By Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death™

As more people engage hospice services for end-of-life care, the use of living memorial services is growing. This event allows the hospice patient to be present at his or her own life celebration. It’s a time to speak and receive words of love, forgiveness, admiration, and farewell.

In 1998, Edward “E.B.” Sugars helped pioneer living memorial services. Dying of lung cancer at the age of 66, this retired Santa Rosa high school teacher decided to hold a living memorial service with more than 200 family, friends and colleagues. The potluck dinner was held at a community center and included festive music by a local brass band.

The concept was so unique at the time, the local news story was picked up and circulated widely by the Associated Press wire service, and a German television news crew interviewed family members, as end-of-life issues were a big topic in Germany at the time.

Although Sugars was weak, in a wheelchair, and breathing from a portable oxygen tank, he was able to address those gathered, and hear their tributes to him. He said he wanted his friends to know he loved them, to know that death is part of life, and not to be scared.

He said, “Death is not a big deal. We’ve ignored it. You live – a long time, a short time, whatever. In the end, it’s like a wise old woman once told me: The only thing that’s important in life is how well we lived it, how well we loved the people God sent our way.”

A longtime recovering alcoholic, Sugars said he never thought he would live as long as he had. Known for his sense of humor, he lifted the shadow when the hall was silent and eyes filled with tears.

“I have been favored with a wonderful life,” he said. “With a little luck, my reputation will grow and grow… Hell, in another ten years I will have walked on water.”

Former students, fellow teachers, administrators, son Kirk and daughter Stephanie, and many friends in the recovery community delivered eulogies and tributes. The celebration was held on the 35th anniversary of Sugars becoming clean and sober.

At the end of the day, Sugars said, “It’s been a great three months, to know that you are fading fast and still accepting the joy of life… Nothing is ever so bad that you can’t see joy in a day. I will remember this as one of the high points of my life.”

The living memorial service was held Saturday afternoon, and he died peacefully early Monday morning. His son Kirk said that the anticipated memorial service helped keep his dad alive, along with the help of the doctor who did everything possible to keep him going.

Having laughed and cried with E.B. Sugars at his living memorial service, family and friends honored his wishes by not holding any further services. His obituary invited anyone wishing to add to a Book of Memories started at the celebration to contribute their stories to pass on to his grandchildren.

What a wonderful way to leave a legacy of great memories.

About the author:

Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death™, is author of A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die and The Family Plot Blog ( A Certified Celebrant and an event planner experienced in funerals, she’s also a breast cancer survivor who speaks regularly to groups on getting the funeral planning conversation started. Rubin is a member of the Association for Death Education and Counseling and the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association. She also serves on the cemetery committee for Congregation Albert and volunteers with the Chevra Kaddisha, which ritually prepares bodies for Jewish burial. Her web site is


A Good Goodbye