Father Christmas attending a funeral, Drag Queens lightening the mood with a cabaret show, dress-codes ranging from colourful hats to wellies, from clown and Gladiator costumes to beach attire, pagan rituals instead of a traditional service or scattering the cremation ashes with fireworks – funerals are becoming more personal and celebratory.
The SunLife Cost of Dying report from 2021 shows that the number of people who want their funeral to reflect their character, lifestyle, and passions rises every year and funeral directors are becoming more used to unusual requests. With cremations becoming increasingly popular as well, people seem less concerned about having a “normal funeral” and enjoy, for example, the freedom a celebration of life offers them and their loved ones to say their final goodbyes in a unique way.
In this blog post, we have collected 12 weird, wonderful and truly unique funeral requests and unusual last wishes from different centuries and corners of this world. Even though not all of them might be realisable due to legal or local restrictions or financial restraints, they can most definitely serve as an inspiration of what used to be, maybe still is and or might just be possible for your last farewell.
1) Going out with a bang: Ashes shot out of a cannon
Author and writer Hunter S. Thompson loved explosions. He fantasised about having his ashes shot out of a cannon of his own design – and shared this very unusual and specific request with his friend Johnny Depp. After Thompson had taken his life in 2005 because of his declining health, Depp told The Associated Press that he wanted “to make sure his last wish comes true. I just want to send my pal out the way he wants to go out.” Many years later, it was revealed that the actor spent 3 million USD to give Thompson the send-off of his dreams by throwing a party for 250 guests on the late author’s estate near Aspen. It included fireworks as well as, of course, the cannon which was placed on a 15-story tower.
2) Having drums made from your skin
Solomon Sanborn, a very patriotic hatmaker from Massachusetts had very specific wishes about what was to happen with his body after his death in 1871. In his will, he asked for his skin to be made into two drums. One inscribed with The Declaration of Independence and the other one with Alexander Pope’s “Universal Prayer”. They were to be given to one of Sanborn’s friends who had to play them – on location – to the beat of “Yankee Doodle” in commemoration of the revolutionary Battle at Bunker Hill every year on the 17th of June. He further stipulated that the rest of his human remains were “to be composted for a fertilizer to contribute to the growth of an American elm, to be planted in some rural thoroughfare.”
3) Ashes mixed with ink and eternalised in comic books
Mark Gruenwald, Marvel Comics senior executive editor, died at age 42 in 1996. His most ardent wish was to be eternalised in the comic books that were his life – in a rather unconventional way. He wanted his ashes to be mixed with the ink that is used to print the comics.
Marvel’s editor in chief, Mark Harras, made sure Gruenwald’s last wish was honoured and ordered a reprint of “Squadron Supreme” a limited edition and best-selling graphic novel from 1985 that the late editor had written back in the day. It was his wife, Catherine Schuller Gruenwald, who got to personally stir her deceased husband’s ashes into the ink at the printing plant. She didn’t put all the ashes into the ink, though. Many years later, she also sprinkled some at the Captain America Statue in New York.
4) Ashes mixed into tattoo ink – get your loved one under your skin:
Speaking of ink, it is now possible to get a memorial tattoo with your loved one’s ashes mixed into the ink. To some, this idea might seem macabre but cremation tattoos have become rather popular in recent years. There is at least one company in the UK that offers to sterilise the ashes in a laboratory setting and mix them into the ink professionally (ink and ashes need to be the same molecular size) and a handful of studios that offer cremation tattoos. It takes roughly one teaspoon of ashes for each bottle of ink, so depending on the size of the memorial tattoo and how colourful the design is, they might need one or several teaspoons of the ashes.
5) Skull used as theatre prop in Hamlet
Andre Tchaikowsky, a famous Polish composer and pianist, left his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company while his body was donated to science. Tchaikowsky wanted his cranium to be used as a prop in Hamlet – to portray “Yorick”. Many actors have been too freaked out by holding a real human skull to use it on stage, or at least hesitant to hold it in front of an audience. Not so David Tennant: “I must say, personally, I was rather excited by it. It’s one of the clichés of the play now, an actor holding a skull. And I suppose the trouble with the cliché is that it loses meaning. But if you are presented with an actual person’s skull, a real bit of human, then Hamlet’s speech about Yorick and about staring at the skull of a man he knew well… it becomes all the more potent when you are aware that you are holding somebody’s head quite literally in your hands. (…) I feel very pleased to have helped him fulfil his ambition.” Tennant performed Hamlet with Tchaikowsky’s skull in 2008 and 2009.
