If you missed my presentation “Laughing in the Face of Death: Funny Films for Funeral Planning” at the AAEPA Fall Summit, all is not lost. Here’s a recap of the film clips that were shown and the lessons from each.
Laughing in the Face of Death: The Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Denial of Death by Dr. Ernest Becker posits the Terror Management Theory. In a nutshell, it takes good self-esteem to consider one’s own mortality and make advance funeral plans. It’s estimated two-thirds of the population has low self-esteem. Humor helps circumvent avoidance of funeral planning issues. In a clip from The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s “Chuckles Bites the Dust” episode (1976) Mr. Grant explains to Ted Baxter why we laugh at something that scares us.
Planning a Funeral Party: Life cycle events, weddings and funerals, have similar elements: location, clergy, flowers, contacting all the family and friends, etc. However, if brides and grooms planned their weddings the way most people plan their funerals, they’d be scrambling to pull everything together in three to five days. A clip from Get Low (2009, PG-13) illustrates with Felix Bush, who wants to have a funeral party while he’s still alive.
Who’s In Charge? The Six Wives of Henry Lefay (2009, PG-13) provides a great example of the importance of making estate and funeral plans and keeping them up to date. Chaos and comedy ensues as Henry Lefay’s current and past wives come together at the funeral home.
Who Pays for the Funeral? Death at a Funeral (U.S. version – 2010, R) provides an opening to discuss Totten Trust/POD accounts, funeral trusts, and insurance.
Ensuring Your Arrangements: If you wanted something out of the ordinary, such as a Viking funeral, how can you ensure your plans are carried out? AAEPA’s Steve Hartnett suggests three ways: the executor be committed to the plan; pre-planning and pre-paying with a reputable funeral home; legal maneuvers and a letter in one’s personal files. Carpet Kingdom (2008, not rated) shows what happens when the will is ignored.
Personalizing Funerals: Undertaking Betty (2002, PG-13) is a comedy that shows an outrageous funeral fit for a Star Trek fan. Certified Celebrants can make the memorial service all about the person’s interests and passions.
Burial versus Cremation: Elizabethtown (2005, PG-13) is a romantic comedy that illustrates the clash of cultures between people who live in Kentucky (17% cremation rate) and Oregon (70%) regarding final disposition.
A Lesson in Eulogies and Ash Scattering: This scene from The Big Lebowski (1998, R) demonstrates the importance of where you stand when scattering. In addition, eulogies should be all about the deceased, not the person giving the eulogy.
Funerals and Storytelling: In the end, our lives are remembered in stories. Big Fish (2003, PG-13) illustrates the importance of having a community gathering. The Four R’s of every good memorial service are: Recognize the death; Remember with stories that prompt laughter and tears; Reaffirm beliefs; and Release the spirit of the deceased.
It was such a delight to meet so many AAEPA members at the summit! If you’d like directions for putting your own film clip presentations together, please email a note to Gail[at]AGoodGoodbye.com.
The Doyenne of Death™ Gail Rubin brings light to a dark subject and helps start funeral planning conversations with upbeat film clip-illustrated talks. She’s a Certified Celebrant and the author of the award-winning book A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die. Her website is www.AGoodGoodbye.com.
Academy Guest Blogger
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
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