6 Bizarre Ways Funerals Will Change in Your Lifetime
While it might seem like the task of burying human remains hasn't changed much in the past 100,000 years, the funeral process has actually evolved quite a bit since our ancestors first invented the concept of "put a body in a hole before the hyenas get here." For example, it wasn't until the Civil War that making a corpse look pretty via embalming became popular, and cremation wasn't even legal in the Western world until 1884.
By the time you attend your last funeral (we're going to go ahead and assume it will probably be your own), the ceremony won't look anything like what we do now. In other words, these aren't your grandma's funeral plans. Unless your grandma is from the future?
Some of Us Are Going to Need Fat Caskets
While many companies are concentrating on the fun, technological, and futuristic innovations for the mortuary industry, the real money might be in finding a way to deal with our rapidly expanding waistlines. More than one-third of Americans are classified as clinically obese, and the number is growing, with 50 percent of the population projected to be seriously overweight by 2030. So now we're turning to the same marketing techniques that got us here in the first place and ordering our funeral amenities "supersized."
Back when people didn't drive around parking lots for 10 minutes trying to find a spot 15 feet closer to the entrance, coffins came in 24-inch widths; now the standard is 27 inches. But 3 extra inches is not nearly large enough for some of our more rotund dearly departed. Some funeral homes also supply "oversize" caskets up to 52 inches wide, which might also be a cheaper way to go if you ever know some thin twins who meet their maker on the same day.
Of course, with a bigger casket comes a bigger burial plot. While some cemeteries are starting to sell wider plots, many require customers to buy two plots next to each other to accommodate the larger coffins, meaning the same indignity that larger people suffered on airplanes when forced to buy two seats might actually follow them to the grave. And why not? Land is land. It's not the cemetery's fault that a cadaver is two plots wide.
Even then, we're not done with the ways the world is going to shame the obese once they're dead. Heavier caskets require special loading equipment and hearses, which are already much longer and heavier than your average vehicle, meaning the fatty's beloveds have to rent a special hearse as well. With all the more complex and specialty aspects in mind, a supersized funeral can end up costing $3,000 more than one for an "average"-size person.
Money is notoriously slimming.
Cremations add a whole new world of problems. Fat burns at a much higher heat than the rest of the body, so the more fat involved, the longer the cremation process takes. It also requires higher temperatures, which, as one German crematorium discovered in 2012, can actually be pretty dangerous. The immolation of a 440-pound corpse caused the oven to burn so hot that the entire building caught on fire.
"Does anyone else smell BBQ?"
Our Dead Bodies Will Be Earth-Friendly
Ironically, traditional burials are not the most pro-Earth way of leaving the planet, especially if your body is full of embalming fluid and your coffin is made of lead-lined processed wood. That's why companies are starting to make green coffins that allow people to have traditional burials while barely making a scratch on the environment. Thousands of people in Europe and North America are now requesting green burials, including actress Lynn Redgrave and the founder of the Body Shop, Anita Roddick.
"I feel a lot better shopping here knowing the owner is organic worm food."
Since the big companies haven't caught on yet, it's often small local businesses keeping up with people's hippie-flavored death needs. For example, while trying to come up with something to make for his grandmother's birthday, carpenter Peter Lindquist decided on the gift every healthy 65-year-old woman would love: a coffin. And he was right. She proved she liked it 27 years later by using it when she died at age 92. Now Lindquist makes simple pine coffins for people who want to be buried in unprocessed local wood.
But using any wood requires cutting down trees. You know what is 100 percent environmentally sound? Pudding. You know what else? Wool. Not only do no sheep die, but the popularity of wool coffins may just be the thing that saves the failing wool industry in Britain. The caskets are made from the wool of up to three sheep and are completely biodegradable. Most companies don't even dye them, which makes the coffins even greener. They can also be made in any size, hold up to 900 pounds, and cost a fraction of what bespoke oversized wooden coffins cost.
"A couple more stitches and I can have that second piece of pie."
In addition, many companies are also looking to less labor-intensive materials for green burials. Cardboard coffins have become popular, but they do have the rather unfortunate problem of occasionally collapsing before the deceased is actually in the ground -- sometimes during the funeral itself. Other companies make coffins out of recycled newspapers, which not only allow for a sturdier build, but add to the green effect by recycling up to 120 old papers.
You can't buy class.
If you are looking for something even greener, but with slightly grosser results, look no further than the process of resomation. A body is placed in a simple silk bag and submerged in a liquid made from lye and water, and the body is effectively boiled, with the temperature reaching 320 degrees. When the process is finished about three hours later, the bones are still intact but are usually crushed into a powder and returned to the family. The rest of the body isn't necessarily something that relatives are going to want to hold on to: Everything else has been reduced to brown "goo." But hey, anything for the environment, right?
Digital Remains Will Let Us Live Forever
In the past, you only had to worry about your (probably) eternally damned soul and, to a lesser extent, what happens to your body when you die. But these days people are seriously concerned about something between the ethereal and the physical: their digital remains. Think about it. When you die, will the right people know all of your passwords and have access to your accounts? Should you put that information in your will? Who gets ownership of your music collection, e-books, and domain names? Not surprisingly, companies are springing up to help people deal with all of these things and more. True, we could all just figure this stuff out for ourselves, but this is capitalism at work, damn it!
"But I'm not dead y-"
"You have a week, tops. Don't be selfish; I've got bills."
Of course, it's not just about who gets what. There are also people you don't want seeing certain things. You might not mind if your brother finds your extensive porn collection, but what if your mother does? Well, these new companies will make sure (for $10 to $30 a year) that your digital information is stored and, when the time comes, they guarantee to distribute the information to the correct people.
