By Gail Rubin

In America, death is often regarded as the classic Monty Python routine about the Spanish Inquisition. “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapons are fear, surprise, and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.”

Despite the fact that humans have a 100% mortality rate, we don’t expect to die. If you don’t expect to die, you’re unlikely to pre-plan a funeral. And that leads to problems like family discord, higher costs, meaningless rituals, and unnecessary stress added to grief.

We are mortal. Our bodies eventually stop working. Many religions teach that the soul, the spirit that resides within our bodies as long as we breathe, lives forever. So why do we have this fear of funeral planning?

I think there are three factors:

One:  People don’t plan to die. Modern medicine today has become so highly advanced; it offers the promise of extending life, seemingly forever. Yet, our life spans all have a limit, we all have an expiration date. Death is now perceived as a surprise, an emergency, or a failure of the medical profession, rather than a natural part of the cycle of life.

Two: People have lost that sense of what to do when there’s a death in the community. Our pluralistic society is a good thing in many ways, but when it comes to death, funerals and mourning, we’ve lost many traditions regarding the last event in the life cycle.

Three: “I’ll get around to it someday.” There’s nothing like attending someone else’s funeral to make you realize your turn is going to come “someday.” But then you get busy with life, and “someday” always slips away. Before you know it, someone dies and the family is left wondering what that person would have wanted for his or her funeral.

We put off doing funeral planning because we’re afraid. None of us know for sure the date of our demise, or how it will happen. The unpredictability of our final deadline enables the postponement of undertaking this vital task.

But just as talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, talking about funerals won’t make you dead – at least not any sooner than you would expire otherwise. And your loved ones will be in a better position to deal with your departure.

Do everyone a favor and make some plans, and don’t keep them secret. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Gail Rubin is the author of the award-winning book, A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die Visit her blog, The Family Plot, at

A Good Goodbye