Humor, Funny Films & In-Depth Knowledge: Unconventional Ways to Start Funeral Planning Conversations with Families

Posted September 14, 2016

7 min read

“Talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, and talking about funerals won’t make you dead,” says Gail Rubin.

It’s a phrase Rubin uses regularly during speeches across the nation where she uses humor to get people to start thinking about their own end-of-life wishes. Rubin is dedicated to starting these end-of-life and funeral planning conversations, and—as the so-called Doyenne of Death—she sees herself as an expert on “creating the party that no one wants to plan—a funeral or memorial service.”

Rubin uses this approach to get people to talk about medical directives, estate planning, and death in general. She’s the author of several books, 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. She also hosts the award-winning TV and DVD series, A Good Goodbye and an Internet radio program on FuneralRadio.com.

As a pioneer of the Death Café movement in the U.S., we sat down with Rubin to see how humor, funny films and in-depth knowledge can be used to start funeral planning conversations with families.

Here are 3 unconventional approaches for directors looking to help families better plan so that they can have a “good goodbye.”

1. Humor can be a tool to encourage people to talk about death.*

Rubin has spent more than six years helping funeral homes connect with families through the use of humor—specifically, funny films that bring up the idea and open the door to discussing death. The idea might sound surprising to funeral directors, but Rubin is quick to point out it all comes down to timing.

“Humor is best used before there’s a death in the family. You have to be very careful with humor after someone’s died,” she adds. Rubin has found success in the use of comedy to bring up death and dying at a variety of venues: at conferences and conventions, at colleges, businesses, hospices, hospitals, and beyond. She’s even used comedies at funeral homes where people from the local community came and watched funny films together.

“Again, timing is very important. The reason marketing with funny films works is because death seems like a distant possibility,” she explains. For a funeral home that wants to incorporate humor into its long-term marketing or community outreach efforts, it’s also critical to know the audience this kind of effort resonates with most.

Rubin says that using funny clips combined with a speech about death and pre-planning usually works best with people who are age 55 and up. It may vary, but it’s critical to know your audience before implementing any kind of unconventional death education program.

Rubin also says that using humor to help people in the community talk about death and dying isn’t for every funeral home. It depends on the personality of the people who work there, the business’ culture, and the community being served.

A more important takeaway, she suggests, is what humor has the power to do: it gets people to start thinking about death and it helps encourage a discussion about death.

It can also result in people visiting and engaging with a funeral home for a reason other than a funeral or a passing of a loved one. That’s another reason why some funeral homes have found success with a program that allows people to find humor in the serious subject of death.

“Part of the challenge is people don’t normally go to a funeral home for anything except funerals, so people associate funeral directors and funeral homes with sadness, in many ways,” explains Rubin. But if a funeral home is able to bring people from the community into their place of business—for other events, not just funerals—they can alter that association.

“Most funeral homes have a projector and screen, or some kind of setup to show video tributes. You could, with the proper film licensing, have events at the funeral home that bring people in and allow them to laugh in the face of death, minus the prospect of attending a funeral,” explains Rubin.

2. Think outside the box to spur pre-need planning.

It’s no secret that the worst time to plan for a funeral is after someone has died. Instead of using traditional tactics, think of something you can do in your community that’s creative or unconventional to spark a new interest in pre-need planning. Consider taking advantage of a local event that’s already being put on.

For example, The Caroll-Lewellen Funeral Home, located in Longmont, Colorado, sponsored Rubin’s presentations at the Frozen Dead Guy Days Festival in nearby Nederland. Prior to the weekend event, they held a “Funny Films for Funeral Planning” event which drew local residents to the funeral home chapel.

At the festival, Rubin conducted the Newly Dead Game®, which is like the TV game show, The Newlywed Game, with a twist: the questions are about a partner’s last wishes. “I have couples scrambling to sign up to play that game,” she says. Between games, she shows the documentary “Grandpa’s in the Tuff Shed” and collects contact information with a prize drawing package.

The combination is actually quite successful in getting people to talk about a subject they would otherwise dread thinking or talking about. After the festival, the funeral home can provide more timely and valuable, in-depth information about pre-planning and the choices available.

“People come to these events, they give their contact information, and the funeral home gets warm leads to be approached afterwards for pre-need planning. In that way, humor and funny films has worked for a funeral home for generating more business,” says Rubin.

3. Get creative to make your funeral home more accessible.

As much as people may shy away from planning their own funerals, there is incredible interest in what goes on at funeral homes. “After I did my TEDx Albuquerque talk about planning ahead, we did a TEDx adventure, where we had a group of people tour a funeral home and have a Death Café conversation.”

Rubin recorded that tour and shared the 50-minute video on her YouTube Channel. The video now has more than 75,000 views and many people watch the entire tour. Rubin says it is her most popular video to date.

The takeaway is that people are actually very curious about funerals and funeral planning—they just don’t always know where to start, or where to get information in an exploratory format.

“People are curious about all of the aspects of funeral planning,” explains Rubin. She finds that people crave and want to know more.

“People just need to be able to access the in-depth information in a non-threatening way.” Whether it is through social media, a blog, or another format, start small and find new ways to provide valuable content to families. Rubin’s advice is to give it a try, keep it short, make it upbeat, and be sure it is informative and interesting.

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About Gail Rubin

Gail Rubin, CT, The Doyenne of Death®, helps get end-of-life and funeral planning conversations started with a light touch on a serious subject. She’s the author of A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die, Hail and Farewell: Cremation Ceremonies, Templates and Tips, and KICKING THE BUCKET LIST: 100 Downsizing and Organizing Things to Do Before You Die. She hosts the award-winning TV/DVD series, A Good Goodbye, as well as an Internet radio program.

As an award-winning speaker, she uses humor and funny films to attract people to topics many would rather avoid. She also helped pioneer the Death Cafe movement in the US, is a Certified Thanatologist, and a Certified Funeral Celebrant trained by the In-Sight Institute. For a different take on Gail Rubin, read her draft obituary here.

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