“Die-hard” doesn’t begin to describe Elaine Arnold’s ardent devotion, in good times and bad through much of her 84 years, to her beloved Minnesota Twins. To better understand, consider the container holding her cremated ashes.
The foot-tall, blue-and-white steel vase, handsomely mounted on a wooden home plate, is emblazoned with the red-lettered Twins logo. It’s crowned with a carefully preserved autographed baseball, signed with loving messages from her children, grandchildren and squiggly scrawls from her young great-grandchildren.
Arnold was known as the “couch coach.” She never missed a game snuggled under her Twins blanket, would cut off phone calls with a terse, “I can’t talk now, it’s the sixth inning,” and would swear off the team after a tough loss. But she was always back the next day shouting at the TV loud enough that she could be heard by the neighbors. She died a year ago this week.
So when Lynne Arnold-Walker arrived at Mueller Memorial Funeral Home & Cremation Service in White Bear Lake to begin the solemn task of arranging her mother’s funeral and spotted the urn, which had just been delivered and was sitting on a table by happenstance, it was a walk-off winner.
“I just saw that urn, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Right away, my husband said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a done deal,’ ” Arnold-Walker said. “It’s like somebody said, ‘We’re going to make this urn for the Arnold family.’ ”
The urn became something of a focal point for grieving family and friends, Arnold-Walker said, with tears giving way to laughter and stories — the kind of response that helps the grieving come to terms with the reality of their loss.
And that’s the point, said Scott Mueller, owner of Mueller Memorial. Which is why he recently expanded on the idea: offering a Twins-themed casket, also decked out with the team’s logo. It’s the only one like it on display in Minnesota.
“When a body is in a coffin like this, it changes the conversation,” Mueller said. “It reflects the passions and lifestyle and hobbies that that person enjoyed, and now it connects you to all the stories that are a part of that person. So it puts a smile on people’s faces.”
Those smiles, he said, help create an atmosphere at a funeral that is more supportive to the grieving family, and helpful for the emotional transition that takes place at a funeral.
Mueller has sold two urns so far but has had no takers for the casket, though it’s drawn a lot of interesting responses — and helped put the grieving at ease at a difficult time.
“The casket is a little different. It’s for burial, so usually it’s going to be brought to a church,” Mueller said. “Some people have said, ‘Yeah, we’re really interested in it, but we don’t think it’s appropriate to bring into a church.’ Kind of like wearing a ball cap in church.”
The Eternal Image Group, a Novi, Mich.-based company that made the urn and casket, has created a niche for itself marketing a line of licensed memorial products. Along with teams from Major League Baseball, its licenses include those with the Vatican, colleges, U.S. military and the rock band Kiss.
“There’s been a lot of interest in [the Twins casket], but as we slip from kind of a real traditional generation into the baby boomers, you’re going to be seeing more of this,” Mueller said. It’s part of changes in funerals that include interactive websites allowing people to share photos, condolences and memories and even light virtual candles.
Changes unfolding already
Mueller has seen those changes unfolding already at recent services at his funeral homes in White Bear Lake and on St. Paul’s East Side.
“We’ve Harley-ized several black caskets,” he said. In another case, brothers of a passionate hunter got together and added camouflage to a green casket; in another, a classic Chris-Craft boat that a man had lovingly restored was brought into the funeral home, his ash container set upon the seat where he had spent his happiest hours. When a longtime golfer recently died, the family specifically asked in the death notice that people wear golf attire to the visitation — the more plaid, the better.
Serving beer and wine, once unheard of at funerals, is becoming an option, too. In fact, when the Mueller home in White Bear Lake undergoes remodeling this year, it will include a bar to meet that demand, Mueller said.
This year’s Opening Day for the Twins, her first without her Mom, was bittersweet, Arnold-Walker said. Still, the family gathered to watch the team’s disappointing 5-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox — the team apparently missed their No. 1 cheerleader. “We all said, ‘Grandma must have been sleeping,’ ” she said.
The Twins urn stands as a vivid reminder of her mother’s lively personality, warm memories that help nudge away the grief and the closeness of her parents, she added. Her Mom died just a few months after Ted Arnold, her husband of 56 years, had passed away. “She died of a broken heart,” Arnold-Walker said. His ashes now mingle with hers.
“She was just a riot when it came to the Twins,” said Arnold-Walker. “Hopefully, she’s resting in there now.”