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11 Unique commemorations of life

Thu 4th Mar 2021

Most funerals are extremely somber occasions that can have a profound effect on everyone involved. However families choose to remember their loved ones, funerals are a deeply personal experience. Nevertheless, the question still remains, if a funeral truly was the last party you ever attended, how would you like to celebrate or be celebrated? 

While some people decide on a particular tombstone or cremation, others like to go out with a bang. Let's take a look at some of the most unique and unusual wakes and funerals throughout history.

Expensive & extravagant

Alexander the Great's was larger than life, and his funeral was no exception.
Alexander the Great's was larger than life, and his funeral was no exception.

Looking back in history, some of the greatest icons had the most lavish memorials. After his passing in 323 BC, Alexander the Great was placed in a solid gold casket and then transported in a gold carriage pulled by 60 horses from Babylon to Macedonia.

Then there was the people's princess, Princess Diana. When Diana tragically passed away in 1997, the viewing of the funeral consisting of 2.5 billion people around the world was just the start. The funeral itself cost nearly $12 million, with millions of people paying their respects and mourning alongside the royal family. It was indeed a tragic loss to the world in its entirety.

For some regular people who are not famous or have millions of dollars to spend, do not allow these factors to stop them from having extravagant memorials. This was especially the case for a woman in China who wanted an opportunity to enjoy her own funeral. She proceeded to spend her life savings on an elaborate, staged 'rehearsal' funeral, where she celebrated with her friends and family. The 22-year-old lay in a coffin for one hour as friends filed past and paid tribute. She claimed that the experience was not morbid and on the contrary, it has given her a more positive outlook on life.  

Large crowd, larger funeral

On the more extreme spectrum, having a well-attended funeral is a subject of great concern in rural Taiwan, China. Large crowds are often seen as a mark of honour for the deceased. To attract a crowd, some families hire exotic dancers, host dances, and set out elaborate feasts to entice people to attend. For some, this act is a form of "worship of reproduction". It has been said that dancing with erotic elements can be used to convey the deceased's wishes of being blessed with many children. Another practical theory is that the hiring of exotic dancers could be seen as a sign of wealth.

Chinese rural households are more inclined to show off their disposable incomes by paying out several times their annual income for actors, singers, comedians and exotic dancers to comfort the bereaved and entertain the mourners. The act has become fairly common in Taiwan but in China as a whole, the government has been more restrictive which has made the practice such a rare occasion that it is unknown to many.

Funeral clowns

Some European funerals come with the unusual addition of clowns.
Some European funerals come with the unusual addition of clowns.

Speaking of enticing a crowd, no matter how high spirited families try to be during a funeral, it is inevitably a sad occasion. However, this is not always the case for some families in Europe. To brighten the mood and atmosphere, some families opt for reinforcements in the form of professional funeral clowns.

The jokesters offer a menu of tricks, from squirting flowers to balloon animals. To respectfully lighten the mood. If families wish to take it up a notch, it is said that one Dutch clown can even be hired to break wind during particularly solemn or tedious parts of the memorial.

Personalized Coffin

In some cultures, part of the grieving process is to share some last words with the deceased. It is an act whereby the coffin is painted with messages and quotes by the family at home. Some funeral homes within Australasia allow families to customise any white casket and have family members use a permanent marker pen to write a personal message directly to their deceased loved ones.

On the other side of the world, originating in the Accra area of Ghana, the Ghana fantasy coffin phenomenon was prompted by talented carpenters who are now in popular demand. Coffins are crafted into elaborate, intricate designs that reflect the life and passions of the deceased, be it a fish-shaped coffin for a fisherman or beer bottle-shaped coffins for fans of ale.

Space Funeral

Some space lovers have been laid to rest among the stars.
Some space lovers have been laid to rest among the stars.

As with live streaming funerals, certain technologies have allowed people to say final goodbyes to their loved ones in new ways. None are more out of this world than a space burial. In 1997, American company Celestis carried out its first memorial spaceflight mission and blasted the partial cremains of 24 individuals including those of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and psychologist and 1960s counterculture icon Timothy Leary into orbit. It has since rocketed off on a further 12 space burial missions. Elysium Space, established in 2013, offers the option of a shooting star, lunar or Milky Way memorial.

Honoured Viking

Let's take a further step back in history, in the middle ages of Vikings. Though Vikings have a reputation of savage behaviour throughout history, it's important to remember that they had a genuine, respectful attitude towards their dead.

Most Vikings were sent to the afterlife in one of two ways, cremation or burial.  As Vikings were nomadic and travelled frequently on boats, some had the privilege of being buried in one. A boat symbolised safe passage into the afterlife as it was the same vessel that aided their travels in life. The body would be draped in new clothes prepared specifically for the funeral, and a ceremony was held featuring songs, chants, food and alcohol. Tributes and gifts, known as "grave goods" and usually of equal value to the deceased's status, were buried or burned along with the recipient. These goods ran the gamut, from weapons to jewelry to slaves. Slaves were mostly sacrificed to spend eternity with their former masters.

