They Did a Good Job On Him. It’s Almost Like He’s Still Alive.

A stand-up guy….
Keepin’ it real: The late Angel Pantoja Medina, left, with family

I tend to avoid “Strange, But True” type news stories on MEDIA ASSASSIN, but let’s just say that this one made me stand up in my seat.

According to The Associated Press, Angel Pantoja Medina of Puerto Rico, had always told his brother, Carlos, that, when he died,

he wanted to be upright for his own wake: “He wanted to be happy, standing.”

So, when, sadly, the young man’s body was found last Friday under a San Juan bridge,

Good night, sweet prince….A funeral home used a special embalming treatment to keep the corpse of 24-year-old Angel Pantoja Medina standing upright for his three-day wake.

Dressed in a Yankees baseball cap and sunglasses, Pantoja was mourned by relatives while propped upright in his mother’s living room.

My sister sent me the newsclip. Incidentally, this is the kind of stuff I used to joke with her about when I was still living at home. That is, I’d say, “Imagine if, someone, when they died, didn’t want a casket, but instead wanted their body posed up front like this….”

Then I’d strike an innocuous seated or upright posture, holding a book, or walking, or waving, but inevitably putting some odd, slightly tortured look on my face, eyes wide open, to top it off. She’d either say, “Eeeeeeuw,” or just crack up, depending on how outrageous I looked.

I don’t know what’s weirder: That this is where I went for humor, or that this guy, above, actually went there.

But what’s even stranger, though, is that this form of faux-realism, apparently, represents a trend in American funereal practices.

For example, some of you may faintly recall the case of Pennsylvanian James Henry Smith, who died in 2005. According to the AP, he

was a zealous Pittsburgh Steelers fan in life, and even death could not keep him from his favorite spot: in a recliner, in front of a TV showing his beloved team in action.

Smith, 55, of Pittsburgh, died of prostate cancer Thursday. Because his death wasn’t unexpected, his family was able to plan for an unusual viewing Tuesday night.

Touchdown.The Samuel E. Coston Funeral Home erected a small stage in a viewing room, and arranged furniture on it much as it was in Smith’s home on game day Sundays.

Smith’s body was on the recliner, his feet crossed and a remote in his hand. He wore black and gold silk pajamas, slippers and a robe. A pack of cigarettes and a beer were at his side, while a high-definition TV played a continuous loop of Steelers highlights.

“I couldn’t stop crying after looking at the Steeler blanket in his lap,” said his sister, MaryAnn Nails, 58. “He loved football and nobody did (anything) until the game went off. It was just like he was at home.”

An interesting proposition, if you stop and think about it.

Next stop, the cemetery.Then, as well, though I never knew his name, I’ve not been able to forget the colorful send-off this gentleman got, right, motoring, as it were, down the road which leads to Life’s Last Cul-de-Sac.

The $20 billion business of funerals is rapidly changing. Fully a third of Americans, for example, are opting for cremation, a cheaper method of death that then cuts into both the services with which funeral homes can charge you, and, as follows, their profits.

But much the way that music downloading has record executives pulling out their hair to determine what they can uniquely offer the consumer that mp3 files cannot—e.g., the trend in packaging DVDs with new album releases—funeral directors are coming up with singular approaches to mourning that they hope will get survivors to open their wallets.

Consider this 2002 article from CNN’s web site:

Vallonia Smith got a down-home send-off after she died of heart disease at 59 in St. Louis, Missouri.

In the Wade Funeral Home room, dubbed “Big Mama’s Kitchen,” loved ones played cards barely an arm’s length from Smith’s body in an open casket. Guests sipped iced tea and Kool-Aid near a stove with a platter of real fried chicken and a couple of fake pies. A loaf of Wonder Bread sat atop the refrigerator, and dishes were in a drainer near the sink.

“For those two hours, everybody was saying, ‘Oooooh, this reminds me of Val,”‘ her daughter, Angela Harris, recalled of the wake. “No one said anything bad to me about it. Everyone said, ‘This is a nice idea, it’s different.’ It had fond memories, and there wasn’t a lot of crying.”

Wade Funeral Home’s nontraditional services, held in theater-quality sets like Big Mama’s Kitchen, represent a new type of send-off designed to help take some of the grim out of reaper.

