Gail Rubin, CT, is a death educator who uses humor and funny films to help break the ice about end-of-life issues. In this Toastmasters International Speech competition, she presents “When Death Calls,” a compelling case for making advance end-of-life plans — wills and trusts, advance medical directives and pre-need funeral planning — to be prepared for that time when death calls.
This speech was presented in the Division B contest for District 23 of Toastmasters International. Winners of this contest go on to compete at the District level, which encompasses New Mexico and West Texas.
Here’s a video of the speech, followed by a transcription (more or less).
When you were a child, did you dream of becoming a life-saving hero? Maybe you wanted to be a firefighter, a doctor, or Batman. He had that cool car and all that cash. Very few fantasize about being a superhero at end-of-life: a funeral director, a cemeterian, the Doyenne of Death! Check out the skulls!
When I became a death educator, my brother Mitch suggested the name. I thought it was great. I went and trade-marked it before I realized most Americans don’t know what a doyenne is.
A doyenne is a woman considered senior in a group who knows a lot about a particular subject. I told my parents, “I’m the Doyenne of Death!” “That’s nice honey.” But they attended my first Death Café discussion workshop. Afterward, Dad said, “You need to come to the house and I’m going to show you where all the important papers are located. This is a good thing.
Despite great advances in medical care, humans do still have a 100% mortality rate. Yet less than 30% of us do any end-of-life planning: wills or trusts, advance medical directives and pre-need funeral planning. That leaves more than 70% of us unprepared and devastated, not IF but WHEN death calls.
I use humor and funny films to break the ice about this serious subject. In November, I gave a number of public presentations and people gave me their contact information. I started to make follow-up calls in early December. Wouldn’t you love to get a call from the Doyenne of Death to remind you of your mortality during the holidays?
One very nice woman said she was busy and to call back later. So I called her in January. “Hi, this is Gail Rubin. You attended my talk on preparing for end-of-life issues back in November.”
“Oh, yes, I remember you! That was an excellent presentation, I learned a lot.”
“So, have you made your end-of-life arrangements?”
“I’m 84 years old. I don’t need to be reminded that I’m going to die.”
“So, you have made your final arrangements?”
“No I haven’t, and I don’t intend to. My daughter can just deal with it. So, I’m going to hang up now. Thanks for calling! Bye-bye!”
This woman is among the 70% who don’t plan to die. I would not want to be her daughter.
When you’re the Doyenne of Death and you put your phone number out there on the internet, you get some interesting phone calls. One call from a man in the Midwest had a personal impact.
“I’m calling about my 103-year-old mother. She’s bedridden, she has Lewy Body Dementia, and she can’t swallow so she’s on tube feeding directly into her stomach.”
“I’m calling because we have burned through a 1.4 million dollar estate on her 24/7 home care. We pay eight thousand dollars a month. When my father died at age 83, he had a lot of insurance, but we’ve spent all of that. We were thinking there might be another insurance policy that we didn’t know about and I hope you can help me find the phone number for that insurance company.”
Wow. I got him the number for the insurance company. But I also gave him the number for the end-of-life counselors at Compassion and Choices, to get a fresh perspective on this situation.
If you were demented, bedridden and can’t eat , would you want to be kept alive? This is why advance medical directives are so important.
Life is precious. Medical technology can extend our lives. Medical technology can also extend our deaths. Advance medical directives tell our loved ones when enough is enough.
This call upset me so much, I called my parents in Florida. “Please tell me you do NOT want tube feeding!” They hemmed and hawed and talked about their own parents’ end-of-life stories.
Then I pulled out their advance medical directives. They do NOT want “artificial hydration and nutrition.” Yes! They also updated their wills two years ago and have pre-paid their funeral expenses. I am a very grateful daughter.
So how about you? When death calls, will you and your loved ones be among the 30% who are prepared? Or will you be among the 70% scrambling to collect information and make decisions under duress of grief? It doesn’t have to be that way.
And I’m living proof! Just like talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, talking about funerals won’t make you dead. Start a conversation today.