Bikie funeral

Bikies put their rivalries aside for their unique funerals.
Bikies put their rivalries aside for their unique funerals.

To many, bikie funerals can be viewed as intimidating but believe it or not bikie funerals are extremely honourable. Most elements are very similar to a normal funeral, however bikie funerals are far from normal. Take the funeral of former Rebels bikie member, president and boss Nick Martin. During the funeral, hundreds of mourners, the majority of which wore patched Rebels colours, gathered at the funeral. A loss of a respectable bikie gang boss usually entails gathering of large groups of bikie club members and other clubs. There is a joint of unity for that particular period whereby all clubs have an extremely long motorcade to farewell the deceased.

A massive police presence usually shadows the bikies and as a precaution of an all-out gang war, a police marksman is usually present, seen hanging out of a helicopter. There are usually four riders at the front of the procession with the coffin carried in a coffin-carrying motorcycle. Many men would be dressed with patches on their jackets to indicate their allegiances to various bikie organisations.

In character

For families who choose to embalmed their loved ones, it's a way to feel a connection to the deceased one final time. This act was taken to a whole new level with actor Bela Lugosi. The actor who played Count Dracula in the original 1931 film and several other horror movies was embalmed and dressed in the iconic Dracula cape he used for appearances. However, what a lot of fans didn't know was that Lugosi was not particularly fond of his character due to his struggle and limitations of getting other roles. Ironically, his wife Lillian Arch thought it was befitting to remember him for what he was most loved and known for.

Sports fan funeral

When it comes to embalming, some families will endeavor to go all out to ensure their loved ones have a befitting burial, one that will forever be remembered. If you want a true definition of a super fan, James Henry Smith was it. A true devoted fan of the American football team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Smith's family felt it befitting to transform the funeral home with furniture from Smith's living room for the viewing. Staging his favorite spot in a recliner with Steelers blanket in his lap, remote control in hand and beer and cigarettes at his side, so he could comfortably watch a loop of Steelers football on TV. However, Smith's burial plans were more traditional, when he was laid to rest in a casket.

Final Fantasy funeral

Reality was indeed real when an online community of Final Fantasy XIV players came together to mourn and honour one of their own when they contracted coronavirus and unfortunately passed away from complications. The tight-knit community of gamers couldn't gather in person to mourn their fallen comrade, who went by the name Ferne Le'roy on the role-playing game's Zalera server. Many of the gamers had never met her in person, so they did the next best thing and honoured her where they knew her best, in their online world.

Hundreds of players logged on at the same time, equipped their digital avatars with black clothing and umbrellas, then marched in a funeral procession through the online fantasy world in a touching tribute to their friend. The funeral lasted for nearly an hour as players marched across the online world of the game to a large, picturesque tree for Ferne Le'roy's final send-off. The video has since been shared online from the community's Facebook page.

Wedding at a funeral

The most extravagant wake to date was when Thailand TV producer Chadil Deffy shockingly went ahead with wedding plans to his long-term girlfriend after her untimely death. Deffy wore a top hat and tuxedo and dressed her for the occasion in a wedding gown, as he slid the wedding ring onto bride Ann Kamsuk's finger at the ceremony in Surin, Thailand. Just like any other wedding, after the exchange of rings, the bride was embraced with a kiss. At the funeral-cum-wedding ceremony, wreaths were laid by friends and relatives, as well as by actors and singers.

The ceremony was filmed and has since gone viral. Deffy later told well-wishers 'In your eyes, our action might seem as a great love. But for us, it is the mistake which we could not go back in time to correct. Remember, life is short. Do what you desire, and take good care of the people you love, be they your parents, your siblings. You might never get that chance again.'

By Aminah Tejan

Sources:

  • https://www.burialplanning.com/blog/the-worlds-most-extravagant-funerals-infographic
  • https://www.lexikin.com/funerals/burial-alternatives/
  • https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china- 4313 ...
  • https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9082627/Softer-notorious-gangster-Nick-Martin-revealed-bikie-funeral-Perth.html
  • https://theculturetrip.com/asia/articles/10-unusual-funeral-traditions-from-around-the-world/
  • https://theculturetrip.com/asia/articles/10-unusual-funeral-traditions-from-around-the-world/
  • https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/58362/12-strange-funerals-and-funeral-traditions
  • https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2087909/Grief-stricken-bridegroom-Chadil-Deffy-marries-DEAD-girlfriend-grim-Thai-ceremony.html
  • https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/13-strangest-funerals-corpse-attended-7543768
  • https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2303284/Chinese-student-Zeng-Jia-hosts-FUNERAL.html
  • https://www.history.com/news/how-did-the-vikings-honor-their-dead
  • https://globalnews.ca/news/6832247/coronavirus-video-game-funeral/