This is the interview with Gail Rubin, about funerals and how to plan them, on Monday Night Radio. Monday Night Radio is an online (Internet-based) talk radio show where different experts are interviewed, and people around the world can listen via the Internet, and call in to talk with the expert, and ask them questions.
The Internet Patrol’s Anne P. Mitchell, Esq., is the host of Monday Night Radio.
This Monday Night Radio show with Rubin was first aired on 11/15/10. In addition to reading the interview below, you can listen to the recorded show via iTunes – where you can also subscribe to the podcast of all of the recorded shows. Here is the iTunes link: http://www.MondayNightRadio.com/ref/MNR-iTunes.
Links to the guest’s website and book, if any, are at the end of the interview. You will also find links to books and websites that our listeners called in about.
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Anne: (No audio) will be talking about making it all the more interesting, but first a little bit of housekeeping. I want to remind you about next week’s show when we will have Mr. Arun Gandhi as our guest. Mr. Gandhi is the grandson of the great Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi and is carrying on his grandfather’s work. He will be speaking with us about how we can be the change we want to see in the world, and how we as individuals can make a difference toward a more non-violent world. That is next Monday, same time, same place. Tonight we are talking about funeral planning. While that might sound like a rather dry subject, I can promise you that tonight’s show is going to be anything but. First, a little quiz, who out there knows what it says on the tombstone of W. C. Fields? You can send us your answers in ever so many ways. You can e-mail them to email@example.com. You can send us a message on AOL instant messenger @mondaynightradio. You can send us a message on Facebook. We are at facebook.com/mondaynightradio. You can Twitter us @mondayradio. Twitter is the one place where they wouldn’t let us have mondaynightradio. It was too long, but you can find us on Twitter at @mondayradio. Of course, please remember to sign up for our newsletter so you can be among the first, our insider edition to find out who our upcoming guests are. You will also get notices of the interviews and the audio as it is posted to the website. Finally, you know you can call in your questions and comments for our guest tonight by calling 866-Monday6. You can call that number from anywhere in North America, 866-Monday6. On to tonight’s guest, Gail Rubin is an expert on funeral planning. She has a degree, and I know I am just going to butcher this, but if you will just hang on one second I will get the correct acronym. It’s the AE. Hang on there, I just don’t want to do that to her. It is ADEC. She is a member of the Association for Death Education and Counseling. That is the ADEC. She is the author of The Family Plot Blog. She has written a column about death and dying and life celebration at the Albuquerque Tribune. Before I butcher anything else, let me bring Gail on. Gail, are you there?
Gail: I am here, Anne. Thanks for having me.
Anne: Oh, Gail, welcome to Monday Night Radio. It is our pleasure. Thank you for being our guest.
Gail: Oh, this is an important topic to talk about, yes.
Anne: It’s a very important topic. We have a lot of ground to cover. We already have quite a few people calling in with questions and comments. Let’s see. Here is what I want to do. Before we get on to the sort of meat of tonight, I have to ask you, as I was doing research for tonight, I noticed that you are not only the author of an upcoming book, which is called, “A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die” which I think is a great title and says it right there. I noticed you have also written a book called “A Girl’s Pocket Guide to Trouser Trout”.
Gail: Oh, you found that.
Anne: I just had to ask you, what is that about? Why, yes I did!
Gail: It is about dating and relationships in terms of fly fishing. If men were fish and women were anglers, it is your how-to guide to land a good catch. It draws parallels between the finer points of fly fishing and dating and relationships.
Anne: Now, are you a fly fisher? What caused you to draw that parallel?
Gail: Well, I was married in my 20s, then got divorced and spent 14 years in the dating pool. Just being out there dating and casting about. I actually was coming to Colorado on a trip with some friends of mine and the guy who was driving just pulled over to the side of the road when we were up in the mountains next to this winding stream and went trooping off into the woods. I said to his wife, “Brace yourself. He is out airing his trouser trout.” This kind of set the tone for the whole weekend. We started brainstorming and laughing about the whole topic. I took four pages of notes and the next morning I said, “You know what? This could work as a book.”
Anne: So, there is a book in that. Very interesting, it does show also that you are a diverse person in terms of your interests and abilities.
Gail: Diverse, and I bring a sense of humor to both love and death.
Anne: Love and death, there you go. Well I have to tell you as you may know. This is only slightly related, and it is off on a tangent, but I love this joke of mine, so I am going to tell it. Well, it’s not a joke. I was in Las Vegas once. That’s enough said about Las Vegas. I noticed one of the many, many wedding chapels was called The Hitching Post. As you may or may not know in a previous life I was a divorce attorney, a father’s rights lawyer. So, I was very aware of the numbers of how many of the Las Vegas weddings end up in divorce. I thought it would be great, next to The Hitching Post to have two additional little businesses right down in a row. You’d have The Hitching Post for when you get married. Then you’d have The Bitching Post for when the couple needs therapy. Finally, when it all falls apart you would have The Ditching Post.
