Life at a Funeral

Standing, cremated, or in a box? How do you want to go out? The very unique way a New Orleans musician was ushered into the next world has left me rethinking the very concrete plans 12-year-old me made for my own funeral.

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Being a Southern California girl, I’ve probably been to Disneyland more times than I’ve been to church.

For the unDisneynitiated, there’s an attraction at the park called The Haunted Mansion,1 which is basically a Disney version of the old fashioned haunted house ride you’d see at a county fair.

At the end of this ride, the small car in which you are riding suddenly turns and faces you and your companions toward a wall. On this wall is a mirror which reflects the riders, plus a “hitchhiker” or two in the form of ghostly images that “sit” beside you and are, supposedly, going to follow you home.

That’s how I’ve always thought about death: as a hitch hiker, a tag along, a constant companion.

I’ve been interested in death and dying since I was young. In fact, for a time, I was convinced I would study mortuary science and go on to be a funeral professional. Of course, for a time I was convinced I’d be an astronaut, and not when I was in kneepants, either. And don’t even get me started on the period of my life when I was convinced I’d end up married to one of The Monkees.2

I somehow found the idea of death comforting. My home life was a little tumultuous, and something about the fact that, no matter what happens during our lifetime, we all die in the end gave me solace.

But like most of my unusual obsessions, no one wanted to discuss death with me. “Why do you want to talk about such unpleasant things?” grownups would ask, only adding to the mystery and allure of not living.

So, I poured over books and movies that included dramatic death scenes or mentions of funerals. In my pink Hello Kitty diary, I meticulously planned my own funeral, outlining my final wishes, including what I should wear and what music should play. At night, I would lie in bed, arms across my chest, practicing my best death pose.

I was adept at demise.

— ∮∮∮ —

‘Uncle’ Lionel Batiste, drummer for the Treme Brass Band, died a few weeks ago. The beloved New Orleans musician, who was 80, passed after a brief battle with cancer. Though he was an icon who appeared in numerous movies and tv commercials, including HBO’s Treme, it turns out that Mr. Batiste’s last performance is the one that made the biggest splash.

Instead of having a traditional funeral, Uncle Lionel Batiste was sent out in a way that can only be described as…unique. Rather than lying, serenely, in a casket, the late Mr. Batiste was propped up, wearing his finest suit, and leaning against a faux street lamp.

Mr. Batiste’s children, in consultation with the funeral professionals who were handling the arrangements, came up with the idea for his unique send-off.

“You have to think outside the box,” said Louis Charbonnet, owner of Charbonnet-Labat-Glapion funeral home and a professional with more than 50 years in the business. “And so he’s outside the box. We didn’t want him to be confined to his casket.”

Charbonnet is also playing it close to the vest when it comes to sharing trade secrets. “Five or six of my competitors have been through today, asking how we did it,” he said. “It was a challenge.”

Not everyone thought the send off appropriate, and some found it downright upsetting. Comments on the story ranged from enthusiastic to offended. But I say what a wonderfully unique tribute to someone who, himself, was wonderful and unique!

I still love to talk about death. Fortunately, the internet is a place that won’t shame me for being rabidly curious. I can openly discuss books like Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, a bitingly funny look at the science of death. And I’m currently obsessed with the “Ask A Mortician” video series where the lovely Caitlin Doughty, licensed mortician, answers viewers’ questions about what comes after our final breath.

Look, I don’t know that I want to have to stand up for my own funeral, because I’m a girl who loves a good nap, but a send off that leans a little untraditional would be nice–perhaps something involving a nice prom dress, a pair of running shoes, and my ukulele. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d better find that pink Hello Kitty diary.

— ∮∮∮ —

Footnotes

  1. Not to be confused with the Eddie Murphy debacle of the same name which my daughter claims I am the only person in the world to love. 
  2. That period is ongoing. 

 

Photo by: dsb nola

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The Checkout Girl

The Checkout Girl is Jennifer Lemons. She’s a storyteller, comedian, and musician. If you don’t see her sitting behind her laptop, check the streets of Richmond for a dark-haired girl with a big smile running very, very slowly.

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