Gravely Serious Business

Some businesses stage mock funerals to mark the passing of projects — and organizational transitions. Others base their entire business operations on what happens after death, even going so far as to improve on the traditional coffin.

Then there are those entrepreneurs who try to cash in on those who have passed on in ways that are as intriguing — and borderline disturbing — as they are innovative. Fast 50 entrant LifeGem will create a synthetic diamond out of the cremated remains of your dearly departed. And according to a news release I received this weekend, there is now a company that will send one, last, final email on your behalf once you've shuffled off this mortal coil.

What do you think? Good idea? Bad idea? How would it feel to receive an email from deceased friends and family?

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  • Lisa

    Next they'll be burying people with their Blackberries so that you can answer that last email.

    But seriously, on the subject of the the commodification of death I would refer people to Gunter Grass's novel "The Call of the Toad." It's hilarious but also disturbing. Here's the publisher's weekly review:

    Macabre humor and deft narrative control spice this doleful, satiric tale of love, mortality and politics in a changing Eastern Europe from the pen of the contemporary German master. When Alexander Reschke first meets Alexandra Piatkowska, she is on her way to a cemetery in Gdansk, Poland. The two discover they have much in common: she is a middle-aged Polish widow, he a German widower; she is an art restorer specializing in gilding, he a professor of art history specializing in tombstones; both were displaced from their birthplaces by the redrawing of borders after WW II; both champion the deceased's right to be returned home for burial. As their romance quickly blooms, so do their shared ambitions; over a bottle of wine they found the Polish-German-Lithuanian Cemetery Association (PGLCA). Soon they have an international board of directors and acres of burial land in Gdansk, and the corpses of dead Germans (born there when it was Danzig, Germany), along with the survivors' mighty Deutschemarks, are sent their way in daunting quantities. But the forces of capitalism overwhelm the pair's good intentions, and they find themselves building resorts and golf courses on the would-be burial ground. Grass ( The Tin Drum ; Two States--One Nation? ) tells their story in the voice of Alexander's former schoolmate, who has been commissioned to write a history of the PGLCA. This insightful, reluctant narrator cites photographs, recordings, videotapes, receipts and Alexander's diaries--interjecting the occasional editorial remark--to portray a strange love affair and odd benevolence gone awry.

  • Avi Solomon

    There is no better commentator on the value of a "good grief" than Thomas Lynch, poet and undertaker:
    "These funerary fashion blunders make most people more than a little wary. Too often, however, to avoid the fashions, the fundamental obligations are neglected--to bear witness to the life that was lived and the death that has occurred. Too often the body is dispatched by cell phone and gold card to the grave unaccompanied by clergy, family or the company of those who care. It is a function performed by functionaries--quick, clean, cheap, convenient and ultimately meaningless."
    -Thomas Lynch