarian, began striking her repeatedly in the flank with his thin five-foot whip to get her to her feet again, prompting a crowd of onlookers to begin yelling at him.

“I’m trying to save my horse’s life and all of a sudden, everyone’s yelling, ‘Stop beating that horse; you’re going to kill it,’ ” he said. “Some big guy told me to stop or he would punch me. Then a cop showed up and said to stop or he’d arrest me. He was about to pull his gun out. All this while I have the vet on the phone telling me to keep hitting her to get her up.”

He said that Juliet probably had colic and he was told to get her to walk to rid herself of gas and waste.

“I’ve been around horses 30 years and I love my horse,” he said. “They think I want to hurt her?” When the veterinarian and officers from the mounted unit showed up at the park Thursday night, Mr. Provenzano was told he could resume the whipping.

Juliet climbed to her feet several times but promptly collapsed again. An employee from the Ritz Carlton nearby brought over a rug for the horse, and with great effort Juliet was placed on it, dragged into a police trailer and taken to the stable on 38th Street. After several hours of treatment by Mr. Provenzano and his veterinarian, Juliet died about 5 a.m. Her owner curled up in his carriage and tried to sleep.

Juliet was well-known among the carriage horses that are a staple of southern Central Park and are kept in stables in the area of westernmost Midtown that still has the feel of the old Hell’s Kitchen.

Part Percheron, part American draft, she was likely a former farm horse in her 20’s bought at auction in Pennsylvania and had begun pulling a carriage at least 17 years ago, Mr. Provenzano said. He said she quickly adapted to her urban environment, ignoring horns and sirens and avoiding potholes.

“She was called Juliet because everybody fell in love with her, like ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ ” Mr. Provenzano said. “Think about all the people this horse gave rides to.’’

Mr. Provenzano said Juliet had had several owners over the years before he bought her last year for $1,700. He used her to work nights, pulling his green cab, six nights a week ever since.

“That horse was a member of my family,” he said. “I told my mother she died and my mom started crying.”

“I have no money to get another horse,” he said. “I have a wife and two sons to support. Two things I can do: make pizza and drive a horse.”

For Central Park Carriage Horse, Death Arrives Inelegantly,
NYT, 16.9.2006,






Death in the family


The Cribbs have been undertakers for 125 years.

Mira Katbamna went to meet them


Saturday September 9, 2006


Mira Katbamna


It is the end of the line in every sense. Among the large buildings with beautiful walled gardens across the road from Beckton station in London is Thomas Cribb and Sons, which was founded in 1881. Inside the high-ceilinged reception, only the boxes of tissues left discreetly on the tables and a black-and-white photograph of a horse-drawn hearse gives away the nature of the family business.

Becoming a funeral director is not an obvious upbeat career choice, but employees at this funeral parlour seem cheerful, not least the assured and polite great-great-great granddaughter of its founder. "To me it's completely normal, I've grown up with it," says Sarah Harris, 26, smartly dressed in a black skirt, white shirt and chic black ribbon belt. "It's a 24-hour service, so when my father and mother used to come home from the office they'd divert the phones and me or my sisters would have to pick it up."

The siblings would have to take the information down, finding out what the bereaved family wanted. "That's how it started," she adds. Yet, Harris never imagined she would have a career in her family's funeral parlour. "But when I worked here after A-levels I realised I really enjoyed it," she says. "And there's not too many jobs you can do where you are making a difference to people when they really need you."

Harris organises the funerals, sorting out everything from collecting the body from the hospital to booking the priest. It takes a special kind of person to do her job. "Confident is not quite the word, but you do almost have to be a figurehead - people need that, they need someone that they can literally lean on," she says. "They also deal with grief so very differently, and you just have to adapt the minute they walk in the door. And when so many people are at war with their family, there's always going to be friction."

The work can be emotionally taxing, especially when a child has died. "You feel so helpless," says Harris. "You'd do anything for the parents, but it can never be enough. But it's your job not to get upset - you simply have to be there for the family."

Harris's outlet is being a member of the Territorial Army. "I joined the TA because it's the only hobby where you don't have time to worry about all the things you have to do," she says.

Just as we are speaking, a middle-aged man and woman walk into reception, and Harris goes to meet them. They are obviously upset, but she takes it in her stride, settling them down on the sofa, offering them a cup of tea and then coming back with a book to start making the arrangements.

With Harris busy, it is left to her 78-year-old grandfather to give me a tour of the family business. Behind the reception area, Stan Cribb leads me past the freezer where they keep the bodies, through the coffin display room and into the coffin workshop, where one of the carpenters is working on a tiny coffin for a premature baby.

Cribb has seen the East End and the funeral business change dramatically since he first started working with the firm's horses just before the second world war. Then every family went to the same funeral director, with whom they had become well acquainted.

