NO ONE EVER suggested that dying was a lark.
But it's certainly foregone. And for those who face it with a
trace of whimsy, life's exit can have its moments. You can, pardon
the banality, take it with you. In a manner of speaking.
What follows does not qualify as a trend because it's been
around in one form or another since before the burial practices of
ancient Egyptians. They were sent to their final resting place with
enough stuff to fill a full-size Mayflower van.
It's been around since the cave persons, no doubt.
Funeral directors call it "personalizing" a death. "The more
you personalize it, the more it's helpful and healing for those
left behind," said Lisa Baue Devaney, president of Baue Funeral
Homes in St. Charles County. "The more they personalize, the
better. And we tell them not to worry about what people might
Lisa Devaney is talking about the objects - other than the body
itself - that friends and loved ones put in open caskets before
burial. Everything from the ashes of a beloved cat to a telephone.
From women's underwear to a six-pack of beer.
When her own father, David, died, the family placed a favorite
pipe in the casket and hung a portrait of John Wayne on the viewing
room wall; Devaney's father was a big John Wayne fan.
"It makes people more relaxed," she said. "It's not as gloomy
as it used to be."
Even madcap wakes, such as the raucous affairs of some Irish
Catholics, have beneficial side effects. "Laughter is a form of
grief; it releases endorphins," said Devaney. "Laughter is a way of
Frank C. Borghi, distinctive among St. Louis undertakers
because he was a World Cup soccer player, had a bad funeral moment
because of a ball. Only later did he laugh about it.
(In 1950, Borghi was the goalie who received much of the credit
in a shocking, 1-0 U.S. upset over England. It was a first-round
game in Brazil, the best a U.S. team has ever done in the World
Cup. The victory so upset the Brits that an English player said
afterward, "Bloody ridiculous. Can't we play them again tomorrow?")
But it was another kind of ball that upset Borghi on this
occasion. Make that more than one ball.
Watching as the casket was being carried down the steps, Borghi
was startled by a strange, clattering sound.
"Oh, my God," he thought, "the casket is falling apart."
An undertaker's worst nightmare - a disintegrating coffin
right there on the steps of Calcaterra Funeral Home, 5140 Daggett
Avenue. The steps at Calcaterra slope at an angle that would put
one in mind of the Italian Alps.
But then Borghi realized the casket wasn't breaking up. It was
only the noisy cascade of rolling golf balls, placed there by
golfing buddies of the deceased. Only problem was, Borghi didn't
know they'd done it.
"It happens all the time - golf balls and clubs, fishing poles,
cigars, a can of beer, lures, stuffed animals, hats, it's
unending," said Frank Heckler, of the Alexander & Sons Funeral
Home. "The only thing we try to discourage is fine jewelry; it's
silly to be buried with big stones."
Del Sherman, president of Lupton Chapel in University City, has
seen the usual things go in a casket: six packs of beer, bottles of
Scotch and gin, carton of cigarettes, photographs and hats,
heart-rending notes from grandchildren. …