The Way of All Flesh, Etc.


Our Daily Correspondent

The New Orleans Advocate reports that “Mickey Easterling, a New Orleans socialite known as much for her grand lifestyle and outlandish hats as for her civic, cultural, and political activism, died Monday at her Lakefront home.” Easterling was a character of the old school: a generous benefactor of many charities who wintered in Morocco and was given to sweeping pronouncements.

Her family honored her wishes by throwing a festive wake-cum-cocktail party. The centerpiece of the shindig was the deceased herself—propped up in full regalia and makeup, just as in life. Reports the Daily Mail, with photos,

The consummate hostess, she was never without her glass of champagne or cigarette holder, and wore a flamboyant feather boa, bonnet, and a diamond-studded brooch that said ‘Bitch’ … To Easterling’s right, on a small table, sat a bottle of her favorite Champagne—Veuve Clicquot—as well as a pack of American Spirit cigarettes, and in her right hand was a Waterford crystal Champagne flute, the kind she used to carry around with her sometimes when restaurant glassware wouldn’t suffice.

While the spectacle was, it must be said, somewhat macabre, it was not unprecedented. In a recent piece titled “Dead People Get Life-Like Poses at Their Funerals,” ABC News chronicles the practice of “Extreme Embalming”—which sounds far too much like the world’s most horrifying reality show. ABC cites three other cases: just enough to make the “trend” cutoff. It is, needless to say, still a fringe practice. Says one Pennsylvania mortician, “Most funeral homes, the most extreme thing they might do is dressing the deceased in shorts.”

Personally, I take a live and let live—or its converse, I guess—approach to these matters. One can’t help but wonder if close encounters with the extreme embalmed might have unfortunate, Three Faces of Eve–style consequences for children of an impressionable age. But then, there are worse things than mementi mori.

For many years, Mickey Easterling kept company with the composer and writer Paul Bowles. In his classic 1949 novel The Sheltering Sky, Bowles gives us one of the most trenchant of assertions on the subject of mortal coils.

Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It’s that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.

Says Easterling’s daughter, “It’s a really nice way to say,‘The party’s over.’”