A New Orleans funeral home is at the forefront of a macabre trend in which families have their deceased loved ones propped up and arranged in elaborate, diorama-like scenes, but not everyone is taking their unusual practices sitting (or lying) down.
According to the New York Times, the phone at the Charbonnet-Labat Funeral Home has been ringing off the hook ever since its June 12 viewing for Miriam Burbank, whose body was posed sitting at a kitchen table, smoking a menthol cigarette and reaching for a can of Busch beer.
It was the second service of its kind conducted by funeral director Louis Charbonnet, whose 132-year-old mortuary, known around town for "its ability to put the 'fun' in funeral," has also hosted mariachi bands and even parades. The first viewing, for a brass band leader in 2012, found the deceased standing with his hands curled over his walking cane, wearing a jauntily tilted derby.
But as with any trend, not everyone approves of what Charbonnet has said is only his attempt to honor his clients' wishes (he also said that he's received approval for his services from a local priest). His "haters," as he described them, have called out his viewings as potentially sacrilegious, an opinion shared by Charbonnet's wife.
Still, as he's quick to point out, Charbonnet is far from the first mortician to offer services of this kind. Similar viewings, known as "muerto parao" ("dead man standing"), have been popular in Puerto Rico since 2008: murder victims posed ridings motorcycles, elderly women sitting in rocking chairs, even a man dressed as Che Guevara, cigar and all.
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"It's been a real boom in Puerto Rico," Elsie Rodríguez, vice president of the Marín Funeral Home in San Juan, told the Times. "People have requested every type of funeral that could possibly come to mind. We have only done six so far, because the people who have requested the funerals have not died yet."
Rodríguez says that the idea came from Angel Luis Pantojas, whose viewing, which had him tethered and standing in his family's living room, was the first of its kind at Marín. Ever since attending his father's funeral at age six, Rodríguez said, Pantojas had told relatives that he wanted to be viewed on his feet.
"This is not a fun or funny event; the family is going through a lot of pain," Rodríguez continued. With these kinds of arrangements, "the family literally suffers less, because they see their loved one in a way that would have made them happy - they see them in a way in which they still look alive."
Attributing critics of her practices to "professional jealousy," Rodríguez still has her limits, refusing suggestions she finds distasteful - she will never pose someone in a swimsuit, for instance.
While "dead man standing" hasn't yet reached the same level of popularity in the United States, Charbonnet's funeral home in New Orleans isn't the only place taking notes. Earlier this year, a dead biker in Mechanicsburg, Ohio was buried atop his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, while another New Orleans funeral for a local socialite found her sitting on a bench, greeting guests of her own service.
"What my mother said to me some years ago was, 'I want to be at my own funeral having a glass of Champagne in one hand and a cigarette in the other,'" said the deceased woman's daughter. She got her wish.