Wednesday, January 25, 2012

‘Til death do us party-hearty!

It’s easy to think that the funeral business will always be with us.

After all, everyone dies. And those left behind, if nothing else, have to figure out what to do with the body. What with the Baby Boomers about to start their stroll through the lonely valley, you’d think that the demand forecast would be pretty darned good. Especially when you consider that the first of what promises to be many Me Generations won’t want to go out in a boring pine box while the organist plays the impersonal Ave Maria, I would assume that there’d be a lot of lucrative customization work out there.

Still, with folks ordering bargain-price casket from Walmart, funeral directors are on the lookout for new ways to make a buck. Last year, here in the Commonwealth, they were looking to serve food at funeral parlors. (See Wake Me When The Coffee’s Perking.)

And for a lot of funeral homes – 8.3% of the National Funeral Directors Association respondents in a 2010 survey – non-funeral events are now part of their suite of offerings, with funeral parlors sometimes capitalizing on the impact that the down economy has had on function halls that don’t serve an “anchor function,” such as funerals. So they’re now offering a venue for birthday parties. Graduations. Weddings.

Why not?

Memorial Park Funeral Home and Cemetery in Memphis is one of those that does weddings. You can’t find the info directly on the home page, competing side-by-side with cremation info. But it can be found under About, where you learn that:

Weddings play an integral part in the life of Memorial Park. Each year, couples take advantage of our picturesque grounds and exchange their vows here.

I like that “life of the Memorial Park.”

Ceremonies are permitted (free of charge) at the Crystal Shrine Grotto, Rose Garden, God's Garden, Cave of Machpelah, or Front Fountain. Memorial Park is glad to provide couples a beautiful setting to tie the knot and wishes them well!

I’m glad that the folks at Memorial wish the newlyweds well. Wonder how the bereaved feel about seeing folks posing for wedding party pictures at the Cave of Machpelah while they’re grieving at the Crystal Shrine Grotto. Ah, well. Life belongs to the living. Or so I’ve heard.

For me, I wouldn’t want to, say, attend a wedding at St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Leicester, Mass. It’s not all that picturesque. Plus it was built on top of an underground spring, and it’s pretty darned soggy.

But Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge? The grand-daddy of all cemeteries as park? It’s pretty darned beautiful there.

Mt. Auburn, of course, would just be the venue for the wedding ceremony. And they’re just a cemetery, not a funeral home. But some funeral parlors do offer the full package – reception and all.

Across the USA, funeral homes are building and marketing such centers as not just a place to mourn the dead but as sites for events celebrating the living, including weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, holiday parties and proms.

The lure? It is often less expensive; there is greater availability; and the settings — inside and outside — can be nothing short of wedding-picture perfect. (Source: USA Today.)

In a circle of life kind of way, this all makes perfect sense.

Your funeral may be the big kahuna, but it’s just one event in the entire passel of events that make up a life. And if you lived your life in the same place, it’d be easy to see how a lot of important events could end up taking place under the same roof, which would make a funeral even more of the stroll down memory lane than it’s going to be anyway.

There’s where we posed for prom pictures, the night we first did “it.”

I’m so glad that we had our wedding next to the family plot. It really made me feel like Grandma and Grandpa were with us.

Here’s where we had little Billy’s fifth birthday party, the one where the pony nipped that obnoxious Carlson kid in the butt.

I never liked your mother, and I’ll be dipped if I clean that bird crap off her headstone.

Ah, our 25th anniversary “do”, when you wrenched your back doing the limbo.

Yep, expanding the functions that a funeral parlor can host makes perfect sense. I guess all you need is separate entrances so that the puking prom kids don’t run into the mourners. And that the Chucky Cheese attractions that will draw in the kiddo  birthday parties are out of the sightlines of the wake attenders. Other than that, why not offer cradle, or at least marital bed, to grave services?

It does seem to give new meaning to ‘til death do us part,’ though, doesn’t it?

And speaking of which, in some jurisdictions it’s apparently possible to combine the wedding and the funeral.

In Thailand, as the Huffington Post reports, a man “married” his girl friend of 10 years, during her funeral. She was killed in an accident, and he felt guilty about having put off the wedding she so wanted.

Maybe the Dixie Cups will release Going to the Chapel:

Going to the chapel, and we’re gonna get married.
Going to the chapel, and we’re gonna get buried,
Going to the chapel to get married and buried,
Going to the chapel of love.

Oh, what a world we live in.

You really start to feel old when your much younger sister hands you a copy of her AARP Bulletin with an article of interest in it.  Yikes. A tip of the bridal veil – or a lift of the shroud -  to my sister Trish.

Meanwhile, by some macabre – given today’s topic -  coincidence, today is the 41st anniversary of my father’s death. Still miss you, Dad. Wish you were here…

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