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From Gloom to Boom

A visit to the cemetery turns into a party.


Death Waits ... For A Party - JOHN KILBOURN

I was feeling pretty gloomy after visiting the Mt. Olivet cemetery on Memorial Day. The reminder of death was heavy in the air, despite the green trees and bright blue sky. Mourners trudged across the grass, occasionally knocking a shin against a thrusting headstone.

In the Greek section of the cemetery, with memorials to Kithis and Korlogos and Karakitsos, bearded Orthodox priests in black robes consoled anguished survivors with solemn prayers.

After the lugubrious obsequies at Mt. Olivet, I wasn’t much looking forward to another obligatory pilgrimage, this one to Wasatch Lawn, where the mortal remains of other relatives are interred. As we approached the entrance off 3300 South, however, I could feel my spirits beginning to rise, much as I suppose the spirits (and resurrected bodies) would rise from the graves on Judgment Day.

A merrily painted sign at the cemetery gate proclaimed a Memorial Day promotion, with free hot dogs, soft drinks, balloons, face painting for the kiddies and—oh, happy day—a raffle! Inside the cemetery gates, a party was already in progress. Children with painted faces were laughing, skipping and playing hopscotch off the flat memorial markers (no unsightly headstones at this cemetery, thank goodness.) Older folks were making merry, clutching raffle tickets in one hand and hot dogs slathered in mustard and relish in the other.

Instead of priests in black gowns offering succor to the bereaved, a friendly, well-fed gent (too many hot dogs?) was bearing his testimony next to a vehicle emblazoned with references to the Book of Mormon— another testament of Jesus Christ, who would have been proud of the holiday spirit and this mass demonstration of his triumph over death. Also painted on the vehicle was an 800 number, presumably for a direct connection to the son of God.

The munificence of the Dignity Memorial, the brand operated by Service Corporation International, the funeral industry behemoth that owns Wasatch Lawn, was not just limited to free hot hogs, soft drinks, balloons, a raffle and face painting. A cheap flyer taped to the mausoleum’s glass door advertised a Memorial Day Weekend Special: 10 percent off any photo tile, 50 percent off installation. Please step in the office for details. I was later to learn that a photo tile was just another mortuarial innovation from the folks at Dignity.

So impressed was I at how Dignity was expanding and refining the concept of “dignity,” which heretofore has not been, at least for the most part, associated with free hot dogs and face paintings, that I arranged to meet with Ms. Aimee Thanatogenos, marketing director and chief strategist for Dignity. Ms. Thanatogenos, a petite, effervescent woman with alabaster skin and large, dark eyes, greeted me warmly in her crypt-like office.

Deep End: Was your big Memorial Day promotion a success?

Ms. Thanatogenos: We broke new ground, as we say in the death business. For too long, we have been in a rut, a very lucrative rut, I must admit, but a rut, nevertheless. Our leading strategic thinkers have been looking for ways to think outside the box, or as we like to say, outside the coffin. The party over at Wasatch Lawn succeeded beyond all expectations. Some of our old-timers in the death business thought that the free hot dogs and such might rub some people the wrong way. Were they ever wrong! We had to make several runs to Dan’s to get more hot dogs.

DE: I was kind of disappointed that you didn’t offer free pizza.

MT: Wait till next year. We’ll have free pizza, free egg rolls and free gyros—we’d like to expand into the Greek demographic. The face-painting was so successful—though we had to slap around the kids who wanted skeleton faces—that next Memorial Day, we’re going to offer free body art—tattoos and piercings and so forth—to the first 100 people who agree to be buried at our park.

DE: What about more wholesome activities, things our readers might be interested in?

MT: OK, yeah, sure. We’re going to do a funeral-potatoes-eating contest, as well as an embalming demonstration. By the way, we’ll offer a huge discount on specialized embalming if you can knock over three urns with a softball. Then we’ll have a contest where you have to pick which coffin the body is in, and if you’re right, you get to keep the coffin.

DE: And the body?

MT: That’s up to you.

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