You are going to die one day. No one likes to think about it, but it is a universal truth. And while the actual dying part probably won't be any fun, that doesn't mean your funeral has to be boring. While you would think mourning your dead would be pretty self-explanatory (dig a hole and then cry over it for a bit) history has proven that there is no end to man's creativity when it comes to funerals. Ever since we first invented ritual burial over 100,000 years ago, people have been experimenting with new and sometimes outright crazy ways of disposing of our dead. These days most people stick to your average burial or cremation, but saying goodbye to a deceased loved one can be so much more exciting than that. Okay, so maybe the tradition of eating your relatives or hanging their coffins off a high mountain should stay firmly in the past. You still have plenty of options.
In Los Angeles, residents can make sure funerals are as convenient as possible by holding them at the city's drive through funeral parlor. In Taiwan, strippers can help liven up the otherwise sad event. Even if you want your funeral to be relatively low key, take a page out of the Australian residents who had their coffin lowered into the ground to the tune of "I'm Too Sexy" by Right Said Fred. Or try and make your send-off one for the history books, or at least the Guinness Book of World Record. Funeral-related records are hard fought, including the fastest hearse, the largest funeral procession, and the most expensive coffin (available in mahogany or gold plated.)
The options are there, so go all out. After all, it doesn't matter if something goes wrong; you won't be there to find out.
Kathy Benjamin is the author of the new book Funerals to Die For: The Craziest, Creepiest, and Most Bizarre Funeral Traditions and Practices Ever.
If you’re worried that not enough people are going to show up and be sad at your funeral, you can always take a page from history and pay people to attend. The tradition of hiring professional mourners is so old it is actually included in the Bible. No matter how horrible the deceased was in life, for a very reasonable fee their funeral could be full of seemingly very sad people. These actors would make their money by crying extra loudly, pulling their hair, and ripping their clothes. The tradition is still alive and well in China, where $500 will get you 45 minutes of sobbing.
While there are bizarre rules surround most royal families, the King of Tonga certainly takes the cake when it comes to being inconvenient in death. The King is considered so important that almost no person can touch him, even after he dies. (Assumedly there are exceptions made for the Queen of Tonga, or they would run out of kings pretty quickly.) The royal undertakers who prepare the body for burial are required to honor the late king by doing absolutely nothing with their hands for the next 100 days. For over three months after a royal funeral they have servants dress them, feed them, and attend to their more personal needs.
In Taiwan, the more people who show up to your funeral the better. Your spirit is more likely to be happy in the afterlife if its funeral is a loud, happy affair. And since it is hard to convince people to have an impromptu dance party at something as dour as a burial, the Taiwanese have found another way to get people in a festive mood: strippers. Groups of strippers travel around the country in buses that look like parade floats, and are paid to show up at funerals and entertain the mourners. In some rural areas, a funeral might be the most exciting thing happening that week.
In Madagascar, being buried once isn’t enough. Every few years, family members will come together at the ancestral crypt and take out the bodies. Add booze to the mix and suddenly you have one heck of a party. People come from miles around to play music, get drunk, and dance with the cloth-wrapped bodies of their late relatives. While the older bodies (the ones that have fallen to bits) get to sit it out, the newer corpses are literally passed around from person to person to be danced with. After the party is over, the dead are reinterred until the next get-together.
If you are going to go with a simple burial service, consider spicing it up with a custom made coffin. Artisans in Ghana have become world famous for their “fantasy coffins,” built to represent something special about the deceased. Maybe you can never put down your iPhone; no problem, they make cellphone shaped coffins for people all the time. It all started when one carpenter’s grandma died before she could travel the world. He made her a coffin shaped like a plane so she could travel in the afterlife. People loved the idea, and now orders pour in from around the world.
If you’re getting on a bit and your mother won’t stop bugging you about when you are getting married, tell her you have all eternity. In some countries it is legal to marry a deceased person (although nowhere is it legal to consummate that marriage.) France first started allowing the practice during WWI, when many women lost their fiancés at the front. It came back in vogue during the 1950s, and to this day men and women (although it is usually women) can petition the President of France for permission to marry their late fiancé. Actual marriage ceremonies are then performed, with a picture standing in for the groom.
A sect of Buddhist monks in Japan used to prepare their bodies for death years before they died. And while illegal, there are rumors it still happens today. In order to achieve enlightenment, some brothers would attempt to mummify themselves. This involved eating nothing but nuts and roots for years, as well as drinking a poison tea that was normally used to glaze pottery. Over time their bodies would lose all fat. Then they would sit cross legged in a tiny room. After another few years passed, the less crazy monks would check to see if the mummification had worked. Those who succeeded were put on display and you can still see the success stories today.
Back when cameras were cutting edge technology, it was very expensive to get a picture taken. People might put it off for years, assuming they had plenty of time to sit the whole family down for an official portrait. That is, until somebody died. But the Victorians didn’t let a little something like death get in the way of getting a good photo. In fact, at a time when pictures required the subject to sit completely still for several minutes, being unable to move could be a benefit. So people started photographing their dead relatives, either alone or with the living. These portraits were then proudly displayed around the house for everyone to see.