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Though necrophilia does not run in my family, I have been reading the obituary pages with rapture and resignation since childhood. Now in my optimistically titled "middle" years, I have devised a neurotic system of reassuring myself that I have a few good days left before seeing my own name on that relentless roster. When most of those described on the sorry slate range upward from 70, life seems good for the Boomers. When people are eulogized between 40 and 60, however, a slight chill of apprehension activates every hair that I don't spend millions to wax away or electrocute.
Though generally healthier and more enduring than those in our lipid-laden lineage, baby boomers are destined to make waves by the sheer numbers of us who must inexorably die, even of natural causes at a ripe old age. The New York Times Magazine recently printed an article by an upscale funeral director entitled, "Socko Finish" (Thomas Lynch, The NY Times Magazine, 7/12/98). The eye-catching leader states, "As baby boomers age and go, they want final exits that say 'me'". It's interesting to imagine what our collective coup de grace will be on the society that has internalized so many of our hopes, protests, trends, actions, and ideas.
Those of us interested in traditional Western world interment might be offered multiple varieties of final resting place. We could exchange satin for denim, and rest eternally among pillows secured with copper tacks and orange seams. Since our desire for comfort and freedom helped denim take a fashion statement beyond the rodeo and riveter crowd, it seems only fitting that we should move on as we moved in. And, like many of us who wear it, denim is prized for getting better as it gets older.
Others might choose a boisterous lining made lovingly of soft tie-dyed cotton. Just as the Pharaohs encumbered their dead with riches for the world to come, we too can go farther and farther than "Far Out!" ever meant. The psychedelic swirls and colors of our aging T-shirts can become an eternal symbol of our time. Heroes of our era could also capitalize (posthumously, alas) on immortal design. The "Jerry Rubin" interee could wear a three piece suit with bellbottoms -- something for everyone. This garb might engender a non-traditional coffin contour -- narrow at the top and wide at the bottom. The "Carlos Castenada" might be a popular model, but it could be hard to keep in the ground. Even Abbie Hoffman could be a mentor for the mortal -- Steal This Coffin!
Many of us, less pyrophobic, might choose cremation and eternal rest in an urn. Once produced for this purpose alone, the funeral urn was a generic, modest container revealing little of destiny, decision and desire. Its form was its function. Tumultuous Aunt Tess, who ran away with the circus and lived her limber life on the high wires, would rest in a receptacle similar to that of Uncle Stanley, who retired from a conservative accounting firm just in time to die quietly. Designer urns have become the rage for the generation acclaimed for doing it louder, longer and better. Some, like the "Dick Clark" model, retain their structure ad infinitum and offer an added bonus -- you can dance to it. Some of us, like W.C. Fields, would really rather be in Philadelphia. Other models, for the ecology conscious, are recyclable and biodegradable. Though definitely a moribund métier, the profession of coffin and urn design now incorporates all the great statements of the sixties, including music, madness, and mayhem. From potted potters to serious ceramists, artists are crafting containers for Sister Sarah that carry not only a reminder of her mortality, but also of her vitality.
Members of our generation definitely wish to depart "not with a bang, but a whimper" (T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men, Line 98). We have experimented so long with the "other side" that it seems more comfortable to play with the inevitable than to panic. Though I'm not quite ready to offer them the opportunity, I want my mourners to shake their heads in joyful nostalgia as they remember the essence of Marcia. Life, "what a long strange dip it's been" (Thanks, Ben and Jerry), is what should be immortalized, not a box of bone ash or a copper-lined casket. Mixing pleasure with pain predates even Freud, who did as much damage to our generation as any variety of mind-altering chemicals. Let's make a celebration of an inexorable natural rite and sign off with characteristic vim and vigor. Just be careful when you dust the objets d'art on the mantelpiece. One of them might surprise you with a music box rendition of "We Shall Overcome".
Written by Marcia Brown Rubinstien
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