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HIP HEADSTONES CAN LIVEN UP A CEMETERY

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"Rest in Peace" is dying a slow death.

Hipper headstones are letting today's dearly departed express themselves with immortal etchings that test the bounds of dignity: dancing elephants, dice, golf clubs and even beer cans with the epitaph, "I did it my way.""When someone thinks something is wonderful and beautiful, it may be - in their mind," said Donald Kenney, director of cemeteries for the Archdiocese of Boston. "But someone else may be mortified to see a beer can on a head-stone."

With the refinement of etching during the past two decades, including the use of lasers and the addition of color, the possibilities for headstone designs have allowed for more than just crosses and flowers.

Yves Porier has been making markers in the Boston suburb of Quincy for 15 years, etching everything from marijuana cigarettes to a monument shaped like a poker hand, a royal flush, with two granite dice at the base.

"Obviously the man was a gambler," he said. "There are always families that would like something that pertains to how one lived."

Porier recently made a marker for a man that included his date of birth, date of death and, "Never Saw The Red Sox Win A World Series."

Juxtapositions between the religious and the secular are inevitable. On a headstone in Malden, words from the scriptures are side-by-side with the motivational mantra: "No Guts, No Glory, Go For It."

The trend has not been greeted as good news from directors of cemeteries seeking to preserve a more subdued, traditional atmosphere.

"It makes all of my elder statesmen tremble," said Bruce Schlossberg, of the Jewish Cemetery Association.

For Schlossberg, the biggest problem presented by modern technology is the request that faces of the dead be etched into the stone. Some Orthodox Jewish authorities say that would be a graven image contrary to tradition.

As for requests for farm and home scenes, and unusually shaped stones, Schlossberg said he tries "to bend over backward to let them do what they want."

"I think it adds to the texture and integrity of the cemetery," he said. "Unfortunately, traditionalists don't see it that way."

The Rev. Arthur Dupont of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn., said cemeteries should be an extension of the church, a place for sacred remembrances, not sentimentality.

"One man's sentimentality is another man's horror," he said.

The family of one man whose favorite saying was "boop boop ba doo," reportedly considered legal action against the archdiocese for refusing to install a marker reading, "Boop Boop Ba Doo, We Love You"

"Certain things are inappropriate for sacred places," Dupont explained. "Sometimes it's a close call, but `Boop Boop Ba Doo' didn't even come close."