In this age where well-crafted obituaries go viral on the Internet, Gail Rubin, Certified Thanatologist, The Doyenne of Death®, and host and author of A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die, wrote her own obituary in advance of her eventual demise. Others are advised to do the same, to help them get the most out of this finite lifetime. Here is her draft obituary, subject to changes.
After __ years (starting in 2010) of saying, “Talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, talking about funerals won’t make you dead,” Gail Rubin died. No pregnancy occurred.
She died of ____________ – she’s sure you’d want to know that detail. By the way, ‘old age’ is not considered a cause of death on death certificates. She was five years old when JFK was shot in 1963 and was 39 when Princess Diana died in a car crash in 1997. You do the math.
She became the Doyenne of Death® in 2011, after the publication of her award-winning book, A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die. A doyenne is a woman who’s considered senior in a group and knows a lot about a particular subject. Gail was an expert on creating the party no one wants to plan, a funeral or memorial service.
She also produced and hosted an award-winning television show and Internet radio program, also called A Good Goodbye. These programs got the funeral planning conversation started with Gail frankly discussing topics that generally aren’t examined until there’s a death in the family. It was her goal to reduce stress and family conflict, save money, and have a “good goodbye.”
Gail became a Certified Thanatologist (CT) in 2014. The designation Certified in Thanatology: Death, Dying and Bereavement, a fancy name for a death educator, is conferred by the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC). As an engaging speaker, she used funny films and humor to help audiences laugh in the face of death, attract people to discuss end-of-life issues, and start making plans BEFORE a death in the family occurs.
She was honored to be a TEDxABQ speaker in 2015. Her talk was titled “A Good Goodbye.” Gail laid out a vision for a foundation that would help people undertake pre-need funeral planning. She encouraged people to plan ahead for end of life issues, ending with her favorite phrase: “Talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, and talking about funerals won’t make you dead.”
Her unusual career as a death educator started when she married David Bleicher in December 2000. It was her second wedding, a Jewish-Western themed event. Everyone had such a good time, Gail wanted to write a book on creative life cycle events and call it “Matchings, Hatchings and Dispatchings.”
She wrote a monthly feature in the now-defunct Albuquerque Tribune by that name. Surprisingly, the columns on death and funerals generated the most reader response. This indicated a real need to undertake funeral planning conversations, and she saw humor as the way to start.
She pioneered the Death Cafe movement in the U.S., hosting the first one west of the Mississippi in September 2012. The Death Café movement started in the U.K. in 2011. At these free events, people gather to share what’s on their hearts and minds about mortality, while drinking tea or coffee and eating delicious cake. Her parents, Sheldon and Ruth Rubin, were among the two dozen people who participated. The experience prompted them to share all the important information she needed to know to handle their estates and funeral plans.
Gail became a Certified Funeral Celebrant in 2012. Celebrants are professionals who make funerals or memorial services all about the person who died, whether religious or not. People would leave her services saying, “That was the best funeral I’ve ever attended.” You can bet she’ll have this obituary available for her own service.
In 2017, Gail continued pioneering unique ways to educate people about death and encourage planning ahead by holding the first Before I Die Festival west of the Mississippi in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She coordinated six days of activities that drew 600 participants to 22 events.
She was a television producer at C-SPAN in Washington, D.C. for five years and a public relations professional and event planner for three decades. Yet, her destiny to help people laugh in the face of death actually goes back to her college days.
While getting a B.A. in English and Communications at the University of Maryland, College Park (Class of 1980), she took a number of film appreciation and film production classes. One college assignment was to create a black-and-white three-minute film called “The Bubblegum Film.” Most of Gail’s classmates did movies with car chases. She did a satire of Ingmar Bergman’s classic film, “The Seventh Seal.”
She parodied the opening scene in “The Seventh Seal” where Death comes for a medieval knight. The Knight, thinking quickly, appeals to Death’s ego by challenging the Grim Reaper to a game of chess. The Knight gets to live as long as he continues to win the match.
In “The Bubblegum Film,” Gail’s college boyfriend and future ex-husband Bob Lalush played Death. When the Knight challenges this Grim Reaper to play chess, he admits he never learned the game. Thinking quickly, the Knight asks if he likes bubblegum, holding up a piece of Bazooka gum. Remember when gum wrappers included fortunes? Death says he loves bubblegum, and they agree to abide by the wrapper fortunes. In short, Death gleefully gets his man.
Gail had no children, and she was okay with that. It may have prompted her end-of-life preparedness, with no one on whom to toss the funeral planning responsibilities. She leaves three brothers, Mitch, Lee and Glen, and a niece, Dianne. Numerous other family members and friends will miss her.
In her spare time she was a Pilates and yoga instructor (including Laughter Yoga, appropriately). She rocked out on the electric bass with the Wednesday Night Pickin’, Grinnin’, Drinkin’ and Lyin’ Society. She was also a member of the National Speakers Association, Toastmasters International, the Association for Death Education and Counseling, the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, and SouthWest Writers.
Her burial in a plain pine box will take place at the Congregation Albert Cemetery in Albuquerque, NM. She served on the synagogue’s cemetery committee for many years, helping preserve and expand this historic resting ground. She was also a member of the Albuquerque Chevrah Kaddisha, volunteers who perform the Jewish rituals of washing and dressing bodies before burial or cremation.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to the Chevrah Kaddisha of Greater Albuquerque or the Indigent Burial Fund through the Jewish Federation of New Mexico.
In her honor, please talk with your loved ones about what you’d want for your funeral plans – it won’t kill you, and it won’t make you pregnant, either.