- By Elizabeth F. RalphElizabeth Ralph is a researcher at Foreign Policy.
This past weekend, Zeng Jia prepared and participated in her own funeral — except she was alive the whole time. The Chinese college student, whose grandfather’s recent death inspired her to organize her own — rather premature — funeral, said that she staged the event in order to think about her life and to find her true self. "I feel so good after coming out of the coffin," Zeng told China Daily. Yeah, I bet.
Though the funeral was fake, at least the friends and family in attendance were real — something that is apparently not so much of a given anymore. The market for paid "mourners" — professionals hired to attend a funeral (and sometimes grieve rather dramatically) so that the deceased appears popular — is fairly large (and growing) in parts of China and the Middle East. And now, the trend has popped up in Britain. According to its website, "Rent-a-mourner," a new company based in Essex, rents out "professional, discrete people to attend funerals and wakes" for about $35 an hour.
Whether fake mourners are a sign of societal breakdown, as one Catholic Herald article claims, or just a way to make a grieving family feel a little better, the practice, along with Zeng’s funeral stunt, does raise the question: What does it mean when funerals aren’t quite so real anymore?