Gail: I love it.
Anne: Well, thank you. Thank you very much. Anyway, we are here to talk about funerals and funeral planning and life celebration, which is I think perhaps a more apt way to describe a funeral, because that is really what it is. It’s very much for the people who have been left behind to get together and to have some closure and to celebrate the life of the one who has passed on. Gosh, I just have a bunch of questions for you. The first on being isn’t the funeral really for the family members more than it is for the deceased.
Gail: Absolutely, yeah.
Anne: Ok, but what I note is that there seems to be a movement. I think I noticed some of this on your blog, and perhaps that is even what your book is about. I noticed where it says that people absolutely can get involved in planning their own funerals and sitting down with their grown children and their other family members to really talk about what it will be like. I’m wondering isn’t that at odds with the concept that the funeral is actually for those who have been left behind?
Gail: Well, no, because it is opening up lines of communication between the generations about, “This is kind of my idea of how I would like you to celebrate my life”. But, they don’t have to do what you tell them to. There are different ways to guarantee that they carry out your wishes if you really feel strongly about it. But, really death is such a topic that doesn’t get talked about much, so in order for us to properly celebrate someone’s life, we don’t do it. We aren’t good at that. We would much rather have a party. Well, weddings and funerals have very similar elements. Not only do you have the clergy and the transportation and the location and alerting all the family and friends and whatnot. But, if brides and grooms planned their weddings the way most people plan their funerals they would be scrambling to pull everything together in three days. So, the idea of just talking about what you would like. I think very often at the end of life, and by the way I am right in the middle of my 30 funerals in 30 days challenge, where I am going to a funeral or a memorial service a day. A lot of them are religious even for people who were not religious. I find that very interesting. That is a function of the people who are remembering the person who died. People find a lot of comfort in religious ritual, even if the family is not so much religious. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the 23rd psalm. Ecclesiastes, turn, turn, turn, to everything there is a season, and Revelations, talking about new heaven and new earth, the new Jerusalem. It’s words of comfort that people want to hear at this time, that “Oh, the spirit lives on and we will be together again.” I hear that a lot at these funerals. But, I’ve also gone to a number of events. One in particular stands out of a woman who was so popular and so beloved. It started out with a Catholic sprinkling of holy waters and a few prayers. Then, the priest, they just took off. The whole things just became a celebration of this woman’s life. I got up there afterwards and saw that she had a thing for turtles. There was a little ring of turtles with a candle in the middle of it. They were talking, and telling great stories about this woman. I was like, “I wish I knew this woman in person,” by the time we were done. So, those are different things to consider. It is for the living, the people who are left behind. I’ve had people tell me. My brother’s partner died three years ago, and he said, “I don’t want a memorial service.” But, we had one. My brothers put it very clearly. We didn’t do it for him, we did it for us. That really is what the funeral or the memorial service is about.
Anne: Now, first before we go any further. For those out there who might be feeling a little uncomfortable with this subject, Gail has a great quote. That quote is, “Just as talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, talking about funerals won’t make you dead.” That’s obviously true. It’s a really good point. You finish that by saying, “Your family will benefit from the conversation.” So, have you ever had…You analogize funerals to weddings. They have a lot of common elements and themes. There has certainly been a trend for people to write their own wedding vows. Have you ever run into a situation where the not yet deceased wants to write their own eulogy?
Gail: Absolutely. There is something in the Jewish tradition called and ethical will which can make a wonderful reading at a funeral. I haven’t yet heard anybody do that, but people will read their ethical wills when they turn 50 as part of a special service at the synagogue. I just went to a memorial service on Saturday, and this was very interesting. In the time before the Internet, people used to take out ads in publications, like single scene publications. You would write a letter to that person if you were interested in meeting them. This guy who had died, he was one of the first of the baby boomers. He had written a letter to this woman who has been his friend for 24 years. He wrote it when he was 40 years old describing himself. She read it at the service. That was amazing to hear him describing himself in his own voice from this letter from 24 years ago. So, that’s another way you can speak at your own funeral. I also recommend video taping yourself, saying whatever words of wisdom you want to pass on to people. Because audio-visual is getting very big in funeral service these days, not just photo montages, but showing of movies, and even webcasting of funerals. I have a great story in my book about a funeral that took place in a small town in Ohio for a woman who was a missionary in Puerto Rico. When she got sick, she returned to this small town where she was originally from but hadn’t lived in like 40 years. She had been in Puerto Rico all that time. If you judged the funeral based on the people based on the little town in Ohio, there were only a couple of dozen people there, but there were 200 people in Puerto Rico who were tuning in via the Internet to participate in this funeral service. They even sent eulogies in via YouTube.