Today, the Cribbs are experts on the burial rites of numerous religions, organise repatriations and are to open a branch in Ghana. And his son (Harris's dad), John Cribb has an MA from Reading University in death and society.

"Someone once said to me that at least I would never be out of business," Stan Cribb says, "but with that attitude you'd be out of business in no time. Whoever it is, you treat their funeral like your first. It's all about dignity. It's the last thing you can do for them."

Fashions change and can come full circle, even in death. Demand has led to the revival of horse-drawn hearses. Thomas Cribb and Sons has responded and now has a stable of 14 horses that go all over the country.

A walk into the mortuary reminds me why working at an undertaker's may not appeal to all. The embalmer has a body laid out on her table. Being very squeamish, I was dreading seeing a dead body - but this is totally removed from the gore and high drama of CSI.

The embalmer is working on the body of an elderly black man, and Stan Cribb looks at me nervously to see if I am OK. But it does not feel like being in the presence of death. If anything, it feels like he is not there at all and I begin to realise that the really hard part of this job is dealing with the people who are left behind.

In fact, despite his calmness around dead bodies, Cribb says that he has never done the embalming himself. "Obviously I've seen it done, many times. I can tell you if it's a good embalming or not, and what needs to be done, but I've never wanted to do it and I've never wanted the family to do it. There's a place for everybody and everything."

By now we have toured the garage containing a magnificent fleet of vintage vehicles, and walked through the gardens. The horses, Stan Cribb's pride and joy, are stabled in Essex.

Back at reception, his granddaughter is in the office, sorting out the schedule for the cars so that they arrive on time - not too early and never too late. I ask her whether dealing with death every day has made her more aware of her own mortality.

"I was thinking about this the other day, and I suppose it has," says Harris. "I'm not worried about myself - but knowing what it's like when you lose someone you love scares the life out of me."

As for Stan Cribb, he is certainly not going to get a pre-paid plan. "I'm not going to pay for it, they can pay for it," he says. "I think I'll have the horses. My first wife was buried, but I prefer cremation. And I shall go from the old office in Rathbone Street."

Death in the family,






It’s My Funeral

and I’ll Serve Ice Cream

if I Want To


July 20, 2006

The New York Times



ROBERT TISCH, who ran the Loews Corporation, had a marching band at his memorial service and a packed house at Avery Fisher Hall, all orchestrated by one of New York’s most prominent party planners. Estée Lauder’s had waiters passing out chocolate-covered marshmallows on silver trays. At Nan Kempner’s memorial, at Christie’s auction house, guests received a CD of Mozart’s Requiem. Ms. Kempner had wanted a live performance of the Requiem, but the logistics — full orchestra, chorus and soloists — were too much.

At a time when Americans hire coaches to guide their careers and retirements, tutors for their children, personal shoppers for their wardrobes, trainers for their abs, whisperers for their pets and — oh, yes — wedding planners for their nuptials, it makes sense that some funerals are also starting to benefit from the personal touch. As members of the baby boom generation plan final services for their parents or themselves, they bring new consumer expectations and fewer attachments to churches, traditions or organ music — forcing funeral directors to be more like party planners, and inviting some party planners to test the farewell waters.

The planning for most funerals still falls to the nation’s 22,000 funeral homes, which bury more than 2 million Americans each year, at a price tag of $13 billion. But some families are beginning to think outside the box-provider, said Mark Duffey of Houston, who last year began what he calls the first nationwide funeral concierge service. For $995 or a monthly subscription fee, his company, Everest Funeral Package, has helped several hundred families plan their final rites, providing concierge services that range from writing obituaries to negotiating prices with undertakers.

“Baby boomers are all about being in control,” said Mr. Duffey, who started his company after running a chain of funeral homes. “This generation wants to control everything, from the food to the words to the order of the service. And this is one area where consumers feel out of control.”

What they want, he said, are services that reflect their lives and tastes. One family asked for a memorial service on the 18th green of their father’s favorite golf course, “because that’s where dad was instead of church on Sunday mornings, so why are we going to church,” Mr. Duffey said. “Line up his buddies, and hit balls.” Another wanted his friends to ride Harleys down his favorite road, scattering his ashes.

The biggest change, Mr. Duffey said, is that as more families choose cremation — close to 70 percent in some parts of the West — services have become less somber because there is not a dead body present. “The body’s a downer, especially for boomers,” Mr. Duffey said. “If the body doesn’t have to be there, it frees us up to do what we want. They may want to have it in a country club or bar or their favorite restaurant. That’s where consumers want to go.”

Mr. Duffey has a suggested time limit for speeches: five minutes. “We urge them, ‘Don’t ad-lib. Get up and read it. It’s O.K., people expect it.’ ”

Requests for unusual services, while still in the minority, have stretched the creativity of funeral directors, said Ron Hast, the publisher of the trade journals Mortuary Management and Funeral Monitor. As funerals move away from traditional settings like churches or funeral homes, he said: “we’re heading in the direction of event planners. Forward-thinking funeral directors are bringing in hospitality like food.” This can pose a challenge, especially for businesses that have done things the same way for generations, he added. “In New York and New Jersey, it’s illegal to serve even coffee or any food in a funeral home,” Mr. Hast said. “So they don’t have the comfort foods that people expect.”

