Before I Die festivals boldly take death out of the closet so participants can think about, talk about, and plan for our eventual mortality. These festivals incorporate film, music, art, theater, discussions, field trips, and other activities that help get conversations started.
Created in the United Kingdom in 2013, Before I Die festivals were first held in the U.S. in 2016, in Indianapolis, Indiana and in Louisville, Kentucky. In 2017, festivals were held in Louisville and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Before I Die Louisville Festival was coordinated by Kel McBride, the ‘Lively Death Lady’ of Clearly Depart, Justin Magnuson, a death educator with Living Fully, and Deb Tuggle, a clinical nurse specialist with Critical Care Consultants. Their first festival drew over 700 people to 17 events over the course of a month.
Magnuson, a hospice volunteer and host of Death Cafes in Louisville, said, “You know, it’s funny. People will say, ‘Oh, no one wants to talk about death and dying,’ and then they’ll sit there and talk to you about it for twenty minutes.”
So, we spoke with Justin Magnuson, co-founder of the Before I Die Louisville Festival, on the FuneralRadio.com podcast, A Good Goodbye. Show host Gail Rubin was the event coordinator for the inaugural Before I Die ABQ Festival. She and Magnuson compared notes on their experiences holding these festivals, what worked and what didn’t, and lessons learned for the next festivals.
How It Started
In April 2016, Magnuson collaborated with a hospice to host an advance directive event. Only five people attended. He realized, “You have to have something else that’s engaging, related and parallel… art, theater, and poetry engages people in a way that they can see themselves as part of this experience… It works for environmentalism, it works for other causes, why not have a death and dying festival?”
Louisville’s 2017 festival sponsors were Hosparus Health, Kindred Healthcare, the University of Louisville Institute for Sustainable Health & Optimal Aging, the Paula Schoenhoff Family Foundation, and alternative newspaper Leo Weekly. Partners included Norton Healthcare, the Festival of Faiths Center for Interfaith Relations, and NFDA, which brought funeral educator Lacy Robinson to Louisville to present on living funerals. They also had numerous community collaborators that helped make festival elements happen.
For more information about Before I Die Festivals, view/download this PDF of Gail Rubin’s article in the January 2018 issue of ICCFA Magazine.