Funerals are designed to help people come to terms with death. Seeing a loved one in an open casket, wearing their “Sunday’s best,” and the organ playing in the background all helps to normalize the grieving process by allowing family and friends to accept mortality. Now, several morticians across the country, from Louisiana to Puerto Rico, have put their unique flair on funerals by offering extreme embalming, making it easier — and maybe even fun — to commemorate the dead.

Dead Or Alive: Extreme Embalming

The unconventional funeral trend first made headlines in 2008 when the body of a 24-year-old murder victim, Angel Luis Pantojas, was tethered against the wall in his family living room in Puerto Rico. His funeral, known as “muerto parao," or or dead man standing, was an internet sensation and soon set the tone for future “freaky” funerals. The idea came from Pantojas himself after attending his father’s funeral at age 6, according to the New York Times. He told his relatives that he wanted to be viewed on his feet.

Shortly after, another murder victim was propped on a motorcycle, and in March, 26-year-old Fernando de Jesus Diaz Beato, who was tragically shot and killed, was seated on a chair — with his eyes open — a funeral first.

Damaris Marin, owner of Marin Funeral Home with locations in San Juan and Rio Piedras, explains families of the deceased want to see their loved one as they were during their life.

“We have seen that the families wish to see the dead men just as they were when they were alive," said Marin, NY Post reported. "I think that this time was the most impressive reaction to any of the work we have done,” she said, referring to Beato’s embalming.

Marin’s funeral home is considered to be a leader in the development of these funeral services. They’ve done nine extreme embalming funerals so far.

This process generally takes two days, and it’s not easy work, according to Marin. “The secret is in the embalming,” but she has not revealed the exact details.

Typically, in normal embalming, the body is washed in a disinfectant solution, and the limbs are massaged and morphed to relieve stiffness of the joints and the limbs, according to the Funerals Consumers Alliance. Approximately 16 ounces of fluid combined with two gallons of water is a good dilution. Facial hair is shaved off, unless the deceased wore facial hair.

Next, the surgical embalming or cosmetic processes begin with the removal of bodily fluids using formaldehyde-based chemical solutions. The body is then prepared for viewing by styling the hair, applying makeup, and setting the facial features. Embalming does not provide any public health benefit, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. It’s only mandatory for persons who had died of communicable diseases, who were to be transported by airline or other common carrier, or who were to be buried more than 24 hours after death.

One of the first pioneers of extreme embalming was Bolshevik revolutionary and leader Vladimir Lenin. In 1924, he died of a stroke and heart attack, and was then embalmed with an untested chemical process to preserve a life-like appearance. Today, he is entombed in a granite and marble mausoleum in Red Square where his body is maintained at 61 degrees, with the humidity between 80 and 90 percent in a sealed glass sarcophagus.

The trend is not limited to Puerto Rico or Russia; Louisiana has also seen its fair share of funerals with flair. In 2014, a New Orleans woman’s funeral went viral for extreme embalming. Miriam Burbank, 53, was posed at a table with a glass of Busch beer, a menthol cigarette, and a disco ball overhead. She was also sporting a New Orleans Saints-themed manicure.

"When I walked in, I felt like I was in her house and I didn't hurt so much. Because it's more of her, and it's like she's not dead. It's not like a funeral," said Burbank's sister Sherline, ABC News 13 reported. “It's like she's just in the room with us."

Eddie Journey, a resident psychotherapist at Goodpoint Counseling & Consulting Services in Indianapolis, Ind., believes extreme embalming can be seen as a ritual wherein people are attempting to honor a loved one’s memories in ways that are more consistent with how he or she lived.

“If she never wore dresses and makeup in life, why would someone consider presenting her this way in death?” he told Medical Daily.

The Psychology Behind Freaky Funerals

Exotic funerals are simply rituals that play a role in helping families of the deceased cope with death. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General examined the powerful effect grieving rituals have on helping people deal with a chaotic impact of loss. In the research, ritual was defined as a symbolic activity that is performed before, during, or after a meaningful event to achieve a desired outcome, such as alleviating grief. The authors suggest that in the case of losing a loved one, rituals, whether highly formal or informal, help people relieve negative feelings of loss.

Tracee Dunblazier, a spiritual empath and certified grief counselor based in Los Angeles, believes grieving the loss of a person and their physical being is about changing your relationship with them from the physical to the spiritual.

“Extreme embalming is a way of honoring that transition and celebrating their life,” she told Medical Daily.

According to Dunblazier, it can also be a way of creating an opportunity to say what you want to say while the person was living, or have one last illusion of life before the illusion of death takes over.

The unconventional ritual can also be plagued with cons. While it can act as a grief coping mechanism, Dr. Claudia Luiz, a psychotherapist based in Massachusetts, suggests it can represent a denial of grief, and numbness to the ceremoniousness of both life and death.

Luiz’s rule of thumb is to use your own emotions as a gauge when it comes to understanding what a particular embalming symbolically reflects.

“Your emotions can gauge whether the embalming is done in the spirit of ceremony, love and spiritual renewal, or whether there is mockery, irreverence and hostility at base,” she told Medical Daily.

Others, like Jorge Lugo Ramirez, president of the Puerto Rico Funeral home Association, sees this growing trend as an act of irreverence.

In an interview with the Washington Post, he said: "I see it as a challenge to the authorities: 'You killed me, but you didn't knock me down.’”

He added: "These kinds of people are surrounded by easy money and guns. We can't be promoting that."

Whether the deceased were criminals or martyrs, the decision on how to honor a loved one is at the family’s discretion.

After all, funerals can be a fun celebration of life and death.