“We’re convinced this is the wave of the future,” said Slivy Edmonds Cotton, chairman and chief executive of Arizona-based Perpetua Inc., owner of Wade and four funeral homes in Chicago, Indianapolis and New York.

Wade’s services include sports settings for fans who can rest in peace below a basketball goal or near a small fish-stocked pond where a sign notes “Fishing Season is Closed.” There is even a recliner, remote control and TV. [NOTE: Sound familiar?]

“What we found is the new consumer is really looking for a difference, and they didn’t like the way funeral directors were telling them how it should be done,” Cotton said.

The special services have been chosen by roughly half of Wade’s clients.

“It’s not like you’re at a funeral home; it’s like you’re at home. It makes it just a happy place to be,” manager Aaron Grimes said. He added: “No one has said, ‘That’s creepy.”‘

Really? Wow. Well, then, let me be the first to say it: That’s creepy.

In part, out of some suspicion that, post-mortem, my survivors might make me an unwilling participant in a similarly tacky production, and because, personally, I find even the traditional idea of a dead person lying face-up in a coffin, as people walk by, distasteful, lately I’ve been loudly proclaiming my funerary wishes to all who care:

“Gee…Harry sure looks good…they did an awfully good job….”1. Cremation, with the ashes turned over to my wife, should she survive me, for her to dispose of however she sees fit. She can, like 2Pac’s mom, sprinkle them in a garden. She can carry them around in a knapsack, like Courtney Love did Kurt Cobain’s. Or, as I’ve told her, “You can flush ‘em down the toilet.” (Though, personally, having them dumped into the fiery bowels of a Hawai’ian volcano ranks at the top of my cool list.)

2. No services or donations of any kind.

3. One solitary thought about how to make something I believed in, and with which you agreed, a reality.

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8 comments ↓

#1 Ms. Porter on 08.21.08 at 12:46 pm

I am struggling with this ( hand has covered the images just to respond! It’s just to much for me. Needless to say, I am uneasy . Perhaps I need to re-examine ceremony and customs (sans images.) around morning.

#2 C. Edwards on 08.21.08 at 1:58 pm

You might be interested in my video of Ghanaian Coffins.
These are fantastic ‘proverbial coffins’ built to celebrate the deceased’s occupation, social standing. Any object, e.g. Fruits, veg, animals, cars, planes, books. guns and my favourite, A shoe! These coffins are sculptures and Ghana Art at its best.
See video on youtube. odaat50

#3 Donna on 08.21.08 at 3:24 pm

How about having your ashes made into pencils?
http://www.nadinejarvis.com/projects/carbon_copies

Or a bird feeder?
http://www.nadinejarvis.com/projects/bird_feeder

#4 Marcus Reeves on 08.22.08 at 12:14 pm

Harry,

As always, you put it together and make a mofo really think about it. Good work. Oh, and I’ve made death pose jokes, too. Homeboy wowed me.

#5 chinou yamale on 08.22.08 at 8:34 pm

To quote the late and hilariously great Bernie Mac “Now aint that a Muthaf#*>@!”

#6 Sam on 09.27.08 at 9:15 pm

…After viewing a couple of *interesting* paint and prep jobs, I’ve kinda suspected morticians to be frustrated artistes… ;o)

Hmmm…

…Well I’ve always wanted to do the “splits” but am just not flexible…I mean, if they can make a brotha stand………………………………………………..!!!!

Hehehehehe

**S**

#7 Ell King on 04.19.11 at 5:00 pm

I may be the only one to say that I thin Angel Pantoja Medina of Puerto Rico had a great idea. I also like Wade Funeral Home room’s nontraditional services. Most are uncomfortable with the dead, which is why I think they disagree with the alternative or nontraditional funeral services. I say “To each his or her own”.

#8 Funeral Blog. The official blog for the funeral & cemetery professions. » Blog Archive Not Your Grandma’s Funeral: Personalized Funeral Ideas You Should Steal Today » Funeral Blog. The official blog for the funeral & cemetery profess on 06.18.14 at 10:08 am

[…] Vallonia Smith suddenly passed from heart disease, her family wanted to plan a funeral service that uniquely represented her love for cooking. That’s why they turned to Wade Funeral Home’s non-traditional approach […]

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