Gail: So, funeral service is really changing.
Anne: That’s really quite something. I have a lot of other questions myself, but this show is really all about the callers and letting them have access to you. So, you know let’s do it. The switchboard is just lit up. It’s awesome. Right now we are going to go to Rob in Chicago. I understand that Rob has a story and a question. Hello, Rob, are you there?
Caller #1: I am here. Hi, Anne.
Anne: Well, welcome to Monday Night Radio. Hi, Rob. Here’s Gail Rubin for you.
Caller #1: Well, Gail congratulations on your book.
Gail: Thank you.
Caller #1: What I thought was a question I guess is just going to be an affirmation that the funeral is so much about the people involved. It is about the person who has died, but for the people remembering that person. So, just as a way of affirmation, for a while I was researching my own book, called, “The Art of Dying” and was working in a funeral home. One of the stories that stuck out for me was a funeral for this very elderly person. He had his children, his grandchildren, and his great grandchildren there. The oldest of the living generation was looking around for his granddaughter, and during the visitation sort of the downtime. He sits down, and I am sort of ushering people in and out, and watching this. He grabs a chair and sits down with his granddaughter who is about to turn ten and he explains to her that all of his grandchildren at ten years old he takes for a trip and they spend a sort of a weekend vacation together. So, he is sitting down and talking with his granddaughter and telling her what he would like to do and asking her to think about what kind of trip she would like to take. She was just thrilled. She was all excited and running around to tell all her cousins about what she got to do. The environment there wasn’t so much a mourning, sad, saying goodbye, but a wonderful time for this family to be together. I think it is something that we often miss when we think that a funeral is simply about saying goodbye to somebody.
Gail: Mm-hm, well and in fact, again funerals and weddings are very similar things. People come together during a wedding or a funeral sometimes. It seems like that is the only time that family gets together. There is absolutely no reason why it can’t have those warm moments. In fact, it is absolutely beneficial.
Caller #1: So, anyway, thank you for writing such an important book to encourage people to be thinking about this stuff in advance.
Gail: Well, thank you very much.
Anne: Rob, thank you very much. Thank you for that great comment. We have a question that has come in through our Facebook page. I am wondering if this subject is something that you could talk about. The person is wondering whether children should be allowed at funerals, in particular he relates the story of a six and a half year old boy whose mother passed away. He was not allowed to go to the funeral. I certainly have thoughts on that, as I’m sure does he. He’s wondering what your thoughts are on that.
Gail: Well, in fact, I did address that question in “A Good Goodbye” with the help of a grief counselor who I know. In fact, between her and anecdotal stories I have heard from people in the Association for Death Education and Counseling is yes, with proper preparation, bringing children to funerals is fine. You can use teachable moments like the death of a pet or seeing an animal dead on the side of the road to talk about death is a part of life and it happens to all living things. You want to be careful about explaining death to kids in ways that they can comprehend. You don’t want to say, “Grandpa is sleeping now,” because you might have a terrified child who will never go to sleep again. So, you want to keep it at a very basic level. It is ok to express sadness over the loss. You know, nobody expects you to be doing this with a smile on your face. It’s fine to cry. It is a good thing to cry. It shows us that’s how we express our relationships with people. This counselor Joan Gunselman, she does say never force a child to kiss a corpse or touch a corpse. If they want to reach out and touch them or put one of their toys in the casket or whatever, that’s fine. The thing is a lot of the anecdotes and the information that we get says that kids that are taken to funerals grow up to be better adjusted adults than the kids that are kept away.
Anne: Specifically speaking now, we are not just talking about children generally attending a funeral, but we are talking about the child of the deceased. If you could talk a little bit about the issue of closure and being able to say goodbye. To me, my own thought would be god forbid that I were to pass away soon, I certainly hope I don’t, but I would want my son to be able to have that opportunity to say goodbye to me and to have that closure. I’m reminded actually, I don’t mean to necessarily equate the importance of a family pet, and I do during the hour want to talk about pet funerals with you and that. But, in particular when the first time our son encountered the passing of a loved one it was a cat. The cat had passed away at home, it was actually, if there can be a good death, it was a good death. He had had a very long life. He passed away with the people around him that had loved him and that he knew. My son had a chance to say goodbye because it was obvious that it was going to happen any second literally. We called him in and said, “Do you want to say goodbye?” He did. But, he came with us to the vet; we had the cat’s body in a box. He requested to see the cat again one last time in the box, even though he knew he was dead and he had already said goodbye as he was leaving. He needed that. So, we let him. To me, I was a little nervous about that. So, I’m just thinking even with a cat he needed that. To deny a child, to deprive a child of that it’s not like you can go back and have a do-over.
