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PAPERWORK: Hey, don’t be throwing this party without me

Ashes to ashes.

Dust to dust. 

And then … party hearty. 

That’s right, I said party. I guess that’s how it’s being done these days. 

Yes, I’m talking about funerals. Funerals that rock. 

I just finished reading Karen Heller’s recent piece for the Washington Post headlined: “The funeral as we know it is becoming a relic — just in time for a death boom.”

“Families want to put the ‘fun’ in funerals,” writes Heller.

She did her research and reported a variety of ways people are paying tribute. And it ain’t your grandpappy’s funeral anymore. 

“Somber, embalmed-body funerals, with their $9,000 industry average price tag, are, for many families, a relic,” she said. 

“Instead, end-of-life ceremonies are being personalized: golf-course cocktail send-offs, backyard potluck memorials, more Sinatra and Clapton, less ‘Ave Maria,’ more Hawaiian shirts, fewer dark suits.”

Definitely check out her article. But let me share some of her examples.

Los Angeles has a celebration-of-life planner, Alison Bossert, who runs Final Bow Productions. The memorial she planned for Howard West at Sony Picture Studies drew more than 300 with Jerry Seinfeld as the closer.

Hawaii Ash Scatterings hosts cruises for ash scattering that feature ukulele players, conch-shell blowers with white doves or monarch butterfly releases.

Some are asking for green funerals. Their body is put in a biodegradable coffin or shroud. In fact, Washington state is looking at legislation allowing human composting.

There are businesses that will put ashes into jewelry or tattoos. 

Funeral homes are hiring event planners and there are funeral consultants out there to help you devise a creative memorial.

For example, Heller points to Elizabeth Meyer and her website Funeral Guru Liz. 

“My mission is to remove the taboo of death,” Meyer says. 

Meyer, author of the book “Good Mourning,” has a degree in Thanatology (death, dying and bereavement) and is a licensed funeral director.

Heller also reported some telling numbers. 

She reported: “More than half of all American deaths lead to cremations, compared to 28 percent in 2002, due to expense (they can cost a third the price of a burial), the environment, and family members living far apart with less ability to visit cemetery plots, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

“By 2035, the cremation rate is projected to be a staggering 80 percent, the association says.”

And you can take those ashes to wherever and whatever “party” you plan.

Heller notes that some experts worry that these celebrations push grieving off the agenda.

“But even sadness is being treated differently,” she says, quoting Amy Cunningham, director of Inspired Funeral in Brooklyn. 

“We are getting a new radical honesty where people are openly talking about alcoholism, drug use and the tough times the person experienced,” Cunningham said.

I’m not sure I’m ready to plan my death party. 

Sadly, I’ve been to enough funerals to understand the importance of finding special ways to celebrate the life that has ended.

In fact, you cannot avoid the simple fact that funeral services are just as much about surviving friends and family as the person who has departed.

Families can try to provide last wishes, if there are any, but it’s their grief and memories and tributes that shape the service. 

In other words, it’s personal. Very personal. And, party or not, it’s part of the grieving process. 

At my mother's service we had a stack of puzzles. She loved putting together puzzles and had lots of them. 

We asked everyone there to take one or more if they wanted. Many did. 

A small gesture, but very personal. And fulfilling.

Heller’s article does make you think, though. About last wishes. How you want to be remembered.

I know I’m not the first to think it would be great to have the funeral party before our loved ones leave us. In other words, attend your own funeral.

And such “living funerals” are part of the new approach, Heller reports. 

I like that idea but tend to think it’s more appropriate for a birthday party. 

In fact, much of what Heller was writing about felt like it should be for the living.

Yeah. Think about that.

We make a big deal out of the first birthday. 

But later in life is when it’s a big deal. When you have a lifetime to celebrate and family and friends to hug and thank. 

Why not do it up big?

Everyone comes with a personal story … for you. Their reply to a simple question: Why am I so glad you were born?

That would be a great gift to go with cake.

And no doubt you would smile, laugh and maybe cry a little. 

In fact, all who are there will see your answer to that same question. 

In your smile and laughter and tears.

They will see why you are so glad you were born.

Something good to see clearly and feel and relish … before you die.

LONNY CAIN, of Ottawa, is the former managing editor of The Times, now retired. Please email thoughts, comments or ideas to or mail care of The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.

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