At the TEDx Main Event in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Gail Rubin, Certified Thanatologist, gave a powerful talk to 1,500 people about end-of-life issues and the need to preplan before there’s a death in the family.
This video of her funny, informative and moving talk offers persuasive reasons to undertake preneed funeral planning.
Gail Rubin spoke about why people avoid discussing advance medical directives, preparing wills or trusts, and doing preneed funeral planning. She illustrated with stories from her own life, and a short film clip from the comedy Undertaking Betty.
TEDxABQ is a locally-produced version of TED talks, “ideas worth spreading” in Technology, Entertainment and Design. The annual Main Event was held on Saturday, September 12, 2015, with 20 thought-provoking speakers at a daylong event. Smaller salon programs are held throughout the year.
A transcription of the speech follows. Gail Rubin is available for speaking engagements by calling 505.265.7215. Learn more at the Speaker page on AGoodGoodbye.com.
My father-in-law Norman Bleicher exhaled his last breath at midnight on April 14, 2009. Ten family members formed a circle of love around him in the darkened room at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was a peaceful ending to a chaotic seven-week medical journey that started with a broken hip and ended after his third ER admission on palliative care.
A nurse approached Myra, Norm’s just-widowed wife of nearly six decades. “Would you like to donate the organs?” “He was 82 years old – who would want them?” That was a no.
We were lucky. We had Norm’s advance medical directives, his written wishes, to guide us during those last confusing weeks. He didn’t want heroic measures taken to extend his life or his death.
These days, heart attacks, strokes, cancer – they’re no longer death sentences… at least, not immediately. Despite dramatic improvements in medicine, humans do still have a 100% mortality rate.
Yet, less than one-third of us make end-of-life plans – wills or trusts, advance medical directives and preneed funeral planning. That leaves 70 percent unprepared and devastated, not if but when there’s a death in the family.
Why are these planning rates so low? We’re terrified of death!
We’re afraid of change and the unknown. The Tarot card for Death actually represents change, transition, transformation. Change can be seen as positive or negative. As long as we live, change, like death and taxes, is inevitable.
We’re afraid of pain and disability before death. Woody Allen said, “Death doesn’t really worry me that much, I’m not frightened about it… I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
We’re afraid of loss and being forgotten. Americans are great at acquiring. We’re not very good at letting go.
How can we release our fears and live more fully? Let’s take death out of the closet and talk.
The funny thing about death… most people don’t find anything funny about it. As a death educator, I use funny films to teach about serious subjects. You laugh, you relax, you learn.
The comedy Undertaking Betty features progressive funeral director Frank Featherbed, played by Christopher Walken. He has a big idea for encouraging preneed funeral planning. (movie clip)
“We have to sell them the concept, that’s all. We could do Casket of the Month.” “Casket of the Month?” “ Yes, like Flavor of the Month. And discounts – people love discounts and coupons. We could do a first funeral full price, and the second half off. Say the husband drops dead first. The wife comes in with a coupon, pays in advance for her funeral as well, and gets it half off. Is that great or what?”
Is that great or what? We may laugh at Frank Featherbed’s approach. But it’s part of a vision I’ve been working to make reality – for a good cause. The Good Goodbye Foundation.
Across this country, the unclaimed cremated remains of hundreds of thousands of indigent individuals languish in obscurity. These people and their families didn’t have funds for a funeral, or maybe they just didn’t plan to die. Their remains are squirreled away in closets and cabinets at state and local governments, and stacked on shelves in the back rooms of funeral homes in every state. The Good Goodbye Foundation will give these people a permanent final resting place with a memorial marker that says these people lived, these people died, these people mattered. Just as every one of you matter.
And for the living, The Good Goodbye Foundation will support those who prepare their advance medical directives and shop preneed with several funeral providers. It’s a fascinating shopping trip, best done while you can still think clearly and laugh. Shop before you drop… dead.
Of course, you can preplan without spending any money.
The day after my father-in-law Norm died, we were exhausted. But because we had preplanned three years earlier, our arrangements at the funeral home were easy and quick. We tweaked a few elements and finished in an hour.
Myra put it all on her credit card – think of the points, the miles! Afterward, she smiled. “I didn’t like it when you were preplanning, but now when we needed it, I’m glad it was done.”
Would you let your kids plan your vacation? No, of course not! So why make your family scramble figure out the details of your final journey?
Would your loved ones know the answer when a nurse asks, “Would you like to donate the organs?” Or when a funeral director asks, “Where was she born?” or “What’s his mother’s maiden name?” They will ask these questions.
Let’s change that 30/70 percent planning ratio to 70/30 or better. Prepare a will or trust. Write your medical wishes. Make your funeral plans. Talk to the people you love.
You can reduce stress, minimize family conflict, save money, and create a meaningful, memorable good goodbye. You know, talking about sex won’t make you pregnant. Talking about funerals won’t make you dead.