Dancing Skeletons, Skulls, and Funeral Services

I participated in a fundraiser over the weekend. (I’m not sure how much I actually participated, to tell the truth — I just signed up for a table to display my books.) The event was to raise money for hospice and bereavement classes, which are causes I believe in. I’m all for helping people get through their final days as easily as possible and especially to offer comfort and support to those left behind. It’s not just that grief slams into the bereft, making it almost impossible to breathe, but they have to deal with all the horrendous “death” chores such as planning a funeral and filling out the required official and financial paperwork involved in “removing” someone from the world.

A couple of the participants in the fundraiser were businesses offering funeral and mortuary services, which fit with the purpose of the event since they were trying to make it easier for those left behind by getting people to “preplan” their funeral arrangements. (I’m restraining myself to keep from ranting about the silly jargon of the death business, such as the redundant “preplan” and the totally ridiculous “cremains.” One rant per post is enough.)

The only trouble with having representatives of the funeral business at the fundraiser is that this was not a serious event. It was a fun Halloween event geared toward children as well as adults. One of the mortuary booths played down their services, mostly providing pamphlets and pens for adults while offering various treats to the children, but the other funeral services participant went all out, decorating their booth with dancing skeletons, skulls, and cartoonish graves.

Perhaps the hushed and grave intonations of old-time funeral directors no longer have a place in our anything-goes society, but still, death deserves respect — for the sake of those left behind if for no other reason. Skeletons and skulls are one thing when they are used far from reality such as in Halloween festivities, but to mix such cartoonish symbols of death with the real thing just struck me as going way beyond taste and tact to downright tacky and insensitive.

They of all people should have known that for some people death is not fun, not a business, but an all too real horror.

(These photos show some of the decorations I’ve been referring to.  The top photo came from the wide border of the tablecloth. The others were a couple of the tabletop decorations. Lest you think I am being too critical, I am the not the only one who found the decorations inappropriate.)


Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

6 Responses to “Dancing Skeletons, Skulls, and Funeral Services”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Candy and dancing skeletons? I’ve heard of statues of Hermes doing Aphrodite in funeral homes in order to give the bereaved a laugh during tough times, but this is ridiculous!

  2. shadowoperator Says:

    I agree. Taking either tack by itself would have been appropriate, but not the two together.

  3. Rose Chimera Says:

    While I do not disagree that it was maybe inappropriate for the funeral directors to have ghoulish decorations on the other hand it was halloween themed, right? So those decorations were not inappropriate all in all. That a funeral home decided to go that route…well no one likes death do they? We all know its coming–no one gets out alive–for those of us who have lost someone near and dear to our heart any “joke” about death hurts. It does I admit. However, another thought occured to me while reading your blog…what if we weren’t so afraid of death? What if we accepted it as the inevitable and made plans accordingly? The redundant preplan thing is goofy isn’t it? But the idea of planning your own funeral or making your own decisions in advance is not goofy. If we took the utter fear out of death would more people be better prepared, financially, emotionally, spiritually whenever the “end” comes for them? I know I and my husband sure weren’t prepared for him to die. I did manage to get his Will prepared and a DNR prepared but that’s it….the fallout from his death was horrendous in ways I’m still discovering. I cannot help but to think if we’d been better prepared the days, weeks and months following his death would have been easier to handle in many ways. We weren’t prepared because we just didn’t want to accept death. That it was going to happen and soon. So if fear of death prevented the preparedness then removing the fear might have been helpful.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      You make very good points. And after all, Halloween is All Hallow’s Eve — the day before Hallows Day (all saints day), which is a day to honor the dead. Perhaps, as you say, if death is more a part of our lives rather than being apart from our lives, the end wouldn’t be as devastating. I found out recently I have a burial plot, which I find a bit creepy, especially since I don’t want to be buried. On my sixteenth birthday, my parents took me to dinner in a fancy hotel restaurant, and there were signs for an exhibit in the lobby. I wanted to go, thinking it might be an art exhibit. I can still hear my father’s guffaw following me into the exhibit hall. (He’d asked someone what the exhibition was and refused to tell me.) I was totally appalled at the caskets, and vowed right then I would not spend eternity in such a box. Maybe because of this, I had no doubts about getting my life mate cremated. It was hard, but nowhere near as hard as it would have been to make funeral arrangements, buy a burial plot, pick out a casket, etc. I can’t imagine how anyone deals with such matters during the agonizing days of new grief.

      • Rose Chimera Says:

        I don’t care for the burial thing myself. When my husband was dying we had to discuss those things. He wanted to be buried. He thought. I said, why? So me and the kids feel obligated to come see you on your birthday, father’s day, christmas, etc? Isn’t that sort of maudilin? For us? Nevermind the expense. Though he coul have been placed in a veteran’s cemetary for free that still didn’t erase the future obligation to come “see” him in the ground. Its depressing. Ultimately he agreed to cremation. You can do some clever things with the remains once they are cremated. Kind of a ghoulish topic I guess, but should it be?

        16 might have been a bit young to introduce you to coffins. 16 year olds have so much angst anyway and some even become obsessed with death, their own mortality. I can see how that may have traumitized you enough to be adament against burials.

  4. claire chamberlain Says:

    Yes i agree with you Pat, it is insensitive and in poor taste, Claire x

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