There is a decent read on MSNBC about the way our society’s ballooning vanity has affected the post-mortem beautification process. Example: “Silicone implants will explode [during cremation]. They’re like little bombs.” What actually gave me pause was the attached video.
“Everyone in Harlem knows I’m the guy that puts a smile on your face. Other places you just look.. dead,” says Isaiah Owens – owner of a Harlem funeral home. The video itself is a series of stills from his practice. He specializes in post-mortem sprucing, but we’re not just talking the usual wax and paint treatment. No, this man genuinely delights in making the deceased look as cheerful as possible. The slides show Owens romancing a cadaver with his magic until she smiles an almost-Giaconda smile.
There are no demure neutrals for the ladies here – hot pink nail polish, generous helpings of subdermal injections and blush are this man’s passion. Isaiah’s reputation is that of making the dead look better than the living. The funeral home’s website refers to his style at “panache” and calls Isaiah a “rare individual”. After listening to the voice over a few times I have to agree – Owens is invested. There is a touching sincerity to his voice as he describes his work, step by step. To him, death is a beautiful release from earthly pain and he’s helping the dead obtain proper presentation for what lies beyond. Also interesting is the broad array of names he gives the bodies: remains, ashes, people. Despite this dichotomy I find myself liking the way he talks about death and admiring his certainty about what it means and what comes next.
When I die, I want a modest ceremony: my brain [or soul, if you like] is to be transplanted into a superior shell and launched into space. For my body I want a shrine of candles and flowers, followed by a few weeks in a crystal coffin somewhere public and a Viking cremation with my ashes let loose over Moscow. For all the young breathers to choke on.