I like to say that we’ve taken one hundred thousand years. We’re all dealing with the same feeling, which is grief. So, what we do for funerals, no matter what part of the world, or what culture, is one hundred thousand years, at least, of humans trying to deal with the exact same thing. – Kathy Benjamin
Johanna Lunn: This is the When You Die podcast. If it has to do with death and dying, we’re talking about it. Today’s host is Kelley Edwards.
Kelley Edwards: On today’s podcast we are joined by Kathy Benjamin. Kathy is a writer who has recently released her book called, It’s your funeral! Plan the Celebration of a Lifetime – Before it’s Too Late. Kathy joins us from her home in Austin, Texas. Hi, Kathy!
Kathy Benjamin: Hi! Thanks for having me.
KE: We’re very happy to have you here. I must tell you, we did a contest to give away a couple copies of your book, and people went crazy! The idea of it! Everybody said, “I want it, I want this book, I want this book!” We could have given away 100, but we gave away two. And they’re very happy with it. We’ve been telling people to get out and buy it because it’s fun, but it’s also important. And it’s about something that a lot of people don’t want to face.
KB: Yeah, especially now. It was very weird timing for writing and putting out the book. But I think that maybe everything that’s happened over the past few years is a wake-up call. You do have to think about it. You really don’t know. And that sucks. I’m not going to say it doesn’t suck. [chuckles] And it’s something you have to face head on. But that’s why with this book I tried to make it a lot less scary. Because it is scary; it can be scary. I think approaching it with humor and a matter-of-fact notion just makes it a little bit easier to at least get started on the idea.
KE: Absolutely. I want to read a little something here. This is from the intro, “An Introduction to your End.” One of the things that I love is that it says, “If all of this sounds too sad or scary to contemplate, it’s ok. You’re not alone. Take comfort in knowing that the best way to conquer your fear and anxiety about death is to face it head on.” And I know that this is true for you, particularly.
KB: Yes, it was very heartfelt. It’s very personal, because when I was 17, I started getting panic attacks. The kind of panic attack where you genuinely think you’re dying, 100%, no question in your mind. You’re saying your last goodbyes, call an ambulance, I’m dying. It’s terrifying, obviously. And that was something that I had to deal with essentially on a daily basis for a very long time. So, I was able to get it under control. And I decided that the way to deal with that was to learn about death. I’m a historian by trade, so I wanted to learn about the history of death and the history of funerals and things like that. It’s just that kind of a student thing where you think, “If I just learn about it, then it will be ok.” And it was in the end. It took a long time, but now I’ve written two books about death. It’s something that I essentially, for one reason or another, have had to think about every day for quite a long time. My husband and I have been trying to get our steps in, so we go to the cemeteries, which are beautiful artistic places. Yeah, so it is something that if you do face, you’ve got work to do. I’m not saying it’s easy. It was very hard for me. You can really get to a point where you’re, again, not looking forward to it. It’s not something that’s great, but you can at least deal with it on a more clinical level.
KE: When you were talking about panic attacks and how they manifested, they must have affected your quality of life.
KB: Oh, hugely. I mean, not to make it too personal, but I did go to therapy and take medication. But to deal with it for 15 years, and to function, I drank. I was an alcoholic. I’ve been sober for almost four years, now. Yeah, it led to things that affected my life in negative ways. So, it was very important to get that under control.
KE: I was looking up some things, and you have written a lot of humor. For Cracked, for example and for Grunge. So, your historian plays a part there, as all your articles have different categories: one might be entertainment, one might be history, one might be lifestyle, but they’re all about death.
KB: I do write about death a lot. Yeah. [chuckles] I do try and get it in there. It’s one of those things where, especially with articles where you have a quicker turn around, if you already have done a lot of research on it, it just makes it easier [chuckles] to write them. But it’s something that fascinates me absolutely, completely. I think having looked at it historically, I’ve put it up there with language and religion as something that is incredibly important for what makes humans humans, and what took us essentially from being animals to being humans. And that’s a huge part of our lives: facing what happens after, and what happens when someone we love dies, and how do we honor that? I think when you look at how people did that, historically, and I like to say that we’ve taken one hundred thousand years, we’re all dealing with the same feeling, which is grief. So, what we do for funerals, no matter what part of the world, or no matter what culture, is one hundred thousand years, at least, of humans trying to deal with the exact same thing.
