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A funeral home’s specialty: Dioramas of the (propped up) dead

The body of Georgina Chervony Lloren. (AP/Ricardo Arduengo)

After Georgina Chervony Lloren died of natural causes on Sunday at 80, her wake on Monday went just as she imagined: Her body was propped up on her red-cushioned rocking chair, surrounded by plants and flowers, wearing her wedding gown from her second marriage 32 years ago.

This odd request is nothing new for the Marin Funeral Home in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It’s kind of like the film “Weekend at Bernie’s” except for the fact that Bernie didn’t ask to be propped up at his own party. These people — or at least their families — want it this way:

Christopher Rivera
23-year-old boxer Christopher Rivera was propped up on Jan. 31, 2014, in a fake boxing ring during his wake at a rec center in the public housing project where he lived in San Juan. Rivera told his family that he wanted his funeral to reference his boxing career.

Angel Pantoja Medina
The last wish of Angel Pantoja Medina’s was to remain standing. During his 2008 wake, Medina’s body stood erect and was leaned against a wall by his coffin in his mother’s home in San Juan.

David Morales Colon:
David Morales Colon, 22, asked his family to have his body dressed in biking gear and placed on top of his Honda CBR600.

Frances Robles of McClatchy Newspapers explained:

It’s “dubbed el muerto parao — dead man standing.”

These “exotic wakes” caused such a sensation that authorities including the Department of Health and the state attorney started poring over the penal code. Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives convened special hearings. The funeral home owners association held an emergency board meeting.
But even as the funeral directors decry exotic wakes as sacrilegious offenses to tradition, this much appears to be clear: The practice is legal. And when a third Puerto Rican man was embalmed on a motorcycle in Philadelphia last week, the trend, to experts’ dismay, had come to be seen as a fad in a subculture marked by violence and bravado.
“I see it as a challenge to the authorities: ‘You killed me, but you didn’t knock me down,’ said Jorge Lugo Ramirez, president of the Puerto Rico Funeral Home Assn. “These kinds of people are surrounded by easy money and guns. We can’t be promoting that.” …
But Lugo acknowledges that people have been abuzz about it, requesting funerals on bikes, cars or buses they drove for a living. “I guess then we’d have to conduct the wake in the parking lot,” he said with a laugh.
Technically speaking, Lugo was impressed.
“As a professional, I had to admire the work,” he said. “The funeral director said she had a secret formula. As an embalmer, let me tell you: It should not be secret. I would like to know how they did it.”

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