For those who don't feel the open casket does the dearly departed justice, they should consider the process of extreme embalming, which poses the loved one on display as though they were still alive — it's not for the faint of heart.
For those who believe a funeral should be a celebration of one’s life — or a memorial to remember— instead of a time for mourning, then perhaps you should consider extreme embalming for when your time comes.
Extreme embalming is an alternative to traditional memorial services in which the body of the deceased is fitted and made over to look like they did normally before their death.
The Charbonnet Labat Glapion funeral home in New Orleans has “stood a deceased drummer from a grassroots band at a drum set,” and posed socialities in their own homes.
But these displays are not permanent. The bodies will have usually a day or two before they are given a more traditional burial. Extreme embalming, then, is meant to replace the open casket. To its supporters, it’s a way to see those recently lost as they were in life, instead of looking at them lying down, locked inside of a wooden box.
Take a closer look at the world of creative funerals with these uncanny extreme embalmings.
What Is Extreme Embalming?
Gambler Henry Rosario Martinez played poker at his own funeral. The 31-year-old Puerto Rican man’s dead body was propped up on a metal folding chair next to a poker table, a pair of aces slid into his lifeless hands, for one last game with his friends.
“He always used to say when I die I want you to bury me playing poker,” Bola, one of Martinez’s friends, says. “We wanted to do something to remember him as he was.”
As a man who spent his life playing poker, pulling slots, and throwing down money on rooster fights, this is how his loved ones wanted to remember him. Martinez’s body was even used in a rap video filmed by his friend Kinki.
“Everyone says, ‘You did a good job remembering him’,” Bola says. “I’m happy, his family’s happy.”
And Henry Rosario Martinez is just one of many people who have been put to rest with the procedure. For about $2,500, the recently deceased can have their bodies preserved, propped up, and placed on display at their own funerals where anyone can shake their hands.
The process is not anything you’d want to watch first-hand. Felix Cruz, an extreme embalming expert out of Puerto Rico, explains how it’s done:
“I injected different parts of the body with different formulas of embalming fluid. For the hand, I inject the arms with formaldehyde, and put the fingers apart and insert the cards and then I used a pipe to maintain the head and neck in position, inside the body.”
The Extreme Embalming Craze
Extreme embalming has picked up steam in Puerto Rico and New Orleans, particularly it seems. In Puerto Rico, ‘el muerto parao’ funerals, which translates to ‘dead man standing’, have been increasing in popularity since the 2014 death of boxer Christopher Rivera who was posed, fists up, in the ring.
Puerto Rico’s Department of Health and House of Representatives decried the practice, though. Even the country’s Funeral Home Owners Association dubbed the procedure “sacrilegious”.
But this did not stop families from choosing extreme embalming as their preferred method of a send-off both in Puerto Rico and the States.
An 18-year-old shooting victim in New Orleans named Renard Matthews was posed in his chair with an X-Box controller in hand and an opened bag of one of his favorite snacks, Doritos, at his side.
A cab driver, named Victor Perez Cardona, was propped up by Marin Funeral Home in Puerto Rico inside his old taxicab, as if on one final ride on his way to heaven.
Another man of Puerto Rico, named Renato Gracia, was put on display dressed up as his favorite superhero, the Green Lantern.
New Orleans socialite Miriam Brikbank was propped up at her dinner table with a can of Busch beer and menthol cigarettes.
“It’s like she’s not dead,” says Miriam’s sister Sherline. “It’s not like a funeral home. It’s like she’s just in the room with us.”
A New Twist On An Old Idea
In a sense, extreme embalming is nothing new. Vladimir Lenin, the Soviet leader whose body has been on display since 1924, could be considered one of the first to be extremely embalmed because of just how well his body has been preserved.
The practice could be older still if we consider the Torajans as extreme embalmers, who continue to clean and care for their dead even after they’ve been embalmed.
But this modern twist can be traced back more recently with the loss of New Orleans icon, “Uncle” Lionel Batiste. When it came time to put the Jazz-cat Batiste to rest, his family asked funeral director Louis Charbonnet: “Is it possible to have him standing up?”
Hundreds came out to see the jazz legend off and not a single one of them expected to find him standing there, holding himself up with his cane, ready to greet them as they came in. But to his family, this was the perfect send-off. Instead of crying, his daughter Malika says she spent the wake “just sitting in the chair laughing.”
Going Out In Style
It all might sound a little strange – but to those who choose the procedure, it’s just the best way to commemorate someone they loved.
One woman on New Orleans, Mickey Easterling, used to joke: “You know I’m going to be at my funeral with a glass of Champagne and a cigarette in my jeweled cigarette holder.” So her family honored her wishes when she died in 2014.
Mickey Easterling crashed her own funeral with a flashy pink boa around her shoulders and a glass of champagne in her hands.
“That’s Mickey,” one funeral-goer said. “Going out in style.”