SO YOU WANT to be a mummy when you die. And why not?
It's romantically old school. It oozes class—why the fuck do you think it was the choice of every pharaoh ever? It's also very important for eternal life, if you believe in that kind of thing. Your spirit can't very well live on forever if it has no place to go—all because you were too lazy to see to the careful, ritualized preservation of its mortal husk.
It's a big decision. You've clearly done some homework. So good for you.
But I bet there might be a few things you haven't considered. And that's where we come in—sort of like your own personal skipper across the very wide and scary river separating our world from the land of the dead!
Basically, there are two things you'll want to consider: It's probably going to be difficult, if not impossible, to find a local funeral director willing to cater to your odd Egyptian fetish. And even if you somehow pull it off? Get ready to pay an arm and a leg. (Because, ya know: PHARAOHS DID THIS.)
Finding a funeral director even willing to entertain the notion is definitely the first place you'll want to start. But, like I said, it won't be easy. Even for a business that's all about showing nonjudgmental respect for even the stupidest wishes—clown funerals, ashes launched into space, etc.—mummification is tough to swallow.
A sampling of local funeral homes turned up absolutely zero interest in pursuing the ancient form of preservation.
"Let me put it this way, that's not something we'd ever do," said the woman who answered the phone at Finley-Sunset Hills Mortuary and Sunset Hills Memorial Park in Southwest Portland.
"I've never, ever had anyone ask," says Michael Ashe of Wilhelm's Portland Memorial (who was actually super good-natured about the subject, by far the most good-natured of all the places we called). "We've never done that. Nor do we know of anyone who's doing it."
But even if someone did call up and lay out their dream of a death dressed in chemically precise unguents, Ashe says he still wouldn't pick up the phone and call around for an embalmer to make that person's wish come true.
"Sometimes people do stuff that's a little too out there, and maybe this is one of them," he says. "It's not my cup of tea. A funeral home can't be everything to everyone."
That said, there's probably some eager-to-please funeral director out there. You might have to call outside your area. You might have to make bizarre, complicated arrangements to get your someday corpse to that funeral home. A small price to pay, if you want it bad enough. And someone surely will be willing to accept it.
"I know there are companies that will provide mummification services to individuals who would prefer that to a traditional burial or cremation," says Jessica Koth, spokeswoman for the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), who also assured me she fields "weird" questions all the time.
"When it's something not that common, like mummification," she adds, "it's important to do a little homework and find a funeral home that fits your needs."
The leader in mummification services, by far, is a Salt Lake City-based outfit called Summum. Summum, around since 1975, claims to be the only reputable provider in the world.
Summum, unfortunately, isn't doing media interviews right now. But it pointed me to its amazingly dense website, summum.org, where it professes its devotion to developing the art and science of human tissue preservation (and also shows off its adorable mascot, the Mummy Bear).
It also offers a guide to the mummification process and a hefty cost estimate for the service and all the bells and whistles it contains: an average of $67,000.
That might sound like a lot. Because it is.
But consider what you get! Your organs will be removed and cleansed in a baptismal font filled with special chemicals. Your body will be wrapped in cotton gauze—and silk, if you want it—before being sealed in a polymer and then placed in a sculpted figurine that's then filled with an amber resin. After that, you can end up in a sarcophagus or just be buried like normal—which is cheaper, but also lame, since you just spent all that other money on a funeral treatment fit for a king.
Speaking of cheaper, we also asked how that number compared to the cost of an average burial or cremation—and also something more lavish but still traditional.
According to the NFDA's most recent nationwide numbers, the average funeral costs $7,755, including a fancy burial vault. Wilhelm's Ashe says that's about what you'd pay in Oregon, plus maybe up to $6,000 more in cemetery fees if you want a prominent grave marker.
"You'd come in well under" Summum's estimate, Koth says.
So-called "direct" cremation—in which a body is taken to a crematorium and charred into bone bits that are then ground up, boxed, and passed to survivors with little fanfare—is cheaper still. It averages about $1,000 on the West Coast, Ashe says. Cremation can cost five or six times that much for someone who wants a service and to have their remains stored in a niche in a prominent corner of a mausoleum.
There is another option—if you crave the pomp and ceremony of mummification but lack the budget.
"They could build their own mausoleum vault," Ashe suggests. Some reports—like a New York Times article from back in 2006—say that could cost a bit less than mummification. But, then, if you really go for it, it could also cost a lot more. As in, maybe $1 million. And you might as well get the works if you've got that much dough.
Because, really. What's a pyramid without its mummy?