Last night, the cable channel TLC debuted a pilot reality TV series “Best Funeral Ever.” It focused on the Golden Gate Funeral Home in Dallas, TX. The African-American funeral home provides over-the-top celebratory “home-going” funerals. The personalized funerals shown in the movie Undertaking Betty (see previous blog post) pale in comparison.
“A home-going is much different than a funeral. A home-going is a celebration,” explained one of the pastors who works with Golden Gate.
The three funerals shown had themes: a Christmas funeral for Ray Charles Goines, a man who loved the holiday season; a barbeque funeral for Willy McCoy, a singer who performed the famous jingle about baby back ribs; and a visit to the East Texas State Fair with the cremated remains of a man who loved the fair but couldn’t ride any rides because he had spina bifada.
The actual examples of real funeral arrangements with the families provided a valuable look at what actually goes on when making arrangements.
In planning with a family, one funeral arranger began throwing out ideas for a Christmas theme celebration. “It’s going to be like Christmas threw up on everybody,” he declared while collecting the costumes and decorations.
Drama ensues when two employees assigned to the project don’t get along.
Elf costumes are worn by smaller employees. Animals – baby goats, emu, alpaca, in total 17 animals (most unlikely to be in the nativity scene) – are brought in. A sleigh is made for the casket and fake snow showers on the assembled toward the end.
The family was touched by the extravaganza. “Ray would have been happy also,” said his sister. “They put him away very nice.”
Willy McCoy, who sang the baby back ribs song, got a BBQ extravaganza funeral that featured a sauce fountain and live pigs (“Maybe not the best idea,” admitted one funeral director). It looks like his casket was a smoker brought in by pallbearers wearing chef toques. Part of the tribute was to take a rib and dip it in the BBQ fountain in memory of Willy.
Doing a celebration at the East Texas State Fair for a brother who had spina bifida, the funeral home arranged for the family to ride the rides that the deceased couldn’t. They brought his cremated remains to the fair, and the family wore matching purple T-shirts in the deceased’s honor.
They took the urn for a ride on the merry-go-round, put him on the bumper car with a relative, took him down the fun slide, made his urn part of the ring toss, and took it on the ferris wheel. Everyone seemed to have a good time.
“If we continue to work together like I know we can, we’re going to make these families extremely happy at the worst moments of their lives,” said CEO John Beckwith, Jr. in the final moments of the show while meeting with his funeral planning staff. He recognized that any one of them could be in those families’ shoes at a moment’s notice.
I watched the program while participating in a live chat on the Connecting Directors website. Most of the feedback on that channel was positive about what we were seeing. However funeral directors on other channels such as Facebook were more negative about the program, as were some TV columnists.
Ryan Thogmartin, founder of Connecting Directors LLC wrote, “I love Walt Disney World because of the experience that is created from the moment you step on Disney property. If Walt Disney himself would have been a funeral director I believe the funeral experience he would have created would be a mirror image of what the staff at Golden Gate Funeral Home creates.”
The Washington Post called “Best Funeral Ever” positively frightening. Columnist Clinton Yates wrote, “The idea of inserting a reality show into the business of death is more ghoulish than I care to ever see again.”
I’m glad to see that some families really liked these over-the-top funerals. Why not make this a celebration of those elements that make us all so unique?