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An Unusual Funeral Guest



When news was slower and rumours harder to distinguish from fact, people sometimes had an unusual experience: opening a newspaper and finding their own obituary printed inside it. That happened to the American writer Mark Twain. He is famously said to have quipped: “Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.”

In one of his books, Twain went one step further and allowed his character Tom Sawyer to attend his own funeral service. The folk of Tom’s home-town think he has drowned and hold a church service to mourn his passing. Tom sneaks into the back of the church to listen to what is said about him.

They say that life imitates art, but in this case death has imitated art. In Puerto Rico someone has actually attended their own funeral. But Fernando Beato was dead when he did so. His family had him embalmed and he was photographed sitting in a chair wearing a tracksuit with a baseball cap on his head and a cigarette between his fingers. His eyes were open and his legs crossed, as though he was relaxing while he listened to his own service. “Beato” is Spanish for “Blessed”, but unfortunately his surname didn’t match his life. He died aged only twenty-six, shot fifteen times in the Puerto-Rican city of San Juan.

His family said that they wanted to remember him the way he had been, as a happy and fun-loving young man, so they asked the Marin Funeral Home in San Juan to embalm him a realistic pose, looking as though he had never passed away. According to the British newspapers who reported the story, embalming in life-like poses has become a trend in Puerto Rico: the owner of the funeral home, Damaris Marin, says that families are asking for their loved ones to be embalmed in a way that reflects the way they lived.

In Mr Beato’s case, the funeral home added a surprise touch: they left his eyes open. It’s an interesting way to keep the customers happy, but I don’t think the trend for life-like corpses will catch on soon in the United Kingdom. The British are more squeamish about death than people are in Catholic countries like Puerto Rico. But wherever people are and whatever the customs of their country, offering choice is a more and more important part of the funeral business. Tradition remains the guide for some, but others want to tailor a funeral to express the individuality of the departed person.

Because Fernando Beato died suddenly at the age of only twenty-six, it seems likely that he didn’t discuss his funeral arrangements with his family. But they were close to him and must have known what his preferences would have been. They must have thought he would enjoy the fun of his final appearance and the media exposure that it has brought him right around the world. The American artist Andy Warhol said that in the future everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes. He meant while they were still alive, no doubt, but Fernando Beato proves that fifteen minutes of fame can arrive after death too.

National Federation of Funeral Directors