Whispering in the Cemetery

Today’s post comes from marketing whiz and ideas man Spin Williams, who is always in residence at The Meeting That Never Ends.

Just saw a great concept described in this newspaper article – tombstones with codes chiseled in them so people can use a cell phone to link to text, photos and video of the deceased.

Everybody wants to live forever! I know I do! If that’s not possible, at least make it so I can force people to listen to me after I’m dead. Lecturing from the grave has got to be the next best thing to perpetual life. Better, really! If someone has to hear you talk, the fact that you are dead adds interest. Especially if they are under the delusion that you are somehow nearby, and can see them too!

That’s why connecting your sound and fury to the location of your buried remains is such a genius idea. Standing there at your tombstone, hearing you rattle on about integrity, discipline and the importance of family, people might imagine that you are present in the space and could possibly lash out with a breeze, a rumble beneath the earth, or even the chilling touch of an icy, invisible hand! That’s why cemeteries can be such creepy fun!

There’s just one drawback.

I’m guessing it will never be common for folks to go wandering around the graveyard scanning tombstones with their smart phones. Could be wrong, but I just don’t see that happening. The living are busy and so self absorbed! They won’t have the time and certainly won’t have enough interest to find out what your life lessons were.

This means big disappointment for those who will shell out for the full talking tombstone treatment. When they they check the web statistics, they will discover that it is only grieving relatives who access their digital remains, and with decreasing regularity since expired folks typically do not record or post fresh material.

If what you want is to bestow your timeless wisdom on a thoughtless world that has forgotten you existed, you need to place your QR code in a location that has higher traffic than the local boneyard.

The ancient Egyptians had this all figured out, carving their hieroglyphics into public buildings. Why not do the same thing with your QR code? Forget the cemetery! There are enough similarities – the QR code and hieroglyphics are pretty much identical. To me, anyway!

Face it, these would look so cool side-by-side on your memorial pyramid.

But most (all) of us won’t get a pyramid, so why not take your tombstone money and mount a posthumous ad campaign where people can see it?
Have your QR code carved into the side of the Vikings new pleasure dome in downtown Minneapolis. I’m sure Zygi Wilf would take your money in exchange for a nice blotchy design that could create some appealing texture on those monumental outside walls.

And if somebody accidentally scans it while calling their bookie to place another $500 on Minnesota’s opponent of the week, they’ll get a chance to hear your words of wisdom – “Don’t waste your money in gambling. Especially on the Vikings.”

Your Entrepreneurial Friend,

Spin Williams

What would your talking tombstone say?

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88 thoughts on “Whispering in the Cemetery”

  1. im dead and i just want to say
    all you live folks are well on the way
    so get that stuff off your list
    no sense getting pissed
    live like you just have today

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  2. i read that article spin and i was trying to figure out how to keep your qr code readable 100 years from now and i was thinking the scanning will be different in the year 2121 so maybe hyroglyphics isnt such a bad idea. the other half of that article talked about how they can creamate you without fire and get you to return to ashes by putting you in a chemical bath for 4 hours that will leave you ready for an ashtray. they said the greenest way to get buried is to wrap you in a sheet and stick you in the ground in a non protective coffin cardboard comes to mind. i think it is legal to bury yourself in the back yard if you are 100 feet from anything else. maybe my monument should be a chair facing south with a spot to plug in your headphones and set your beverage of choice.

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    1. tim, I too was pondering the question of what the device would look like that can read the code years from now. Considering all the technology that has become obsolete in my lifetime, I’m guessing that will be used 100 or even 50 years from now is nothing like the scanners or readers in use today.

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      1. Seems to me that he’s on to something here……….for any dying folks who are terrified of waking up in the ground, we could bury them with a cell phone. Just in case.

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        1. I can just imagine. Some poor schlub wakes up in a coffin under ground, terrified. Then he finds a cell phone in the casket . . . but he either can’t get a signal or he is out of minutes left.

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    2. Wrapping in a sheet and putting me in a cardboard box; can we do that? Sign me up! The whole cement vault and ornate casket and then burying it in the ground… crazy.

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      1. Ditto. Would rather not even have to do the cremation and ashes thing. Wonder how long it takes till you’re just bones.

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        1. I can tell you, if left out in the open, a full grown cow will be skin and bones in about 6-8 months. It’s only really gross (stinky) for a maybe a week? And then it goes fairly quick. There are lots of bugs and things that will move in to clean up. Depending on the weather of course.

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        2. Ditto! But Ben, what if it were buried? A biology teacher friend sometimes buries small roadkill animals so that later she can dig up the skeletons for her classes. She usually waits at least a year because she isn’t sure how long it takes.

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      2. I’m with Ben and PJ and BiR. For some reason, long ago, I was totally freaked out when I learned (watching JFK’s funeral on TV) that your coffin was not the only container that you would be in when you died, but that your coffin was put in a vault. One of my neighbors used to say, just get a ready-mix truck to dump concrete on me, but I don’t like the sounds of that either. On the other hand both of my parents were cremated and the ashes are on a mountain in Montana. That’s sort of inconvenient to visit. I love the idea of the sheet.

