C'mon Baby, Light my Bier; Casket-Makers Offer up Options That Reflect the Lives of Those Laid to Rest
NEW ORLEANS ? It’s not every day you see funeral directors lined up to take photos at a trade-show booth and snapping up T-shirts depicting a flame-throwing casket under the slogan “Let ‘er R.I.P.!”
But that’s the situation at the Hot Rod Caskets display on the expo floor at the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) convention in New Orleans this week. The convention is the largest of its kind in the world and expected to draw nearly 6,000 people from 44 countries this year, with Canadians making up the largest delegation from outside the United States.
LaDonna Parks and her husband Corey are co-owners of Hot Rod Caskets, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Neither has a background in the funeral industry ? he’s a firefighter, she works in a bank ? but when one of Corey’s friends was killed in a motorcycle accident a few years ago, they saw an unfilled need.
“When his widow went to pick out a casket, there was nothing that said anything about his life. It was very traditional, very baby blue satin, so there was really not anything that said anything about who he was when he was living,” says Parks. “She said, ‘He would have hated this casket.’ “
Three years ago, the Parks’ launched Hot Rod Caskets with the Classic ? a testosterone-heavy model featuring a gleaming silver tread-plate exterior, twisted steel handles attached with iron crosses and a black leather interior.
Now, they also offer the Hunter, which has a camouflage interior and tree-branch handles; the Smoke Eater, which is fire-engine red and has handles resembling a fireman’s axe; and No Limits, decked out in poker chips and playing cards, with a green felt interior. The company also has caskets tailored to members of the army, air force and marines.
“Families want to say something about the person when they were living. They want to tell a story about who they were,” says Parks. “Instead of it just being about the death, they want to celebrate them when they were alive.”
A young guitarist was recently buried, instrument at his side, in their Blue Streak casket, which is electric blue on the outside and platinum on the inside.
“Most of our funeral homes do keep them in stock, because they tell us that even if this is not what the family is needing today, it breaks the ice,” Parks says. “People are drawn toward it, so even if it’s not something that particular family wants, they know someone it would fit.”
With prices ranging from $1,695 U.S. for the Hunter to $2,195 U.S. for the Classic, their final resting options are just slightly more expensive than traditional models, she says.
“Funeral directors nowadays don’t want to have any two funerals that are the same,” says Daniel Biggins, co-owner of Magoun-Biggins Funeral Home in Rockland, Massachusetts and spokesman for NFDA. “And neither do families.”
He’s seen everything from Harley Davidson motorcycles parked next to the casket of a devoted rider, to families giving out their grandmother’s famous chocolate-chip cookies at her funeral.
At the NFDA convention, new personalized options are on display alongside the traditional offerings.
The Hilltop Plus exhibition booth features a cotton candy-pink metal casket, while Aurora has a “concept” casket with a Picasso-style black-and-white painted interior up for auction.
Another booth displays biodegradable urns in bright pink, teal, neon yellow or peach, while an aquarium filled with water demonstrates one of the vessels crumpling and dissolving hour by hour. Also on offer is final resting options for sports fans, with football, soccer, baseball and golf ball-shaped urns.
The trend toward personalization has been building in the funeral industry for some time, but there are now amazingly specific and unique options available, Biggins says.
He believes the ability to create customized celebrations of a life well-lived is helping North America grow beyond a “death-denying” culture.
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