Gail: Right, yeah. I’m all for bringing children to funerals.
Anne: Ok. Excellent.
Gail: As long as they understand where they are going and what to expect about what is going to happen there. Kids can handle it. As long as they have the closeness and the warmth and the support while they are doing it. It’s not just them loose in the funeral home.
Anne: Let’s go to the switchboard again. We have Michael calling from Seattle and I think he might actually have something to say about this particular subject. Hello, Michael, are you there?
Caller #2: I am.
Anne: Hi, Michael. Welcome to Monday Night Radio.
Caller #2: Thank you much, Anne. I was the six and a half year old in question.
Gail: Oh, what happened to you?
Caller #2: Well, the first I knew was when my dad told me to go and stay in the bedroom. Of course, I cracked the door a little bit and I saw these two men all dressed in white coming in with this funny metal contraption with wheels. A little while later they wheeled it out with my mom. About a week later my dad took me to see my mom in the hospital, and he arranged some alternate accommodation for me. One day, one of the teachers who was teaching me, again I was six and half years old at the time, said that I should go home because the lady I was staying with had something important to tell me. I went home and, “No, no, no.” I ate lunch, went back to school. I came home from school, and, “Your mom is dead.” I didn’t need anybody to explain to me what death was. I wasn’t able to foresee all of the consequences that would flow from that. I had a moment of uncontrollable grief. I went into my bedroom and I can’t recall. I probably cried, I can’t recall. Sometimes other little kids can be rather nasty at times like that. But, for whatever reason it was explained to me that the other adults didn’t want a kid at the funeral. That seemed unfair to me at the time, but what a kid thinks is fair or doesn’t is not apropos. For some reason our family didn’t think much of visiting gravesites. My parents never took me to the gravesite any of the time after that. I subsequently discovered, again this was back in the 60s, that the ashes got misplaced. The ashes were held at the funeral home for like three or four months and then they gave up and handed it off to something called a public guardian. I only found out this past mother’s day when they said, “Oh, yeah, you’re mom is interned here.” I go there and I’m walking around and I can’t find anything. In due course I do research with appropriate authorities and they say, “You know they probably are somewhere in a rose bed somewhere.” So, that’s my story. A: I would say that any kid older than maybe four is probably far more in tuned with what is going on with the situation than most adults would think. B: It’s important to have a sense of who our progenitors are and to every so often at very least introduce the living members to those who have gone on before. I did have an opportunity. A friend of mine passed away and was wondering what to do for the kids. The suggestion was to get them a daddy bear. These were like seven, eight year old kids. They immediately knew what to do with the daddy bear. The husband had gone out for a walk and been struck by a car. They didn’t know how to deal with the grief either, but they knew how to deal with the daddy bear.
Anne: So, is that a teddy bear that they were able to cuddle and hang onto and cry into?
Caller #2: Yeah.
Anne: That is an awesome suggestion, Michael. Thank you so much for the call.
Caller #2: You are most welcome if you have no further questions, I will retreat from this.
Gail: Have you dealt with what happened with your mom? I mean do you feel like..?
Caller #2: I don’t think it is really possible. You just sort of have to accept. When I found out that they did not know where the ashes were I probably could have dug into it deeper. I just said you know there are no rose beds somewhere. I made a point of not telling my dad, because he is aged at this point. His thought is that I just haven’t done enough homework and they are there if I only just go and look. But, I know when she died, and I know when the funeral was. I know the name of the funeral parlor. I know the date that the funeral parlor handed them off to whomever. Somehow or other something got misplaced. Whatever. There is nothing that can be done about it now. By the way, there was another funeral that I have attended that was notable. This was for a maternal grandparent. We went to the funeral home. The guy gets up there to speak. He is an aged and respected gentleman. He begins to read from the official eulogy. You can tell where the fill in the blanks marks were on the eulogy. Rage is the only way to put it.
Anne: That is why people should be involved with planning their own funerals. Right, Gail?
Anne: So that doesn’t happen. Michael, thank you so much. We are going to move on, because we have a lot of other callers. I’m really glad you called in.
Caller #2: Understood. I’ve probably monopolized far too much of your time.
Anne: Not at all. We are glad you called in. Please stay listening.
Caller #2: Yep.
Anne: So, Gail, there is what I think is such a splendid example of kids. Of course every family has to do what is right for them, but here is a man who clearly should have been allowed there to say goodbye to his mom. It’s heartbreaking.