6) Cremation ashes used as gun powder on a hunt
Vintage shotguns were his life. When James Booth died in 2002, his wife decided to do something unique with her late husband’s ashes. As he was a vintage gun expert for Sotheby’s in London, she had the ashes filled into a total of 275 cartridges that were then used by Booth’s friends during the last hunt of the season. According to the Telegraph, they managed to shoot a fox, seven ducks, 23 pheasants and 70 partridges with these special cartridges.
7) Cremation ashes sent into space
StarTrek creator Gene Roddenberry, actor James Doohan (he played Scotty in StarTrek) as well as Gordon Cooper, an astronaut and AirForce pilot, all had their ashes sent into space. Roddenberry had his ashes shot into the atmosphere by a Spanish satellite in 1997. His wife, who died ten years later, had her ashes scattered in space as well. It took his son three years after his late father’s death to pull this stunt off, but Doohan had his ashes smuggled aboard the International Space Station in 2008. His last remains have orbited Earth over 70.000 times by now. Cooper died in 2004. It took three attempts – two failed due to a capsule falling back onto Earth and a rocket failing two minutes after launching – but eventually, a part of his cremation ashes finally ended up in space in 2012. Only for a month, though, as they burned up when the vessel reentered the Earth’s atmosphere.
8) Author gifts unhappy 12-year old his birthday
Robert Louis Stevenson was not only the famous author of ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ and ‘Treasure Island’ but also a man with a big heart. When his friend’s 12-year old daughter, Annie Ide, confided in him one day that she was deeply unhappy that her birthday happened to fall on Christmas day, it got him thinking. The girl felt cheated out of having a real birthday and Stevenson wanted to change that. Before he died in 1894, he decided to bequeath Annie his birthday, November 13th, to use as her own.
9) A Pringles can as a final resting place
A very unusual request that made perfect sense: Fredric J Baur invented the famous Pringles can. He was so proud of the design that he asked to have his ashes buried in one. His kids honoured his last wish and placed a part of his cremation ashes into an actual Pringles can, while the rest was split up between two urns – one for his grave and one for a grandson. The urn and the Pringles can got buried in the grave together.
10) Donate a pacemaker to save an animal’s life
In the US, people can not just donate their organs to save other people’s lives but also their pacemaker – if they have one – to save an animal’s life. The first reported case was that of Dorothea Edwards who died in 2002 at 80 years old. One of her last wishes was to donate her pacemaker to someone who needed it. Her family learned that human-to-human donations of used pacemakers are not allowed but that her pacemaker could be used to save a dog’s life. Ms Edwards pacemaker got implanted into a 9-year old German Shepard called “Sunshine” at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine. In 2018, they started a whole program based on pacemaker donations and more than 65 animals have so far benefitted from it – among them dogs, cats, a horse and a ferret.
11) Posthumous roses – every day for five years
What a beautiful and sweet gesture of love: Radio comedian Jack Benny arranged before his death in 1974 that his wife would get a single red rose for the rest of her life. The marriage between him and Sayde Marks, who played the character Mary Livingstone on her husband’s radio show, wasn’t always easy. Benny was a womaniser and not particularly faithful to his wife. However, he did love her and wanted to make sure she knew that even after his death. Hence, the idea with the roses. Marks outlived her late husband by almost 9 years and received 3108 roses.
12) The Young Outlawz smoked Tupacs ashes with marijuana
After Tupac Shakur was shot in 1996, the band members of The Young Outlawz got together for a picnic at the beach where they mixed the ashes of their friend with some marijuana and smoked it/him in a joint. Tupac’s bandmate EDI Mean took credit for the idea almost 15 years afterwards, explaining he got it from the lyrics of the song “Black Jesus” in which Tupac raps “‘Last wishes, n****s smoke my ashes.” Apparently, even the late rapper’s mum and some other family members were present for this very special, private celebration of life.
If you are thinking about pre-planning your own funeral to make sure you get the unique send-off you want, feel welcome to get in touch with us to discuss your ideas and wishes.