Funeral homes do not always appreciate competition from entrepreneurs, whom they may consider interlopers, said Bob Biggins, the president of the National Funeral Directors Association.

“It’s not like planning a wedding or helping out with a reception,” Mr. Biggins said. “Funeral directors respond to families’ needs at any hour of the day in a short period of time.”

Mr. Biggins said funeral homes can do anything that party planners can do. At his own funeral home in Rockland, Mass., Mr. Biggins arranged a service for Harry Ewell, a man who had been an ice cream vendor. Mr. Ewell’s old ice cream truck led the funeral procession and dispensed Popsicles at the end. “If you call that over the top, then I guess I’m guilty,” Mr. Biggins said. “But our business reflects society as a whole. Today’s consumer wants things personal, specific to their lifestyle, whether it’s highlighting a person’s passion for golf or celebrating someone’s deep devotion to knitting or needlepoint.”

In the two years since he designed his first service, David E. Monn said he has discovered the biggest threat to a well-orchestrated event: the long speech. Mr. Monn’s business is organizing high-end events like museum galas or society benefits, but recently he has planned eight or nine funerals at the request of friends, including those of Henry A. Grunwald, the former editor of Time magazine, and A. M. Rosenthal, the former executive editor of The New York Times. Funerals, he said, require a firm hand.

“I have a pet peeve,” he said. “No more than three minutes. It doesn’t matter how much you loved someone, after you’ve heard someone drone on for five minutes you’re annoyed. It’s about poignant moments. Maudlin is not poignant.”

Mr. Monn said that another challenge with funerals is that attendance can be unpredictable, especially those open to the public. “You never know if it’s going to be 20 people or 2,000,” he said. “Last year I did a funeral for a very young man on July 4th. It was a guessing game, would anyone come? Lo and behold, close to 1,500 people showed up. The church was packed.”

The matter of seating arrangements can also be sticky, he said. “People feel their place in life means where they sit at someone’s funeral,” he said. “It’s staggering to me, actually.”

Lynn Isenberg, a writer and entrepreneur, had never heard of funeral planners or concierges when she attended funerals for her father and brother in 1998 and 1999. But the different experiences of the two funerals gave her an idea for a novel. She called it “The Funeral Planner,” and it was about a young woman who found a niche doing you know what.

Ms. Isenberg is now developing a television pilot based on the book for the Lifetime channel, she said, and is under contract to write two more novels using the funeral planner character.

The book, in turn, gave her another idea: to start her own business, Lights Out Enterprises, in Venice Beach, Calif., which helps people plan their own funerals, with emphasis on the tribute video, which she calls a “spiritual biography.”

“I’m not talking about doing away with the grieving process, but I do think, why not experience a funeral service where you get to really know a person?” she said.

Though most clients want simple services, she said, one asked her for “an all-out disco party on top of their favorite mountain, with 360-degree views,” in order to remind friends of a happy period in their lives together. “And they want everyone to come dressed up in disco outfits.” For a former auctioneer, she recommended printing select words from the eulogy on auction paddles, so people could hold them up during the service.

“I see the day where our mainstream celebrities would make appearances at funerals to enhance the service,” she said.

Joshua Slocum, the executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance (www.funerals.org), a nonprofit group, said that though people have more choices than ever, they often end up paying more than necessary for things they don’t want or could do themselves. “This isn’t rocket science,” he said. “It’s less expensive and more satisfying if you do it yourself rather than write a check to a third party.”

He added, “I’ve seen places advertise that they do Webcasts of the funeral. We get 10,000 calls a year from people, and no one’s ever said they wanted that.”

But for some, including Jack Susser, a real estate agent in Santa Monica, Calif., the sendoff can have benefits now. Mr. Susser, who is 57 and healthy, hired Ms. Isenberg to create a tribute video so that his future grandchildren and great-grandchildren could know his life in ways he’d never known his grandparents’. Ms. Isenberg developed a 20-minute video called “Jack the Mensch,” with an original script, professional actors, animation and a $75,000 budget. The lead characters are Mr. Susser and a talking fish.

“At first I felt the title made me out to be too good,” Mr. Susser said. But creating the video helped him appreciate his life, he said. And as a former actor, he saw a surprising upside to the death business.

“I’m going to use it not only for my passing, but at my 60th birthday party,” he said. “I may even send it to agents, because I think there’s good work on it. This is professionally done.”


Christopher Mason

contributed reporting for this article.

It’s My Funeral and I’ll Serve Ice Cream if I Want To,










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