Get Inspired: 6 Creative & Fun Ways to Connect With Your Community

Posted April 3, 2019

7 min read

Certified Thanatologist Gail Rubin is a pioneering death educator known for her unconventional way of being able to get the conversation started on life and death issues using humor.

While she might often surprise her audience through a combination of humor and film, she was the one who was recently surprised by a statement made at one of her presentations.

“I don’t think funeral directors have a sense of humor,” said an audience member.

Gail’s response?

“Funeral directors are some of the funniest people I know. But when a bereaved family needs to make funeral arrangements for a loved one, they have to be appropriately solicitous, sensitive, and somber,” she replied.

Gail couldn’t have said it better, and her point was this: yes, being lighthearted helps people to think and consider death and dying when they may not have otherwise. But at the same time, timing has to be taken into consideration when being fun or using humor to talk about death.

You can only laugh in the face of death when mortality seems like a distant possibility. “After someone dies, it’s more difficult to be lighthearted. For funeral professionals, the takeaway is you want to try to connect with people who don’t need your services in the immediate future, especially when using unconventional means.

Recently named as a 2019 Women of Influence by Albuquerque Business First, and a featured speaker at TEDxABQ in 2015, Gail knows a lot about this very topic. Known as The Doyenne of Death®, Gail is the author of three books on end-of-life issues, including A GOOD GOODBYE: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die and KICKING THE BUCKET LIST: 100 Downsizing and Organizing Things to Do Before You Die. As a Certified Funeral Celebrant, she is also coordinator of the Before I Die New Mexico Festival.

Keeping in mind humor and fun can be used to start serious conversations, here are 6 creative ways you can connect and engage with your community:

1. Hold a movie night at your funeral home.

“Serve popcorn and other movie-watching treats! There are a host of funny funeral films that make people laugh and can open the door to learning,” says Gail.

Gail suggests you check out movies like Elizabethtown (2005 PG-13), Undertaking Betty (2002 PG-13), Bernie (2012 PG-13), Get Low (2009 PG-13) and The Six Wives of Henry Lefay (2009 PG-13). “I haven’t yet seen A Madea Family Funeral (2019 PG-13), which might be another option. Critics hate the film, but there are lots of Madea fans out there. It’s doing great at the box office.”

After the film is over, offer to answer questions about funerals that the film might raise.

Just know that to show films legally, you need to have an umbrella license from the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation and must not charge admission. Find more information at www.MPLC.org. “I maintain an annual license to show film clips in my presentations,” shares Gail.

2. Whatever event you host, add some door prizes

Whether or not you end up doing a movie night, why not do a drawing for some door prizes?

Do a drawing for door prizes to collect contact information from attendees. Your preneed sales staff can follow up with them afterward. Have fun and think outside-the-box with the gifts or treats you decide to give away to attendees. Make it “share-worthy” so they snap a picture and share it in their social media channels.

3. Take your community “behind the scenes”

People are curious about funeral homes, crematories and cemeteries. Knowing that, Gail suggests funeral professionals offer some kind of behind-the-scenes content to their community.

First, consider in-person tours. It might be ideal to utilize your best public speakers on staff. For example, check out this tour of a French Funerals & Cremations funeral home, conducted by location manager Apollo Miller on Gail’s YouTube Channel. If you’ve already mastered recorded content, consider doing it live.

4. Hold a Death Over Dinner Event at Your Funeral Home

Consider holding a Death Over Dinner event at your funeral home. The Death Over Dinner movement launched in the United States on August 24, 2013 with over 500 dinners in 20 countries on a single night. Since then there have been more than 100,000 dinners around the globe, says Gail.

“It started with a University of Washington graduate course called Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death, taught by Michael Hebb and Scott Macklin. They recognized that how we end our lives is the most important and costly conversation America is NOT having. Death Over Dinner facilitates difficult conversations over the comforting ritual of breaking bread,” adds Gail.

Most people hold Death Over Dinner events in their dining rooms or kitchens at home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t host one at your funeral home.

5. Host a Game Night

Hosting or creating a game is another way to get people to talk about death in a non-threatening way.

The Caroll-Lewellen Funeral Home, located in Longmont, Colorado, once sponsored Gail’s presentations at the Frozen Dead Guy Days Festival in a nearby city in Colorado. Prior to that weekend event, the funeral home held an event designed to draw in local residents to the funeral home chapel.

It was during this festival that Gail was able to lead what was called the Newly-Dead Game®—a twist on the game show, The Newlywed Game.

The Newly-Dead Game is designed to be played by three or four couples with an emcee reading the questions, says Gail. “Four questions are asked, each progressively more challenging. All questions regard elements of the participants’ last wishes. The emcee then interviews the couples to reveal their answers. The couple that gets the most answers correct get the most points. The highest scoring couple wins the top prize.”

It’s an example of another kind of event that can be lots of fun, have great attendance, but it can also get people talking about death. Between games, Gail will show an on-theme film and will also be sure to collect people’s information for follow-up.

6. Speak At An Event Or Conference

Look for events or conferences you can speak about death or dying at. Look into sharing relevant, entertaining content at events such as Dying Matters Week; Death Cafes; Before I Die Festivals; Death Over Dinner; Death Salons, and Reimagine End of Life Festivals. If those speeches or presentations are recorded, see if you can share it from your funeral home’s social media channels. It’s one more way people can get to know you as an expert in the space.

Remember: these can be industry-related events, or events directly tied to death and dying, but consider going outside the industry to share your message with a whole new audience that will be curious about your content.

Gail’s last piece of advice for funeral professionals looking to connect and engage with families in a whole new way? “Let you humor show; people need to get over their fear of talking to funeral directors,” she says.

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