Everyone is fascinated by death - from the last gasp to what happens after in both a literal, earthly sense and a figurative, unearthly one.
Billy Connolly's latest documenatry for the BBC which he aptly named his 'Big Send Off’ (Connolly was diagnosed with prostate cancer and Parkinsons on the same day last year) – was a typically humorous yet intimate and moving insight into all things mortal.
The two part series examined various aspects of death – from coming to terms with it personally to how it's dealt with with by those left behind.
Connolly's most bizarre discovery, however, were the enterprises found flourishing in its midst.
Death, it seems, is lucrative business.
The UK funeral market
The funeral-related market is booming, which isn’t entirely surprising considering today's population figures.
Currently, the UK funeral industry is said to be worth an impressive £2bn ($3.2bn) according to IBISWorld research.
The UK’s annual growth from 2009-14 was 3.7%, with 20,105 employed and 1,470 businesses in the industry. This rise is not only due to an aging population but also beacause people are more willing to invest, both financially and creatively, in their loved-ones' funerals.
The unique, bizarre and morbidly insane…
As Connolly wandered around a Texas funeral convention, he marvelled at the unique marketing stratgies that many of the funeral businesses employed.
From ‘bereave mints’ to zombie-proof steel coffins, there was something for everybody… or every-dead-body.
He couldn’t help but chuckle: “There’s a lot of money to be made from death.”
Here, we look at some of the more bizarre businesses Billy found, and some we discovered ourselves...
Drive-thru funeral parlor
In Saginaw, Michigan, if you steer up to one of their drive-thrus expecting to grab a burger you may get a bit of a fright: instead of a sullen teenager asking whether you’d like fries with your order, you’ll see a corpse in the window.
Paradise Funeral Chapel installed a raised and tilted platform behind a window, showing a body in a casket. When a car drives up, the curtain covering the window opens to reveal the deceased.
The president of the company, Ivan Philips, said that the reason for the installation was so that those with mobility issues could pay their respects with more ease.
Window viewing via car is also accompanied by music, a guestbook to sign and a deposit-box to leave donations.
Surprisingly, this isn’t the only ‘funeral drive-thru’ in existence – there are three others in the US.
In two words: frozen bodies.
The Cyronics Institute in Michigan eshews the notion of death's finality and offers its clients the priceless (well, not quite) opportunity to come back one day.
Cyropreservation is an (alledgedly) reversable process where bodies are preserved in a complex mix of 'clathrate-forming gaseous substances under increased hydrostatic pressure and hypothermic temperatures'. If you can get your mind around that sentence, the rest is easy.
The hope is that in the future, science will have arrived at a point where it is able to repair or replace vital tissues and ultimately revive them.
Narcissistic talent judge Simon Cowell famously endorsed the practice: ‘Medical science is bound to work out a way of bringing us back to life in the next century or so, and I want to be available when they do. I would be doing the nation an invaluable service.’
It seems that a healthy self-obssession and bank balance is needed to invest in this business – cyropreservation doesn’t come cheap. At $1,250 for an initial joining fee and an eventual $28,000 for the process itself, clients are relying on a science that doesn't yet exist.
One thing is, however, certain: the Cyronics practioners will have eternally healthy profit margins!
The eco death suit
Ever felt like you don’t want to be seen out of your suit?
Well, you can be buried in your suit as well as consumed by it – or, more specifically, the fungi spores inhabiting it.
Also known as the Mushroom Death Suit, this idea was the result of MIT researcher Jae Rhim Lee after becoming more interested in current day funeral processes. The idea of the suit is that it is environmentally friendly, and includes mushroom spores in a crocheted netting which break down the body and dispel its toxins.
Lee revealed to New Scientist: ‘I am interested in cultural death denial, and why we are so distanced from our bodies, and especially how death denial leads to funeral practices that harm the environment.’
She talks more about the mushroom endeavour here.
Memorial space flight
If you can’t quite afford that $250,000 Virgin Galactic trip into spacewhile you’re alive, you might able to arrange it for when you’re dead.
From $995, Celestis company offers a post-cremation flight into space. Started in 1997, the Florida-based business places the remains into an individual capsule, which is integrated into the spacecraft and launched into space.
Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was, fittingly, a previous ‘passenger’ on the spacecraft.
Art in Ashes
Memorials.com offers almost anything you could possibly think of needing for a funeral: urns, gravestones, statues, caskets and more. The site also appears to have a penchant for creating art yet not with paint, but ashes of the deceased.
Up to a deathly cool $1387.95 (£863.24), you can gain your very own custom-made ‘Cremation Art Painting.’ Be it the Pure Fabulous Life piece or Meeting God, you could find the right one for you. Or your relative.
The Living Dead
No, this isn’t the start of a zombie apocalypse. Not yet, anyway.
Many funeral companies have, at the request of bereaving relatives, traded in the classic open casket. Rather than lying down in a coffin, corpses have been dressed up and displayed in action poses.
Miriam Burbank, 53 from New Orleans, was such a case. Her daughters wanted to show her as the ‘full of life’ person they perceived her to be – so had her sat her at a table, cigarette in one hand and glass of whisky by the other for her own wake.
In Puerto Rico, a boxing ring featured at a wake with a stoic man standing in one of its corners with his head bowed. With his boxing gloves on, hood up and sun glasses on his face, it was difficult to believe that he was actually dead.
Christopher Rivera Amora, a professional boxer, was murdered in a shooting four days previously, and his family wanted to remember him via his sport.
Unusual funeral flowers
When a florist calls one of their flower categories ‘Unusual Funeral,’ you can’t help but feel slightly bemused.
Plantwise Florist in Essex have ‘made over 500 unusual funeral flower designs,’ ranging from the London Underground sign to a Pizza Hut box.
If you’re up for the more macabre and literal, they even have a skull made in flowers for a ‘spooky dramatic effect.’
A tradition thousands of years old has been unwrapped and revived by Summum, a Utah-based business in the US.
The business offers customers the chance to experience ‘Modern Mummification,’ which includes ‘a synthesis of medical technology, modern chemistry, and esoteric art.’
Unfortunately for the bodies concerned, this unique method comes in at an eye watering $67,000 (£41,670).
If this article has peaked your interest in the funeral services industry, have a look at the BusinessesForSale.com website. Also be sure to take a glance at the National Association of Funeral Directors website for further information.