Here at GetReligion, we've been talking about putting the "fun" in funeral since at least 2011.
So of course we were interested in a front-page story in Tuesday's Orlando Sentinel on how unique services are livening loved ones' tributes to the dead:
Let's start this funeral party at the top:
Before he died, a longtime Central Floridian asked to be remembered simply: with a cocktail party and a jazz band. That's exactly what he got.
To honor the dead, many now opt to have vibrant and distinct memorial services, whether it involves a film festival's stage or bringing a plow into a funeral home.
Jim Semesco, president of the Florida Cemetery Cremation and Funeral Association and area general manager of a Leesburg funeral home, said he has seen the change in services.
"Baby boomers, millennials, Gen Xers are not as traditional as their parents and grandparents," Semesco said. "I think for quite some time they weren't getting a lot out of funerals."
In his Leesburg funeral home, Semesco has seen many examples. To honor a farmer, loved ones surrounded themselves with fresh vegetables in the chapel, alongside a plow. To pay homage to a painter, 50 pieces of her artwork were displayed. To acknowledge a "Star Trek" fan, memorabilia was brought in for a themed service.
"You use it as a time to really get to know the person," Semesco said.
But why are many opting to go this direction when it comes time to remember a loved one? Is there — just possibly — a religion angle in this trend? Or, given the rise of the nones, an "absence of religion" angle?
The Florida newspaper hints at the answer:
People who don't regularly attend church, Semesco said, might not take much meaning from a memorial in that setting. When the service is anchored around a celebration of life, however, Semesco said the loss is tempered with smiles as loved ones leave the chapel.
However, that's as far as the Sentinel takes the discussion, not bothering to provide any context on the nation's changing religious landscape.
Later, the paper expands on the memorial referenced up high:
Mark Barker Jr., former production and news manager for WKMG-Channel 6 and ad-agency owner who died May 3 at age 88, had frequented the steakhouse — he took his small filet medium rare, ranch dressing with his salad, a baked potato and a glass of scotch.
About 4:30 p.m. June 1, the lights dimmed over an intimate crowd, not long after the restaurant closed its doors. A jazz band played as martinis and glasses of wine were poured and sipped. Guests helped themselves to a buffet of ahi tuna, kielbasas and fried mushrooms.
"There is a lot of history in this room," said an attendee in a corner booth. A plaid-cloth-covered table was covered by reams of unpublished work that Barker, always writing, had typed at a typewriter or computer.
A collection of Barker's jazz CDs — Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme — was on display at another. Fliers, brochures and other examples of his ad work were scattered on a table nearby, the smell of old paper as guests sifted through it.
One of Barker's sons eventually took the microphone to begin an informal tribute to his father. Friends and colleagues followed suit. Tears punctuated the laughter and applause only once.
"It feels more of a celebration of the life he's lived than a grieving of the one we've lost," said Barker's son, Mark Barker III. Though the family planned to frame Barker's North Carolina burial in a conventional ceremony, the night at Linda's was a reflection of Barker.
There's some great detail there.
But here's what else I want to know: Did Barker believe in God? Was he a religious person at all? Did he believe in heaven and/or hell? What is meant by "conventional ceremony?" Does that mean the ceremony will be religious in nature?
Answers to such questions, it seems to me, would add valuable insight without distracting from the emphasis on "vibrant and distinct memorial services."