Gail: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I was going to say that I was just at a memorial service today for a man who had died suddenly. I asked around, but nobody seemed to know or want to tell me what killed him, but he had a two year old son that was there. A lot of the other people there had young children there. His body wasn’t there. He had been cremated and there was a box of ashes sitting there. Those kids were brought. Maybe they did or did not know what was going on. It was basically a religious service. But, people are bringing their kids. What I wish people would do is shut their cell phones off. I cannot tell you how many times even after the people have been told to turn their cell phones off; cell phones are going off in the middle of funerals. It really detracts from the proceedings.
Anne: It’s also very disrespectful I think. One more word about kids, and then I will go on to another caller. I wanted to say that nobody from my generation will ever forget the pictures of John-John, jr. at JFK’s funeral doing his little salute in his little wool coat. I would just like to add that I was not much older than him at that time. I’m not quite that old, but still I remember those pictures. Let’s go now to Peggy calling from Florida with a story for you. Hi, Peggy, you are on Monday Night Radio with Anne and Gail Rubin.
Caller #3: Hi, thank you so much. I just want to say first of all how important I think the work is that Gail is doing and that you are doing by having these discussions for people. It is just absolutely wonderful to expand people’s ideas of how this all can be done. My story kind of shows the opposite end of the spectrum from Michael and the fill in the blank funeral. I am a funeral celebrant. For 20 years before that I was a psychotherapist. I’ve known people who have the haunting sense of incompleteness when the funeral doesn’t honor the person that has died, when whoever does it misses the boat, and the person isn’t celebrated. It can leave people with a very sad poignant feeling. I also think that funerals need to be real, not to portray people as if they were saints. I will give you an example of that. When I’m teaching sometimes, I call this story the funeral for the man that nobody liked, but I did a funeral for a man who was apparently very, very difficult to live with in his life. He was a sea captain. He was a hard drinker. He didn’t like to get close to people, or attached to people, or stay too much in one place. He was a very shrewd businessman which actually made him sort of stingy to his children. In general many things about him we would consider difficult. The daughter who hired me for the funeral had been estranged from him for 30 years. So, she and I were talking in preparation for my writing the funeral for them. I realized what she was very politely alluding to, the kinds of things he was in our conversation. I said, “I don’t think even very good people as saints. We need to portray them as real people. Even the best people are likely to have some kind of foible that drives their closest relatives crazy. To talk about those and bring a chuckle and make them real can be very important.” We talked about that, and I told her that I knew how to talk about things that people thought of as negative in ways that were not negative. So, I wrote the ceremony, and this group of people got together. It was going to be a burial at sea. We all got on the boat to go out from the Fort Lauderdale harbor to do this and have the ceremony and do the burial at sea. It was a small group of people. They weren’t a large group of mourners. His children, he had two adult children, this is an idea that never, ever, ever would have occurred to me, the music they chose to play as the boat left Fort Lauderdale pier and was moving out was, “What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor?”
Caller #3: It would never have occurred to me, but for this group of people and for this sea captain father this was perfect. It was absolutely perfect. It set the tone for, “This is a real man who lived. He had lots of flaws, but he also had lots of good things. He lived his life with integrity for him, the way he needed to live his life. Let’s honor that.” Afterward the family told me that it was very, very healing to have the ceremony be authentic and real, that it really helped them a great deal.
Anne: Well that is an awesome, awesome story. Thank you, Peggy, thank you for calling in.
Caller #3: You are very welcome.
Anne: I think that illustrates a little bit what you said, Gail, about the need for humor and levity as well. That is certainly something that I am a huge proponent of. I think that some people think there is something unseemly about bringing humor into the situation of death. What do you think of that?
Gail: Oh, no. Humor is a welcome relief. In fact people who are grieving will start laughing sometimes uncontrollably because it is such a roller coaster of emotions when you have lost somebody you love. I did want to talk about the four “R”s by the way, just keying in on those elements that make a good funeral. You want to take an opportunity to remember and tell stories about that person. The Jewish tradition is to not speak ill of the dead, and I think that is where that whole idea that you don’t say bad things about people at their funerals comes from, telling stories about that person that illustrates elements of their personality and to come to terms with the second “R”, the reality of the death. That’s why so many funerals have open caskets. Some people need to see a body in the casket dead as it is to really get that message home to their brain that yes this person is really dead. To reaffirm beliefs, whatever those beliefs may be and to release the spirit of the deceased, so those four “R”s are all wound up in most funeral services. Remembering and reaffirming generate stories and laughter and realizing and releasing helps prompt healing tears and goodbyes. So that is what you would find. Of course we always want that fifth “R”, no regrets.
Anne: No regrets.
Gail: So you have no regrets when you get to the end of your days.
Anne: Speaking of living each day to its fullest, etc., I need to ask you in your 30 funerals in 30 days, and definitely I’d like you to talk about that in a moment, one of the ones you have a saying in there. I just need to know what it means, so please tell me. Bonda bondu (?), what it that?