"Back Door Sluts 3. He really, really shouldn't have."
What if you want to stay connected all the way to the grave? That is where the eTomb comes in. This is an actual physical tombstone, but with some sexy information-age bells and whistles. Still in development, this special tombstone would contain all the online information about the deceased: their photos, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and so on, and would allow people in the cemetery to access the information through Bluetooth devices. You know how annoying it is to go to dinner when everyone around the table is poking at their smartphones? Now imagine that at a funeral. Solar panels built into the tombstone would keep it charged. Of course, it wouldn't be a true online experience if there weren't trolls, so the eTomb would also have safeguards ensuring that only nice things were posted in this virtual guestbook. All that would be required is for a grieving family member to go through and delete all the horrible messages people leave about you.
"So many dick pics ... so many ..."
Don't Be Surprised if Your Funeral Is Streamed on the Internet
It used to be that if someone you were particularly close to died (or at least if you were named in the person's will) you dropped everything to attend the funeral. You had this one chance to grieve with everyone, and you were expected to be there. Seriously, swim oceans, crawl through hot lava ... the point is, be at the church on time or be forever known as the one in the family who didn't care enough to show their face at their great-uncle's funeral. At least the exhaustion and jet lag made it easier to cry.
"Those $5 birthday checks didn't even come close to covering the cost of this."
Enter technology. Like almost everything else these days, the Internet has made attending funerals so much easier. It had to happen eventually. After all, no one thinks it's weird to do a Skype call on someone's birthday; even weddings are being broadcast on the Internet in larger numbers. But there was something about funerals that made them more important to attend in person. But just like present-day Luddites who fear the rise of the e-book, one day people will look a bit odd for not mourning remotely.
"Wait! Now I can mourn in sweatpants the way God intended us to."
Big funeral events like Michael Jackson's memorial have led the way in making saying your last goodbyes online more acceptable. Now more and more funeral homes are offering the service, with many seeing the number of clients taking them up on the offer increasing tenfold in the past few years. In many cases, far more people watch the funeral online than attend in person. The on-demand option is even more popular, with those who couldn't watch live choosing to view the ceremony at a later time, because we are now at a place in our lives where we expect so much convenience that we won't even mourn our family members live if it interferes with an episode of Breaking Bad.
Your Body Might Become Someone's Energy
In 2008, one crematorium in a small town in Sweden failed an environmental test; their cooling towers were no longer up to code and would have to be replaced, an expensive and time-consuming process. Instead of just writing a check and getting on with it, the owners started talking about the intersection between cremation and environmentalism, and they came up with a crazy idea. The heat and smoke from the ovens was not only being wasted, but cost money and required energy to cool down before releasing it into the atmosphere.
Crematoriums are literally the hottest places in Sweden.
The problem is that burning a body is a strain on the environment. It uses a lot of gas during the actual immolation process, but the smoke is worse. Because we all hate flossing, most people have fillings, and when they burn, they release mercury into the atmosphere. This has to be filtered out before the smoke can be released or people living in the surrounding area will suffer from something called "death." The smoke also has to be cooled down drastically. It starts out at about 2,000 degrees, and most countries require water cooling to get it down to 150 degrees before it is acceptable for the atmosphere.
By redirecting the smoke and turning it into a power source, crematoriums can reduce the amount of energy they use while reducing the power usage of the people who receive the green energy. Everyone wins! The reaction has been surprisingly positive to what could be a very controversial idea. Sweden's test run worked so well that a few towns in Denmark also went the dead bodies-as-fuel route. So many large crematoriums participated that they actually sold the resulting energy to the national grid. Some towns in England have recently considered the scheme, with one already using power generated from crematorium heat to warm their local swimming pool, saving the local council more than $20,000 a year. In all of these towns, the locals have been polled about their feelings on the subject, and the overwhelming majority has reacted favorably.
You Might Want to Be Buried With Your Cellphone
The world is so connected now that you can't even switch off when dead. In a serious technological one-upping of the Ouija board, funeral homes around the world are reporting an increasing number of people being buried with their cellphones. And why not? You worked for hours to get three stars on all those Candy Crush levels, there is no way you are leaving them behind.
In ancient Egypt, the deceased were buried with things they might need in the next life, like some treasure and a few thousand slaves. These days, the only thing anyone really needs to get along in the afterlife is a full battery and someone on this side of the veil to pay your phone bills. That's not a joke; at least one woman is still paying her late husband's Verizon bill more than four years after his death. She even invited the public to get in on the act by having his cellphone number etched on the gravestone. So if he is getting his voicemails in the great beyond, he's probably wondering why loving messages from his family are interspersed with prank calls from giggling children.
"Is your refrigerator running? Yeah? Too bad you can't catch it since you are rotting in the ground right now."
Anecdotal evidence suggests that this trend is especially popular with those who die young. One man was reportedly buried with his Bluetooth headset firmly in his ear (presumably because he wanted to be just as much of a douchebag in death as he had been in life). Another popular theme is to leave the phone's volume on loud and then call it as the coffin is lowered into the ground, which has the double benefit of literally saying goodbye to someone as you are seeing them for the last time, as well as scaring the shit out of unsuspecting gravediggers.
If you are one of the millions of people who plan on being cremated after you die, don't worry -- you still don't have to give up your iPhone. Recently, many caring but slightly misguided family members started slipping smartphones into the pockets of their gadget-obsessed loved ones right before they were placed in the furnace, a trend that became immediately obvious when the bodies started exploding in the fire. Now many crematorium owners offer to put the cellphones in the urn with the ashes in order to avoid any more unfortunate mishaps.
It's like if Michael Bay had made Six Feet Under.
Read more about bizarre funerals in Kathy's book "Funerals to Die For," available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.