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      3. Read “Stiff” by Mary Roach. There are tons of useful things your dead body can do…and some pretty cool “green” options for burial (at least in some locales). I have told friends and family that frankly, I’ll be dead – so they can choose to do whatever they wish wtih my body. I won’t be using it. :)

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      4. A close friend of mine whose father recently died told me that the mortuary asked his family if they wanted to observe his dad’s cremation. Apparently, this is common now. It’s really really unpleasant to envision watching a loved one literally burning up – I have to wonder what kind of person would choose this!!

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        1. At Lakewood cemetery, the remodeled crematorium has some very nice rooms for families to observe the cremation. I believe it was built with some southeast Asians (Vietnamese?) in mind as it is important for them to watch. I suppose it would be like the funeral pyres of India.

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  3. “You better pull the weeds, trim the grass, and make sure there are flowers blooming over me”.

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        1. if you make your living weeding odds are weeding is not your life. shoemakers kids theory. ill bet you could find something to fill the gap.then again if there a woodworking shop i would spend some time. maybe a garden to diddle in would be good too.

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        2. I have every confidence that Linda would be able to fill whatever time she has without weeds to pull. Once you’re dead, you don’t have to worry about making a living.

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  4. Good morning. The best I can come up with is the song “Let the Good Times Roll” and I would like it sung by Ray Charles. It starts out:

    Hey everybody
    lets have some fun
    you only live but once
    and when you’re dead you’re done
    so let the good times roll

    I’m not one who is good at letting the good times roll, but if I’m dead it doesn’t matter if I wasn’t able to follow my own advice. Given more time I might come up with something else. Actually, I really don’t have anything I would want to leave behind as a verbal message.

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    1. It takes the pressure off to think that one wouldn’t have to have followed the advice in order to bestow it. Based on observing my children and others’ children, I would recommend doing a ton of traveling and living before you have children of your own. You may be lucky enough to be able to travel with your children or after they have left the nest but there are no guarantees.
      I have traveled to my sister’s to surprise my brother for his 60th. It’s beautiful here in the Berkshires (western MA) and I traveled to get here :-)

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      1. It is a lovely part of the country there – I have a pal with a house on the NY side of the state line (where it becomes “Hudson Valley” instead of “Berkshires”). Absolutely gorgeous. Enjoy!

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      2. Yes, a beautiful part of the country and I hope you have a wonderful and relaxing vacation Lisa! Bill and I have stayed with friends in Germantown on the Hudson R, and in Ancram off the Old Taconic highway, two among the hundreds of tiny Dutch and German towns in upstate New York — there’s history and scenic beauty around every turn in the road there, yes? Endlessly fascinating. We’ve had some great times exploring the spectacular historic homes and estates and gardens up and down the Hudson River Valley. Your advice on traveling early in life is right on the money, not to put off till tomorrow if opportunity presents itself. Recently we were unexpectedly gifted two frequent flyer tickets and will be going to Quebec in August for our 43rd anniversary. Odd to be bringing this up in a discussion of “last words” but, superstitiously, every time I fly, I can’t help wondering whether we’ll land in the intended spot. Hopefully, yes!
        Renee, I saved your email about favorite haunts in Montreal. Any last minute thoughts or suggestions?
        I’m on the same page as Jacque and Louis Armstrong — what a wonderful world! That’s also on the play list for my memorial :-) but why wait?
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8y3_kH9nYcA

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  5. Morning-

    I don’t want my picture on the headstone nor messages or any thing.
    If it did say something it would probably ask ‘Why are you standing here? It’s a beautiful world out there; go off and do something!’

    Part of ‘The Writers Almanac’ today states: Walker Evans said: “Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.”

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    1. no pics or messages from me either. I like the quote and I noticed that he didn’t say, “Die knowing something BUT before you go, tape it for the masses.”

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  6. Having lived the life I’ve led, it would be silly and hypocritical to set up a tombstone to dispense wisdom for several centuries. Instead, my tombstone will say:

    The Mother Superior calls all the nuns together. She says, “I must tell you something serious. We have a case of gonorrhea in the convent.” A nun in the back responds, “Thank God! I’m so tired of Zinfandel.”

    And then my tombstone will chuckle quietly before launching into the next joke. The loop in the tombstone will tell about 200 or 300 jokes before repeating.

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  7. Something unfinished might be good – a poem where it just stops in the middle like “I’m being eaten by a boa constrictor, but a different one… will think on this.

    Or some version of “See, I Told You So…” to someone who deserves it, maybe a string of them. :)

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    1. Peter O’toole had an old leather jacket of which he was inordinately fond. The jacket had stains of Guinness, blood and whatnot when his wife shipped it off to the cleaners. When it returned it had a note pinned to the front. The note said: Sycamore Cleaners. “It distresses us to return work which is not perfect.” He claims that’s what he wants as an epitaph on his tombstone.

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  8. “I hope you brought baked goods…” (or maybe I’d request a blank stone and leave enough money for my descendants to keep a bucket stocked with sidewalk chalk in perpetuity so people could write their own messages, make drawings, etc.)