Gail: I don’t know. I think that was their salute send-off for this 98 year old woman. What a sweet collection of folks, oh my gosh. Their fond farewell was bonda bondu and I don’t know why, but it was.
Anne: Ok, I’m getting a note from my producer that says that our toll free number for some reason is not working. It’s not ringing through. It’s giving this odd message saying that the voicemail is full, which doesn’t even make sense. So, I have to apologize for that if you are trying to call in. You can call in on the direct line, 3478573122. That’s kind of hard to remember compared to the other number, but we will have to get that fixed. I don’t know what is going on. Of course, you can always, always e-mail comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send us a message by AOL instant messenger @mondaynightradio. You can send us a message on our Facebook page, which is on facebook.com/mondaynightradio. Or, you can send us a message by Twitter to @mondayradio. This is Monday Night Radio, and we are will Gail Rubin. She is an expert on funeral planning. Gail, we do have more callers we need to get to, but can you tell us quickly about this 30 days for 30 funerals or 30 funerals in 30 days?
Gail: October 30th was the eleventh annual create a great funeral day. I did not create this day, but another woman who had written a workbook about creating a memorable funeral did. So, I thought this would be a good opportunity to start a 30 day challenge where I go to a funeral or memorial service every day for 30 days and blog about it on my blog, The Family Plot. I do little video stand-ups after every funeral or memorial service, a little bit about what I experienced, what I heard about the person who had died, and just sharing information. I went to an American Legion celebration of life for a gentleman, and they actually did their own honor guard. I had no idea that the American Legion had their own honor guard. They did a rifle salute, actually doing a five gun three round salute. I found out actually if you are retired military that is you spent a number of years with the military and retired from the service, you can get a rifle salute from the government from whatever branch honor guard. If you just served a few years, you are a veteran, but you didn’t do a full military career, you can’t get a rifle salute, but the American Legion will if you pay them.
Gail: Yeah. Just going to all of these different celebrations of life, it just warms my heart to see how much love there is in the world for one’s fellow man.
Anne: Are these…How are you turning up at these funerals? Are you just crashing? Are you the funeral crasher?
Gail: I am the funeral crasher. Well, I mean they are public events. They list them in the newspaper. That is what the obituaries are all about. I’ve noticed some of them do say, “We will have a private service at our house,” so that way you can’t really crash that unless you know where they live. I.e. you are a friend or a family member. But, most of these, they list the time, they list the place, they list information about the person. I’m trying to mix it up with religious, non-religious, different religions. I just went to a Greek Orthodox service and will be going to the funeral mass service tomorrow for Greek Orthodox. Two of the topics that get the most traffic on my blog are Greek Orthodox traditions and Jewish headstone unveilings. I don’t know why people keep looking that up, but they do and they come to my blog to find out about it. One of the things that I have put on there are religious traditions for various religions and there is no other book out there that I am aware of that brings all of that together. We do have a multicultural interfaith society here now. That’s another conversation to have. If you are in an interfaith marriage, what are you going to do? What kind of traditions are you going to follow?
Anne: That is an excellent point. You know what, this is a perfect segue into our next caller. We have Debra Williams calling. I am not sure where she is calling from. So, maybe she can tell us, but she has a question about religious ceremonies. Debra, are you there?
Caller #4: I’m here. I’m calling from Chicago.
Anne: Alright. Thank you for waiting. I know you called in early.
Caller #4: Oh, that’s ok. I’ve actually talked to Gail before. I wanted to talk to her again and just bring up the whole idea. The latest statistics that I have seen say that about 60 percent of the people in North America are no longer affiliated with a religion, which means that kind of like how are they looking at things. Do you feel that more and more people are looking at different ways to do memorial services and funeral services? Are they looking for different venues? Especially now we are looking at more and more people are having to experience death at younger ages than we’ve ever experienced before because of all of the illnesses and sickness and diseases that have come up where all of us have now experienced the death of a friend or a relative at a much, much younger age than our parents and our grandparents ever did. I personally in my business feel like everything is changing. That younger generation coming up and people are looking at things differently, looking at different venues, looking at, “You know do I want to do a service in my home? Do I want to do it on the water front? Where do I want to do it?” Are they looking for financially better ways to do things, environmentally, 100 percent green things? The statistics I am looking at are showing that the funeral home business, the actual burial business is down by about 30 percent and the cremation is up by 30 percent. Are you seeing that as well?
Gail: Oh, yes.
Anne: Those are great questions. Thank you, Debra.
