Planning 'A Good Goodbye'

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Planning: Author brings light to a dark subject

By Arin McKenna

Author Gail Rubin believes that death – like any “creative life cycle” – should be planned for.

Rubin tells people, “Just as talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, talking about funerals won’t make you dead – and your family will benefit from the conversation.”

Rubin – a Certified Celebrant specializing in funerals and memorial services– is the author of “A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die” (Light Tree Press). “A Good Goodbye” is also the title of Rubin’s talk at the Los Alamos Jewish Center Sunday.

Rubin writes, “We plan our finances, our families, our retirement, just about everything except our funerals. Without end-of-life planning, life’s other plans can come undone.” In “A Good Goodbye,” Rubin uses gentle humor help people get funeral planning conversations started.

Rubin admits that these conversations can be awkward, as her own experience helping to plan her father-in-law’s funeral illustrates.

When Rubin and her husband talked about preplanning his father’s funeral, they realized they were missing critical information, such as his social security number, veteran’s information and a list of family members. Rubin’s father-in-law was more than willing to help, but her mother-in-law just shut down.

When Rubin’s father-in-law passed three years later, the preplanning eased the process. After the funeral her mother-in-law said, “I didn’t appreciate you talking about it at the time, but now I’m glad you did.”

In the lead-up to her book launch last year, Rubin challenged herself to attend 30 funerals in 30 days – all for people she didn’t know – and write a blog on each. Her goal was to illustrate the many creative ways people celebrate the lives of those they love and help reduce the fear of talking about death.

“It was a great way to expose myself to all kinds of funerals,” said Rubin. “I’ve seen a lot of missed opportunities as well as a lot of good ones,” Rubin said. “Funerals can be so much more about the life of the person than many of them are.”

Among the most memorable services Rubin attended were two pews of Red Hat Society ladies in full regalia, a Harley Davidson motorcycle in a funeral chapel, an artist’s remembrance that featured her favorite lemon meringue pie and one for a young man who loved the outdoors at the Albuquerque BioPark’s Japanese Garden.

At one that stood out, the chapel was filled with the deceased’s favorite flowers – sunflowers. His friends and family shared remembrances they had written in advance. “Often celebrants who don’t know the individual will open the funeral up for people to speak extemporaneously,” Rubin said. “These usually fall far short of something thought out beforehand.”

Rubin is repeating her challenge this year. Her last funeral will be on Oct. 30, the 12th annual “Create a Great Funeral Day. “ Stephanie West Allen started the “Great Funeral Day” to remind people that when they let loved ones know how they would like their life celebrated; the survivors’ experience can be much easier.

Rubin said it is also the best way to assure that the funeral is a meaningful and memorable celebration of the person’s life. Some of the best funerals Rubin has attended were those planned by the deceased.

Sunday’s talk will focus on Jewish funeral traditions, with comparisons of Jewish, Christian and Muslim customs. Rubin will illustrate her talk with humorous scenes from two Mexican movies, “Nora’s Will” and “My Mexican Chivah.” “People are much more willing to talk about something they can laugh about,” Rubin said.

Rubin is a member of the Association for Death Education and Counseling and the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association. She also volunteers with the Chevra Kaddisha, a group that ritually prepares the bodies of Jews for burial, as well as the cemetery committee for Congregation Albert synagogue.

“A Good Goodbye” was a Book of the Year Award finalist in the Family & Relationships category and is a finalist in five categories for the 2011 New Mexico Book Awards.

Rubin speaks at the Los Alamos Jewish Center (2400 Canyon Road) at 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23. Refreshments will be served and information handouts will be provided.