Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Pose of the Dead

At the family’s request, a funeral home in New Orleans posed the body of Miriam Burbank for her service this month. Credit Percy McRay, via Reuters 

The body of boxer Christopher Rivera is propped up on a staged boxing ring during his wake in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Image credit: http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2014/06/23/funeral-homes-pose-deceased/

A New Orleans funeral home is at the forefront of a macabre trend in which families have their deceased loved ones propped up and arranged in elaborate, diorama-like scenes, but not everyone is taking their unusual practices sitting (or lying) down. 

According to the New York Times, the phone at the Charbonnet-Labat Funeral Home has been ringing off the hook ever since its June 12 viewing for Miriam Burbank – who died at 53 – whose body was posed sitting at a kitchen table, with a glass of Busch beer in one hand and in the other hand, a menthol cigarette between her fingers, just as she had spent a good number of her living days. 



Louis Charbonnet, the funeral director of the Charbonnet-Labat Funeral Home in New Orleans, USA, said he had arranged two such services. Credit Bryan Tarnowski for The New York Times 

It was the second service of its kind conducted by funeral director Louis Charbonnet, whose 132-year-old mortuary, known around town for "its ability to put the 'fun' in funeral," has also hosted mariachi bands and even parades. The first viewing, for a brass band leader in 2012, found the deceased standing with his hands curled over his walking cane, wearing a jauntily tilted derby. 

But as with any trend, not everyone approves of what Charbonnet has said is only his attempt to honor his clients' wishes. Those who opposed have called out his viewings as potentially sacrilegious. 

Still, as he's quick to point out, Charbonnet is far from the first mortician to offer services of this kind. 

The phenomenon first appeared in Puerto Rico in 2008, four years before the first such funeral in New Orleans, with a 24-year-old murder victim whose viewing took place in his family’s living room, the body tethered against a wall. Angel Luis Pantojas’s funeral – called “muerto parao,” dead man standing – became an instant sensation. 

Another murder victim, on a motorcycle, followed, along with the paramedic and the man dressed like Guevara. This year, a boxer’s body was arranged standing in a ring, and an elderly woman was propped up in her rocking chair. The same funeral director, of the Marín Funeral Home in San Juan, arranged all of these. 

Maybe, when I give up the ghost – I would like to pose standing at the doorway and greeting guests at my own service! That would be really cool!

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