"Mom and dad went to grandma's funeral today and all they brought me back was this T-shirt." Just the thing people want to see as they look around a funeral home. At least that's what City of Oaks Funeral Home and Cremations hopes. City of Oaks sells shirts emblazoned with that morbid spin on the classic trope along with other novelty gifts, from hearse Christmas ornaments and autopsy board games to coffin wine holders and "death mints."
Showing levity or anything short of somber attention at a funeral has traditionally been fodder for shock value in comedy or to express disassociation with the moment. But while most continue to see funerals as a somber occasion, some cultures have found humor and joy in the midst of the passing of a loved one. Perhaps the most famous example is the rich tradition of jazz funerals in New Orleans. What started as a precursor to modern burial insurance has transitioned into one of the most distinctive pieces of Americana. The practice of playing joyful music during times of mourning has been a staple of life and death in New Orleans since the early eighteenth century.
In central and southern Mexico, celebration of the dead centers on November 1st and 2nd: Dia de Los Muertos. The Day of the Dead celebrates the belief that the gates of Heaven are opened on October 31 and allow the spirits of the dead to visit their loved ones for 24 hours. Fanciful costumes and culinary delights herald the spirits' arrival.
While Edward Kosmos does not quite go to these extremes at City of Oaks, he hopes that his gift shop gives people five or ten minutes free of grief in a season of life that often feels unbearable. While he admits that the effort falls flat when the person lying in state died too young, he says that most people smile. He hopes that brief glimmer of mirth helps people to see that they can get through it.