By Gail Rubin – The Doyenne of Death™

There were two versions of the comedy Death at a Funeral – the first was produced in the U.K. in 2007 and a U.S. version was released in 2010 with an African-American cast starring Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence. The critical reviews favored the U.K. version as being funnier, although both versions offer good funeral planning lessons regarding preparing the eulogy, paying for a funeral, and holding a funeral at home.

The story line for both films is the same although the names are changed. Here’s the IMDb description of the U.K. film:

Daniel is a decent young man, married to Jane, still living at his father’s home. When his father dies, it is up to him to organize the funeral. On this painful morning, the suitable grave expression on his face, Daniel is ready to welcome his father’s friends and relatives. But preserving the dignity inherent in such circumstances will be a hard task. Particularly with an undertaker who botches his work, the return of his famous but selfish brother, his cousin’s fiancé who has accidentally ingested psychoactive drugs, the presence a moron who takes advantage of the sad event to win back the heart (or rather the body) of a woman who is about to marry another, of a handicapped old uncle who is also the most unbearable pain in the neck. To cap it all, Daniel notices the presence among the mourners of a mysterious dwarf nobody else seems to know…

The mysterious dwarf played by Peter Dinklage in both films is the secret homosexual lover of the deceased. Chaos and comedy ensues as our hero tries to keep this development from coming to light before the rest of the family.

Death at a Funeral

Preparing the Eulogy

Our hero is supposed to write a eulogy about his father, but he feels incompetent when compared to his famous brother the writer. After practicing and practicing – and trying to hide the dwarf – in frustration he winds up blurting out feelings that actually make a lovely eulogy.

Beware of the use of too many words like “me,” “my,” and “I.” Let’s make it clear — the eulogy is not about you. Your job as a speaker at a funeral is to illuminate the life and character of the deceased, and to reflect upon how their life impacted the community gathered before you to mourn that person’s passing.

Death at a Funeral Eulogy

Chris Rock struggles with a eulogy in Death at a Funeral (U.S. version).

Here are some tips for a good eulogy. The most meaningful eulogies:

  • Are presented by those closest to the deceased.
  • Include one or two stories about the deceased. Choose a funny story to start the eulogy. This will help people remember the happiness of the deceased’s life. Mention something that gave the deceased pleasure, for instance, playing music or sports.
  • Frequently refer to the person who has died by name.
  • Mention the circumstances surrounding the death.
  • Capture the deceased’s important beliefs with quotes from people who were inspirational to him or her.
  • List some of the accomplishments of the deceased and the differences he or she has made in the lives of others. Include the memories of many different people.
  • Discuss how the deceased has affected your own life in a positive way, as well as how his death has affected you. Be honest about your feelings. An honest eulogy is always more meaningful.
  • Acknowledge mourners’ pain and encourage them to exhibit grief.
  • Include family members who may tend to keep a low profile (i.e. gay partners, ex-spouses, stepchildren, etc.).
  • Elevate the message to deepen our awareness of mortality and appreciation for life.
  • Acknowledge the value of the guests’ presence to family and friends.
  • State that the deceased will be missed and will always be loved.

Paying for the Funeral

In the U.S. version, the two brothers are standing next to their dad’s casket debating about paying for the funeral. Even though the setting is in a very fancy home in Los Angeles, the father’s long illness must have eaten up any savings. The son who lived at his parents’ house asks his brother to split the costs of the (very expensive) funeral and the famous brother says he doesn’t have any cash.

Death at a Funeral Discussion

Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence discuss how to pay for Dad’s funeral.

What can be done to avoid this uncomfortable situation?

  1. Save up money and put it in a Payable on Death (POD) bank account, also known as a Totten Trust account. This can shelter up to $20,000 with no tax consequences. It makes it easy and quick for the designated person to access the funds to pay for final expenses.
  2. Preplan and prepay for your funeral with a reputable funeral home. Don’t let this financial burden fall on your kids’ shoulders.
  3. Get life insurance or final expense insurance. Final expense insurance policies are relatively small policies ($3,000 to $35,000), inexpensive for most age ranges, and available without a doctor exam to folks who have a wide range of health conditions. Call me at 505-265-7215 if you want to find out more about final expense insurance.
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Home Funerals

In both versions of Death at a Funeral, the funeral was held at the (very fancy) family home. It looks like they spent a lot of money on the funeral. A funeral home prepared the body and brought it to the home. There were lots of flowers and fancy food. A minister was brought in for the occasion.

In many people’s minds, having a home funeral means a do-it-yourself budget funeral. However, it’s not an all-or-nothing situation. Families do have the option of working with a funeral home in many different ways and holding a funeral at many different locations: home, place of worship, funeral home chapel, graveside in a cemetery, and at locations that were meaningful to the deceased and his or her family.

Compare the U.K. version and the U.S. version of Death at a Funeral and let me know what other lessons you learn! Both are available from Netflix and


The Doyenne of Death™ Gail Rubin is author of the award-winning book A Good Goodbye:Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die. She speaks to groups using clips from funny films to illustrate funeral planning issues and help start serious conversations. Her website is

A Good Goodbye