Saturday, Jan. 12 a busload of Charlotte area residents traveled to Detroit to see the Cirque Du Soleil performance of Corteo.  The trip, sponsored by Pray Funeral Home and hosted by Joe E. Pray, was the prize for a contest that the funeral home conducted in November and December of 2018.

The inspiration for the contest was the storyline of Corteo, which is the celebration of a funeral of a clown.

“We thought, what better way to help people understand the possibilities for funerals or life celebrations than experiencing a large stage production of a funeral,” said Joe E Pray.

Pray Funeral Home’s contest asked the community of Charlotte, “How would you celebrate the life of a family member or friend?”  The 10 winners were picked from a wide range of entries from the Charlotte area.

The winning essays showed that people really do want to develop creative and meaningful life celebrations. They outlined many “out of the box” ideas. Many essays were based upon hobbies and interests of the person being remembered. Other entries described detailed destination funerals, while some involved exercises to convey the person’s life experiences to the guests.

Why did Pray pick a Cirque Du Soleil Show as the prize? 

“The main reason was because the theme of the production was imagining the funeral of a clown.  A secondary reason was to showcase the similarities between shows such as Cirque Du Soleil and our funeral home.  We both tell wonderful stories,” Pray said. “Cirque Du Soleil does it on the big stage to entertain, while we use our creativity to help families celebrate the life story of family members who have died.  We enjoy tapping into creative ideas to develop a meaningful celebration of a family member’s life.”

The creative entries included Tiger Baseball themed funeral followed by a trip with the mourners and the cremation urn of the deceased to a Tiger Baseball Game complete with prizes from the deceased’s baseball memorabilia. Another featured a Disney themed funeral, which included a trip to Disney World with family and friends. Other winning essays featured life celebrations built upon a deceased’s favorite books featuring excerpts that helped shape their lives. Another essay required the involvement of the charities that an individual that had supported and participated in. Clothing that a person wore through their lives was the focus of one life celebration using the clothes to help tell the person’s life stories.  One of the most imaginative entries was based upon life experiences that would be demonstrated by a trip through a fun house maze that recalled the challenges that the honoree overcame during their lifetime.  

Many involved creative use of staging, music, both live and recorded and scent in unusual ways to celebrate lives.

“Some of my favorites from those entries would involve us developing services on the beach, in the woods, or gardens behind the funeral home. One would require some elaborate staging that would feature the casket rising up from below a stage with fog and lasers enveloping the crowd as the theme song from 2001 A Space Odyssey played over the sound system,” Pray said.

“These creative ideas may also help create many other life celebrations, not just funerals” continues Mr. Pray. “Similar experiences can be created for birthdays, graduation open houses and even weddings. Many families show pictures, display awards and highlight accomplishments that tell a story at these events.”

The contest pointed out how one of the most important things the funeral can do is give the family a platform, stage, or canvas to provide the best tribute possible for the deceased. Why? Because it is important to take time to memorialize the life story of a loved one.

Pray said three key benefits to a creative funeral or memorial are:

During the planning process while the family develops the service ideas they spend time talking about which stories they would like to include in a service. That exercise gives them a chance to reminisce, share hugs and tears.

“That is part of the transformational experience,” he said.  

A second benefit is realized during the life celebration or funeral they plan.  The event gives family and friends a chance to share a lasting memory of a person’s story.  It shows how the memory of that person will live on in others.

The third major benefit of such an event is gathering friends, family and community around the mourners.

“This is similar an enormous group hug that supports the family when they need it most,” Pray said.

A complete list of the essay entries and the service ideas that were developed from them are available on the Pray Funeral Home website at

Article submitted by Pray Funeral Home.