Gail: The majority of the funerals, memorial services that I am going to, the bodies have been cremated. It is amazing. There is still burial taking place, but yeah cremation is on the rise. Cremation opens up a whole range of creative possibilities because you are not bound to the time frame of within a week you have got to get that body into the ground, embalmed or not. Green burial is definitely a growing trend that is really almost returning to what we used to do before the rise of the modern funeral director. There was a study done by a science writer in Cornell University. In 2002 she put together figures based on information from mortuary schools and funeral directors that said that every year conventional burials put more than 827,000 gallons of embalming fluid into the earth. Over 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete for vaults, more than 90,000 tons of steel and 2700 tons of copper and bronze for caskets, and 14,000 tons of steel for underground vaults. The executive director of the Green Burial Council says that is enough metal to build a golden gate bridge every year and enough concrete to build a two lane highway from New York to Detroit every year just going into the ground. That is just not sustainable. Green burial you are not using embalming, but hey, we have refrigeration. You use biodegradable caskets, hey it’s the plain, pine box. Cotton clothing or shrouds, it is really like the Jewish and Muslim tradition is to do that and has been all along.
Caller #4: But don’t you feel that with whether they go with more of a green type burial, the financial perspective of this, so much more expensive as you know to go to a funeral home and have any kind of a service versus going the cremation route and having a memorial service at a different venue or somewhere along the way. I am finding that in my business, most of the time it is 50 percent change in pricing from the traditional type funeral versus doing a cremation and a memorial service. Yet, the general public doesn’t seem to be aware of those costs until they are actually in the funeral home dealing with the situation, because they don’t want to prepare for death.
Gail: They’ve never had the conversation, because if you talk about it, it will happen sooner. Well, that is not true. Whether you talk about it or not, it is going to happen. But, that is true; cremation is much, much less. You can get away with under $1000 for direct cremation and then having some kind of creative celebration of life. Funeral burial costs, you are talking 6, 10, 12, 15 thousand dollars, and even more depending on how fancy you want to get.
Anne: Very, very interesting.
Caller #4: Yeah, the average funeral here in Illinois is usually between 12 and 15 thousand dollars, which is a substantial amount of money when you are dealing with a recession type economy. I guess part of my position is that I love to see the fact that there are some people like yourself, Gail, and myself out there trying to educate people and say, “You have to prepare for this. You have to talk about it. You have to think about it, because it is a substantial amount of money. You don’t want to necessarily leave that burden to your family. It would be nice if you made some of those decisions in advance so that at least your family knows what your desires are whether it is cremation, burial, however you want it to be handled. The other thing I wanted to mention to you, I know when you were talking to Peggy and she was talking about the personalization. I wanted to share with a wonderful story too about a woman whose service we had done. She had been in the theater. She actually went with a burial, and how we ended her service was by giving her her last standing ovation. I thought that was a phenomenal way to say goodbye to her, by giving her something that was probably the most rewarding thing when you are in the theater business was to have that standing ovation. It was very emotional, it was very tearful, but it was also very fulfilling for everyone that was there.
Anne: That’s awesome. We need to go onto the next caller.
Gail: I want to talk with you some more.
Anne: Do you guys know how to get in touch with each other.
Caller #4: Debbie Williams?
Caller #4: Yeah, Debbie Williams, I was on your blog. You wrote about me awhile ago.
Gail: You are in the book.
Anne: Thank you, Debra. Gail, why don’t you go ahead and take this opportunity to tell people how they can reach you, and then we will go to a couple more callers, but we are just about out of time now.
Gail: Oh, no. It’s flown by. My website is agoodgoodbye.com. In fact, I would like to encourage everyone to go there. I have a planner in the back of the book that is an excellent resource for pulling all of the information together that you would need to pass on to someone as a free download. You just type in your name and e-mail. You will see it when you go to agoodgoodbye.com.
Anne: That’s easy to remember.
Gail: The book is coming out very soon.
Anne: Alright, let’s go to Michelle in El Paso. She has a question and a story. Thank you for waiting, Michelle. I’d ask you to keep it not too long.
Caller #5: Of course not, and I’ll be quick. Gail, congratulations on the book. I’m going to segue into creative burial options, because I wrote a book, “Exit Strategy: Thinking outside the Box” that talks about 18 different ways. You can shoot loved one into space, turn them into diamonds, and blow them into glass. I found Gail, and you are probably the same, just being so touched by all of the services I’ve witnessed, on the lighter side, my book really talked about the wonderful celebrations of life, putting your loved one’s into a grief ball and have it go into the ocean and be a habitat for fish. Watching someone really get shot into space in a lipstick sized container or turning your loved one into a diamond and wearing them. So, Gail, my question for you is: are funeral directors embracing creative alternatives to traditional burial options? Instead of just the traditional burial.
Anne: That’s a great question.
