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Obituaries, Caskets And Tombstones Highlight The Funny Business Of Death

Updated on April 24, 2016
President Andrew Jackson's grave.
President Andrew Jackson's grave. | Source

Death is not usually a subject many associate with laughter; it feels disrespectful to be joyful at the time of someone’s demise. However, there are some brave souls that want to go out with a humorous bang – enough of them that it has spawned trends that may be around for awhile.

One of the more recent trends is humorous obituaries. Legacy, the company that archives obits online, has created an page that features funny or interesting obituaries. Here are two:

Lovable Con Man?

Written by his daughter the obituary for George Ferguson is long – and less than flattering. It appears, at least from his daughter’s point of view, that George had taken advantage of several women in his life in the hope of financial security. And, in the end as his debt escalated, death was probably his best escape, his daughter mused. Here is how she started his obituary.

What to say about George? Certainly, no one could accuse him of having been a loving son, brother, or father. He'd gladly have stolen the shirt off your back and he was generous to a fault with other people's money. Was he a small-time con-man with grandiose schemes? Probably. But another view of him is that he was the most exciting member of his family and of the families he married into….

But ever the planner, George was scheming right up to the very end. His daughter further writes,

While George did not live well by some people's lights, it should be universally accepted that he did die well. In hospital, two days beforehand, he said he'd finished with the medical procedures he had been avidly seeking for the past few years; he said he was 'checking out'. He was completely calm and committed to the decision.

But not all funny obituaries have to zero in on a person's faults as is the case with this 85-year-old woman.

An Example For All

Mary A. "Pink" Mullaney, 85, made quite an impression on all living creatures she encountered – from possums to strangers in the grocery line. Survived by six children, 17 grandchildren and three siblings, her family members write:

We were blessed to learn many valuable lessons from Pink during her 85 years, among them:

  • Never throw away old pantyhose. Use the old ones to tie gutters, child-proof cabinets, tie toilet flappers, or hang Christmas ornaments.
  • Also: If a possum takes up residence in your shed, grab a barbecue brush to coax him out. If he doesn't leave, brush him for twenty minutes and let him stay.

The family further writes that

… Those who've taken her lessons to heart will continue to ensure that a cold drink will be left for the overheated garbage collector and mail carrier, every baby will be kissed, every nursing home resident will be visited, the hungry will have a sandwich, the guest will have a warm bed and soft nightlight, and the encroaching possum will know the soothing sensation of a barbecue brush upon its back.

Humorous obituaries are just one piece of the intriguing content Legacy has stockpiled. Visit their Notable Stories page for more enjoyable stories, including one about a man who gave his dying dog, one last ride.

Would you consider requesting a themed casket for your burial?

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Changing Trends In Funerals

With a push for more personalization in obituary and funeral services, actions deemed inappropriate a generation or two ago are now commonplace. When my aunt passed away 10 years ago in her mid-70s the music that played as we filed passed her casket was Walk of Life (by Dire Straits). The song was fitting with her non-conventional approach to living and served as a reminder of what she felt was important -- living life.

Themed-Services

One of my cousins attended a funeral of a young boy who died. The parents honored their child's memory with a baseball-themed service that captured the essence of the boy's short life. Besides baseball gloves and other sports items, the music included ‘Put me in Coach’ by John Fogerty.

Themed services are often simply a natural outpouring of affection that honors the life of the deceased. It's a trend that is not going anywhere soon and even the National Funeral Directors Association has embraced this new approach to funeral planning. On their site they note that,

As baby boomers age and find themselves having to plan funerals for loved ones and themselves, they are making funeral choices based on values that are different than previous generations. Baby boomers see funerals as a valuable part of the grieving process and are seeking ways to make them meaningful.

As the NFDA points out tactful ways exist to personalize a service.

One way to enhance a funeral is by bringing a piece of the person’s personality to life. ...As an example, an avid cowboy or cowgirl may want to ride of into the sunset one last time. Tasteful ways to honor their wish include:

  • Using a covered wagon rather than a hearse
  • Having their saddle and riding equipment displayed
  • Playing western music
  • Having their horse walk in the procession
  • Having a barbecue after the service

This approach to funerals has led to the creation of themed-caskets. For the music lover one company offers a KISS-themed casket, but, possibly the widest selection of unique coffins are those built by Crazy Coffins of the United Kingdom. From slippers to cars, they seem to have it all.

Lifelike Poses?

One of the most unusual trends, in my opinion, is the relatively new approach of embalming the deceased in a posed position. This technique has led to individuals being posed as boxers, bikers and even partiers.

One Ohio man was posed riding on a motorcycle and buried in a see-through casket in the upright position. Time will tell if the trend catches on with mainstream America.

Gravestones

Of course, another significant part of modern funerals are the highly artistic and personalized tombstones that now adorn many graveyards throughout the country. With the advent of laser etching graphics and photos are becoming an integral part of the highly-stylized stones which have becoming the norm in much of the country.

But, for many, it not so much about the stone as it is about what the stone says. Funny epitaphs have been around for a long, long time as is evidenced by this late 1800s gravestone in Arizona which reads,

Here lies George Johnson, hanged by mistake 1882. He was right, we was wrong, but we strung him up and now he's gone."

Or the one in Maryland which reads,

Here lies an atheist. All dressed up and no place to go.

Plenty of sites list funny epitaphs including the New York Post.

A New Source Of Income?

Overall, though, the business of death has taken quite a hit in recent years as more individuals seek simplified funerals or cremation services. It's a trend the Cremation Association of North America predicts will continue. The organization projects that deaths will rise 24 percent by 2025 but burials will decrease 20 percent.

Proactive funeral homes are already finding additional revenues.

According to news.com, funeral homes in the United States have turned to renting part of the funeral home for weddings. With a population that has fewer connections to a church finding a place to host a wedding can be problematic. But as the site reports,

That versatility might be appealing to couples who need a place to host their big day but aren’t affiliated with a religion, said Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion professor.

He said that theory comes with a caveat: The site should have some separation between the wedding and funeral businesses, because there’s a cultural taboo against mixing death too closely with weddings, which often are about birth and the starting of families.

One bride loved the idea and was married at a funeral home which had a cemetery on site. She did admit though that one issue concerned her -- the possibility of tombstones ending up in her wedding photos.

But if they did, I guess it could lead to a great obit and epitaph down the road.

© 2015 Charlie Claywell

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