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      1. Wonder if you could magnetize or do whatever you need to do to put a person’s ashes in an Etch-a-Sketch…that would be a hoot. Though there is a bit of an “ick” factor perhaps in playing with your loved one’s mortal remains, but the novelty might be fun…bring a whole new side to connecting with the dead…(might be satisfying to, to give some of our “dearly departed” the good shake you wish you could have given them when they were alive…)

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  9. Although cremation is the only reasonable option to which I fully subscribe, there’s a part of me that yearns for having a cemetery somewhere where I could go to reflect on the family lives preceding my own. It feels unsettling and a bit awkward to have my parents’ common urn sitting on a shelf in the living room, but I really don’t know what else to do with it.

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    1. i have rlatives that bury boxes full of ashes. or partially full. a cup to anyne who wants one first for your own personal mini urn.

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    2. One of my favorite plays is called ‘Leaving Iowa’. It’s a lovely, sweet, FUNNY play about a son trying to take Dads ashes where Dad wanted them. Unfortunate that place is now a grocery store. ( “What was I supposed to do? Leave him in aisle three next to the kitty litter??” )

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  10. OT: For those who may have tried the Rock Bend Folk Festival website over the weekend – there was a problem with the ISP. The website is back up and lookin’ fabulous! Thanks for checking it out: http://www.rockbend.org.

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  11. Hmmm, I’ve pretty much decided that the U is going to get me, and the s&h knows that and thinks it a fine idea (I spent a very long semester in the Gross Anatomy lab at the U of Iowa, so I know what I am signing up for).

    Spin, you have give me inspiration-I’m going to be smiling all day at the thought of leaving a “message in the cadavar” for a team of nervous young med students.

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    1. When I told my son that I had a similar plan, he suggested that I check it out carefully because I would be annoyed if they didn’t put me to good use.

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      1. Both of my grandparents had arrangements for their bodies to be donated to the U med school. They were both teachers – it was a way to continue to teach even after their death, i guess. There was a good piece a couple years back about cadaver donation for med schools (I don’t think it was local – it was an NPR piece) which included interviews with some of the students. It was quite touching how much the students wind up caring about the body they are working with and how in awe they are of someone’s willingness to give of themselves that way so they can learn.

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  12. To quote someone else (I can’t remember who), when asked how he wanted to be buried, “Surprise me.”

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  13. There is a cemetery out by us which has Rochester’s only Muslim cemetery. Coming home today there was a Muslim funeral and I know they have some special customs like being buried within 24 hours of death. The road was lined with cars, even out on the highway.

    Got this from a website (http://islam.about.com/cs/elderly/a/funerals.htm) :
    “The deceased is then taken to the cemetery for burial (al-dafin). While all members of the community attend the funeral prayers, only the men of the community accompany the body to the gravesite. It is preferred for a Muslim to be buried where he or she died, and not be transported to another location or country (which may cause delays or require embalming the body). If available, a cemetery (or section of one) set aside for Muslims is preferred. The deceased is laid in the grave (without a coffin if permitted by local law) on his or her right side, facing Mecca. At the gravesite, it is discouraged for people to erect tombstones, elaborate markers, or put flowers or other momentos. Rather, one should humbly remember Allah and His mercy, and pray for the deceased.”

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    1. The fist time I had to arrange a funeral for a muslim patient I was kind of at a loss. I went off to ask the observant muslim doctor with the prayer rug under his desk. He gave me a pager number and the right folks showed up. The baby needed to be wrapped in a seamless white cloth tied 3 times with cloth strips. I got a pillowcase and a pair of scissors and gave them to the family. They gave them back to me and seemed to enjoy coaching me through the process. When the event was over one of the officious nurses asked, “Why don’t we have a protocol for that?” My response-”IT never happened before. Would you like to write the protocol now.”

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    2. You would scarcely believe it I am sure, but there is an old cemetery in Northwest North Dakota with the graves of Muslim homesteaders.

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  14. The grave whisperer? Talking tombstones sound kinda creepy. No more quiet graveside visits? Cell phone users are not always polite enough to know when they are being annoying; there goes the cemetery as a bastion of quietude.

    I think if my tombstone has to say something I’d better arrange a default response now:
    “I’m sorry, the person you are trying to reach is no longer able to come to the phone.”

    For me, it seems quite a chore to prepare a taped talk for the people who have my number. Those are the same ones who rarely took my advice when I was sitting in front of them. Maybe, I could just say, “I’m listening.” lol

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  15. I have friends who have followed Anthroposophy in both education (Waldorf schools) and burial practices when their loved ones have died, including their daughters who died in a car crash in 1996. This includes caring for the deceased at home, without enbalming (dry ice is used to keep the body cool), while friends and family come to spend last moments with the body. Here is their website:
    http://beholdingthethreshold.org/

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    1. There’s a beautiful Japanese film “Departures” which deals with the old Japanese traditions of preparing the deceased for burial. Very thought provoking. Truly a remarkable film, highly recommend it.

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