Caller #5: Are they embracing? Just like other callers have said, we don’t want to waste our natural resources. We want to think green. I’m a boomer. So, the bottom line is I’ve got to be creative. I want to do something my way and go out with a real bang.
Gail: Well, actually yes. Funeral directors are open to whatever families want to do, that’s the key about planning ahead and meeting with a funeral director ahead of time. The problem is when you wait until somebody dies, then you are like under stress and you’ve got to do something now. It really cuts short your creativity cycle when you are under the gun like that.
Caller #5: Like you said earlier, when you are going to go through cremation, then you really do have that opportunity to really think about that person and how they might have wanted to go out. I witnessed a person in California who wanted their grandmother to be shot into fireworks. The family gathered on the shore and it was this beautiful ceremony. It was so uplifting instead of really being this horrific situation, people were laughing and crying and remembering. It was a true celebration of life.
Anne: That’s really, really cool. Michelle, thank you so much for the call.
Caller #5: Thank you. Thanks, Gail. Can’t wait to get the book, congratulations.
Gail: Thank you.
Anne: That actually you know brings up a question that I think is important when you are talking about funeral planning. There is this stereotype of funeral directors and funeral parlors as sort of preying on the family at their hour of grief, and that is when they sell them the up sell of the really fancy lined coffins. Do you think funeral directors get an unfair rap? Are they really for the most part there to try and help the family and to guide them?
Gail: The majority of funeral directors that I’ve talked to and that I’ve worked with really feel this is a mission, a service that they do for people. When there is a death in the family, the family is not thinking straight. The thing is going in and making arrangements before you need them, you can think with your head and not with your heart, not with guilt. “Oh, my god, I didn’t visit my mother enough before she died so I am going to get a really pricey casket to make up for that. Funeral directors love nothing better than people who say, “I want to do something different,” because they can. They will work with the family to whatever extent they want to get creative and do. Did they tell you there was a Harley Davidson at this funeral that I went to on Saturday?
Anne: No, you didn’t
Gail: Next to the casket, yes.
Anne: Well, was it the deceased’s?
Gail: The deceased loved hotrods and corvettes and riding his motorcycle. So they brought his motorcycle in and parked it next to his casket.
Anne: Well, that represents him. That’s who he was. We are going to let Christine from Tucson have the last call here. She has been waiting very patiently to talk to you. Christine, you are on the air with Anne and Gail.
Caller #6: Hi, Anne. Thank you so much. I appreciate it. Gail, thank you for all you are doing. I will quickly, quickly ask. I am a life cycle celebrant here in Tucson and also a home funeral guide. I do help people as your call-in says match hatch and dispatch and also into the continuum of caring for their own at home. Just last week I was in a home funeral situation and saw so many of the messages that you have expressed during the course of this call touched upon. Personal expression, involvement of children, neighbors, and I am wondering if in your 30 day challenge if you plan to attend a home funeral and how much you have seen a paradigm shift occurring around that in your research?
Gail: Well, home funerals don’t get advertised in the obits. I can’t crash a funeral if I don’t know about it.
Caller #6: You are going purely by the obituaries. I see.
Gail: Yeah, yeah. Unless somebody tells me about something, but nobody has done that yet.
Caller #6: Well I should have called you last week.
Gail: Oh, darn. You’d be in my area.
Caller #6: Well, Albuquerque to Tucson, you know. Are you seeing more interest in activity around that in the time that you have been doing your research and your work?
Gail: In fact in “A Good Goodbye” I write about Elizabeth Knox and her crossing. You must know about her.
Caller #6: At crossing, great, great, yeah. That’s wonderful to hear.
Gail: In fact, at the ADEC conference back in April, they actually had a workshop on how to deal with a body for a home death, home death care. That was very interesting too. It is a lot like what I do with the Chevra Kadisha, the Jewish Burial Society, washing and dressing the body.
Anne: Christine, thank you for the call. We have run out of time, Gail. I cannot believe it. It flew. We didn’t even get to go the subject of pets at funerals and pet funerals. I was hoping to.
Gail: And open air cremations! I talked to those people.
Anne: Did you? See well we will just have to have you come back, because I actually asked you about that. But this is the show for the callers and they were there for you. Thank you so much. Our guest is Gail Rubin. She is the funeral planning expert, and her upcoming book “A Good Goodbye”. You can find the information about it at her website agoodgoodbye.com. She hasn’t mentioned this, but you can also find her at Twitter @thefamilyplot. Gail, thank you again, so very much for joining us. We really appreciate it.
Gail: Thank you, Anne.
Anne: Next week, again, be sure to come and join us when we have Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and he will be talking about carrying on his grandfather’s work and helping people to be the change they want to see in the world. Talk to you all next time. Thank you and have a great week.
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