Planning Your Own “Unique” Funeral — a Scary Undertaking?

Renato Bialetti’s family placed his ashes in a replica coffee pot urn.

Q. I recently read about a funeral for 50-year-old Renato Garcia, where his body was on display at his own wake, wearing a Green Lantern costume. When asked why, his sister explained that she and her brother never discussed funeral wishes, but neighbors and friends suggested dressing him as the comic book superhero. Weeks earlier Garcia had found the costume in a bag of donated clothing and started wearing the guise daily. Hopefully, this is what he had wanted, but we will never know.

Now that I am getting older, I am beginning to think about my own funeral, and how I’d like to be celebrated and where I’d like to be buried. Personally, I see funerals as a way to celebrate life, and I would hate for my friends and family to wear all black, attend a religious service, and mourn over me. I would like my funeral to be a party, with my favorite music playing, and my favorite food being served. I may even want to be dressed up in my favorite red dress and have my body at the party, now that I see that that could be an option. Then, I’d want to be buried in a way that depicts how I live my life (adventurous, environmentally-conscious, fun, and free-spirited). What are some ways others have been celebrated and buried in a unique way? How do I make my wishes known to my family? I would not want them to decide for me, as was the case for Renato Garcia, the man in the Green Lantern costume. Thanks in advance for your help!

A. Funerals are meant to be some of life’s most meaningful rituals and these days are almost always framed as a celebration of the life of the deceased. They reflect the ways in which we say goodbye to those we love. Traditional funeral services work well for many people, but some want this final life event to reflect their unique individuality. Below are some examples of unique funerals and burial options:

Funerals

Doing what you love most: Some people want their bodies to be present at their funeral, in poses doing what they loved most when they were alive. These are some actual examples:

Playing poker: The dead body of Henry Rosario Martinez, a 31-year-old avid poker player from Puerto Rico, was embalmed and seated alongside his family and friends for one last game. His family organized his wake to be centered around the card game following his sudden death earlier this year.

Still doing his job: Perez Cardona, 73, a cancer patient and a veteran taxi driver honored his profession by being veiled as if he were driving his taxi.

In her favorite chair: Georgina Chervony Lloren wanted to have her funeral in her favorite rocking chair. So after she died of natural causes at age 80, her family made her last wish a reality.

Getting married: A Thai man, Chadil Deffy, married his dead fiancee after she was killed in a car accident. A ceremony was conducted at her funeral, and she was buried in a wedding gown. The couple had planned to marry, but had put off their wedding due to their busy schedules.

Riding a motorcycle: The body of biker Bill Standley was propped up on his beloved Harley Davidson motorcycle, and was displayed in a glass casket built by his two sons.

Boxing: Boxer Christopher Rivera showcased his passion in life and death. After he died, he was propped up in a fake boxing ring in a community recreation center.

Treasure Hunt: An interesting way to pay tribute to someone’s life is to structure the funeral like a treasure hunt. Clues and maps can be given to loved ones taking them on a tour of meaningful locations for the deceased, including homes, favorite shops, restaurants or even wilderness spots. Mementos and memorials left in these locations may inspire participants to remember and share their own memories about the person.

Home Funeral: Those who value simplicity may opt for a home funeral, often combined with green funeral practices. At a home funeral, friends and loved ones can honor the deceased’s memory in the comfortable, familiar surroundings of his or her own home.

Social Media Funeral: Technology continues to connect us in new ways. From live-streaming the actual service to sharing memories in online memorials, we can now share important events with those who cannot be there in person. Digital services also make it easier to record memories to be shared and read at the convenience of family and friends.

Fireworks funeral: If the deceased is someone who would want to go out with a bang (literally), a number of companies will include a portion of cremated remains in custom-made fireworks, and then conduct a pyrotechnics display as part of a memorial service.

Holographic Eulogy: Holographic eulogies allow the dearly departed to attend their own funerals and speak about the people and things that mattered most to them in life. Some funeral homes offer this as part of their pre-need services and the recording can be made years in advance, when the person is in good health, the way they would most like to be remembered.

Burial Options

Here are some additional alternative options you may want to consider for your remains:

Burial Pods: Founded in Italy, the Capsula Mundi project involves organic burial pods that turn loved ones into trees. They are organic, biodegradable burial pods that literally turn a person’s remains into nutrients for a beautiful tree growing directly up above.

Biodegradable Urns: Poetree is a funeral urn that allows you to plant a tree with a loved one’s ashes, while also providing a simple but elegant monument. Relatives can place the deceased’s ashes in the urn and take it home, along with a boxwood tree sapling in a biodegradable pot. When ready, the cork stopper is removed, soil can be poured inside the urn, and the small tree may be planted in the ashes.

Whimsical Urns: Italian businessman Renato Bialetti chose to have his cremated remains interred in an urn fashioned to look like a Moka pot. The famous coffee pot was manufactured by his family’s company and he played an important role in popularizing it throughout the world.

Under a little house: At the intersection of Russian Orthodox religious tradition and Native Alaskan funeral rites, are the Burial Spirit Houses standing outside of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Eklutna, Alaska. According to tradition, when someone dies their body is buried and a blanket is placed over the grave. After the blanket has been there for a while, a little wooden house, about the size of large dollhouse, is placed over the grave, and is painted in the family colors. Unlike more traditional burial sites, the little houses are not kept up or restored, and are simply allowed to disintegrate back into the ground. In fact, this decay is part of the tradition.

On the side of a cliff: The people of the Sagada region of the Philippines aren’t afraid to show off their dead. In fact, they are known for their tradition of hanging exposed coffins from a cliffside. In a practice that dates back thousands of years, the Sagada carve their own coffins before they die (or a family member does it for them), and then they are hoisted up to literally hang around with their ancestors. Many of the hanging coffins are hundreds of years old, and they all have a unique look and feel since they were made by the person inside of them. It almost looks like a cross-section of a traditional in-ground cemetery.

In a modern art “cemetery”: Created as a proof of concept in 1972 by architect Aldo Rossi, the modern art “cemetery” takes the form of a big bright orange cube with a grid of square windows that would have been where the dead were buried. Unfortunately, Rossi himself died in 1976, and he was never able to see his super-efficient body box put to use. It won a number of design awards, but no body has yet to be buried there. Maybe you could be the first.

Make Your Burial Desires Known While You Still Can

What if you want your body or your ashes to be planted with seeds to grow a new tree, or if you want to be placed in a whimsical urn? How would your loved ones know if you haven’t indicated your wishes in your Advance Medical Directive?

Our proprietary 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive(TM) enables you to set forth your preferences with regard to organ donation, funeral arrangements, and disposition of remains. The document also accomplishes several essential things. In your 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive(TM), you can appoint an agent and give that person the power to consent to medical and health care decisions on your behalf. This person can decide whether to withhold or withdraw a specific medical treatment or course of treatment when you are incapable of making or communicating an informed decision yourself. Our 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive(TM) also contains a proprietary Long-Term Care Directive(TM) that allows you to address numerous issues that arise if and when long-term care is needed and you’re unable to communicate your wishes.  You can also indicate your wishes concerning the use of artificial or extraordinary measures to prolong your life in the event of a terminal illness or injury.

If you have not done Incapacity Planning (including our 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive(TM) and Financial Power of Attorney), Estate Planning, or Long-Term Care Planning, or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please contact us to schedule your appointment for our no-cost initial consultation:

Fairfax Estate Planning: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Estate Planning: 540-479-1435
Rockville Estate Planning: 301-519-8041
DC Estate Planning: 202-587-2797

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