Time was when all funerals featured caskets and a hearse as the crowning style statements that set the tone for the—oh-so somber—event.
But in this dawning era of “life celebrations,” green burials, and personalized memorials, we are starting to see that death need not be so absolute in setting the tone, and that our great send-off is our final chance to express who we are.
Now, this is not merely vanity at work. Pre-planning some details of our burial or cremation and its surrounding events lifts a sizable burden off of our loved ones—you are essentially providing a guiding hand when they will need it most.
Creating what the New York Times calls “surprising plans for your ideal forever” isn’t new—both Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek and Timothy Leary, philosopher of an entirely different kind of “out there” had some of their cremains shot into space in 1992 and 1997. But if scifi isn’t your schtick, there are a plethora of other choices.
The increased popularity of cremation—in 2015, cremations officially surpassed burials—has ushered in a new era of how to be memorialized when you’re gone (more on that later), but left a bit of a gap as to ritual and ceremony, both important parts of honoring those we love. A woodworker in Tennessee, Scott deWaal, noted this issue, and created a stunning, handcrafted mini-palanquin (a ceremonial litter carried on the shoulders from the Far East) to hold the urn of ashes for a funeral procession. “Some people expressed that they miss having pallbearers at the funeral as a way to honor close friends or family of the deceased,” said deWaal in the Knoxville News, “and this will help with that.” It’s also a very special keepsake and home to a cremation urn, to say the least. (DeWaal also carves wooden cremation urns from the finest exotic woods.)
But if you’re not one to hang around, you can instead choose to have your cremains scattered by friends and family at a place with deep sentimental meaning. But if figuring out the rules and regulations regarding scattering cremains is more than you want to burden your family with, consider having your ashes made part of a coral reef or a memorial painting, or have them compressed into a diamond, to create a true “forever” keepsake. Or maybe your final sendoff is a fireworks display, so you can really make a spectacle of yourself. “A happier way to say goodbye,” is Heavens Above Fireworks’ motto, and it’s easy to see why: ooohing and aaahing is certainly more joyful than tears.
If you want a proper burial, however, there are plenty of options there as well, and only your imagination is the limit… One man was buried astride his beloved motorcycle, requiring a massive handmade casket with clear sides, presumably so he could enjoy his final ride, as he made his way to the cemetery.
There will always be one-of-a-kind funeral and burial choices, but one that is becoming more common is a green, or natural, burial. This new “trend” is a return to how bodies were handled and interred before the 20th century—no chemicals, no concrete caskets. The simpler (and, often, significantly less expensive) process—bodies are buried in plain biodegradable caskets, or simply wrapped in shrouds—is easier on the environment, and gives those who choose it a sense of honoring or returning to the earth. Particularly if you buy a plot on conserved land—your purchase both sustains the land and secures your place to degrade in peace.
But green funerals don’t have to be boho-chic, all willow caskets and burlap. Leave it to the Italians to come up with a boldly artistic statement: a biodegradable egg-shaped “pod” (as they call it), which poetically captures the cycle of life, by interring the deceased in a seed-like structure. The pods are shaped so that the body goes into the earth in fetal position, just as it was before birth.
And green funerals don’t have to mean earth, either: you can also legally be buried at sea.
For those who find this talk of how to style one’s exit to be premature, let us remind you that there is no better time than the present to start thinking #longbeforetheend. Meet Suzanne, a 33-year-old Brit who has always known she wanted her funeral to be filled with candles, champagne, and laughter—and she feared that her family wouldn’t get it right when the time came. So she went so far as to secure her plans with a party planner, er, funeral director, who knew how to get it right. The London-based funeral director Louise WInter explains her perspective thusly: “We can create a funeral that is a genuine reflection of the person who has died.”
Now, isn’t that the point of it all? We each live extraordinary, extraordinarily individual lives. And now, at last, it doesn’t seem to much to ask the same of our final send-off. There’s no need any long to have an all-black celebration—unless, of course, that’s your style. In which case, you should probably hire the funeral planning firm Going Out In Style, four women who hail from the highest echelons of taste-making—magazines and event styling and more—and who certainly would know how to send off a fashionista with flair.