Video tributes to the departed, cruises for the bereaved and recreational vehicles that replace limousines are part of the latest news in funeral arrangements.
Marriage and parenthood were "discovered" by the baby boomers with revolutionary results, according to an article in the current issue of Esquire, and now they are affecting the American way of death.The computer also has invaded the funeral industry. Cemetery Master and The Perfect Arrangement, two software programs designed for funeral directors, are in use all over the country.
Computers also churn out personalized memorial programs, obituaries and sympathy letters, and even design casket "selection areas," which used to be called "showrooms."
Computer graphics systems now make headstone carving a snap.
More startling, there's a funeral home in Florida that organizes cruises to the Bahamas to help mourners bounce back. In Chicago, the Cedar Park Cemetery and Funeral Home offers a 10-kilometer "Heaven Can Wait" run on the cemetery grounds, an ice sculpture contest, an Easter egg hunt and discounts based on the number of points scored by the Chicago Bulls.
As the cost of hearses and limousines reaches the $60,000 mark, other means are being sought to transport mourners, flowers, casket and minister to the cemetery. The Airstream Funeral Coach is now used in about 50 funeral homes nationwide.
The metal casket trade these days keeps careful track of which car-paint colors Americans like best.
"We have early reviews with DuPont on what automobile preferences will be," said William Barrott, vice president of marketing for Aurora Casket Co. Pinstriping is a recent addition for Aurora.
At Balanced Line Casket, coffins follow Cadillac's colors, President Jim Peacock said.
"We have the same `fire-mist finish' with metal flake that illuminates when light hits it," he said.
Balanced Line makes one casket interior out of kid leather to recall the interior of a Mercedes or BMW. For casket interiors the trend is a return to green in shades of teal and hunter. Crepe and velvet are giving way to linen and satin, mimicking home furnishing trends.
Personalized interiors are becoming popular, particularly in rental caskets, used increasingly as cremation rates rise. A new interior is snapped in with Velcro after each use.
Inside the lid you may order embroidered U.S. flags, covered bridges, a tractor, double wedding bands or a large, colored trout.
Today's well-equipped funeral chapel needs a television and VCR so mourners can watch The Tribute Program, a six-minute replay of the deceased's life.
It features snapshots of the loved one that dissolve to color scenes of mountains, the seashore, forests or any of hundreds of stock video images.
The family selects the backgrounds and chooses a piece of music and a quotation that appears at the end of the program. Shots of Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon are popular, as are biblical quotations and tunes such as "My Way."
The mobility of American society has made travel-after-death profitable.
"Airlines are realizing this is a lucrative part of their business," said Robert J. Inman of Inman Nationwide Shipping, the nation's largest transporter of bodies.
Airlines charge a premium over regular rates for human remains, which are accompanied by an average of two-and-a-half round-trip passengers.
Some airlines offer funeral directors "frequent shipper miles," and Continental allows the points to be redeemed by funeral directors for free airline tickets.