KE: And it doesn’t matter when you were born, we’ve all got that, and we all have to face it. This book is great because it’s informative. Everything is in there in terms of making it your end. But one of the things I love is that it’s comforting. There’s certainly the guidance of, “Here are the definite things that you need to look at.” But frankly, when I was looking at those things, I realized I hadn’t even thought of it. We’re also looking at death every day, but there are delicate little details of things. And then there are the fun facts of funerals. It’s not sad, it’s not maudlin, it’s not morbid. It’s just this lovely combination. And it’s a workbook!
KB: Yes, you get a couple of pages of information. It’s in categories. I go from what I think is the biggest thing, which is, “What’s going to be done with your body? Do you want to be cremated or buried or one of the many other options that a lot of people don’t know they have.” So, you can get information on that. And once you get to the work page, where you put down either your thoughts or your ideas or what you want 100% completely, then you have that information. Or at least you have a jumping off place to get more information. And then you can record it, and then you’ll move on to other things about your funeral. At the end I have questions about your digital legacy, which is one of those things, I think, that a lot of people forget, especially these days. How are people going to get into your bank accounts, your emails, and things like that? It’s all in there. And the idea is that you have this book. Then you can, I would hope, have conversations with your loved ones about it. But if you can’t, then you can at least say, “Here’s the book, here’s what I want. It’s right there, if I die.” [chuckles] “Just go have a look and you’ll know all the things that I want.” And it will make planning for the people you love most in the world, that much easier.
KE: I love that part of it too, because there’s a piece that says that you turn the funeral process into an act of love instead of a source of worry.
KE: If we all haven’t experienced it yet, we will. But what if someone dies, particularly if someone dies suddenly, with whom you haven’t had that conversation? And then you have to try to guess what they would have liked. It’s just so much easier and clearer [with this book and the work pages].
KB: And let’s sum up, so far. One of the things I’ve talked about with both friends and funeral directors during this whole process, was the big complaint that people go to a funeral of perhaps a close friend. Not someone next of kin, necessarily. And they didn’t plan the funeral. But they care about this person, and they go to the funeral, but they don’t see the person they knew reflected back at them. And they talk about how it did not help with their mourning in any way. And how, in some cases, that made it worse. They were upset that this funeral did not reflect the person they knew. One of the things that people talk about, especially now as we’ve become more secular, is that someone’s died and if you’re panicking and thinking, “We have to have a funeral,” your first thought may be a house of worship. But a lot of people aren’t religious anymore. And one thing I heard from a lot of people was, “The funeral was in a church. He never went to church in his life; he never mentioned church.” So even that, the basics of, “Where do we have this? Where are we allowed to have this, and how do we do it?” can be alienating for people. And you understand on the one hand, there is the family, and they may not know. And perhaps the reason we do this is because suddenly we have a dead body, and dead bodies have to go away because it’s not safe for anyone. And so, there is that time pressure. So, if you don’t have any plans, and you have this time pressure, you’ll maybe just make the easy decision. And that may not be the best act of love for the person that was lost.
KE: And you liken it to planning a wedding. You have all these details and costs, but you’ve got not a year or two to plan it, but a few days.
KB: Exactly! That was the first thing I did: I looked up numbers, because I’ve personally never had to pay for a funeral myself. And so, I looked up the numbers and I said, “Whoooooa.” I put that in the book, I believe in the intro, the number was $10,000! Which is what we’re talking about for a full burial. If you’re doing cremation, it can be less expensive. But if you’re doing just a standard funeral in a coffin, full body burial, it’s actually more than $10,000. That was the best source I could get, and I could stick with that, but really, it’s going to edge up. Honestly, it does get up there to wedding prices at some point. The average wedding is around $18,000 or thereabouts. So, they’re comparable. And yes, if you said to someone, “Here’s fifteen grand you’re going to spend on your wedding. You have 5 days. Go. Oh, and it must completely reflect your love for the person.” We were talking about venues. This is as if you have 5-7 days of getting a venue for your wedding. Is it going to be the perfect place that you want? Or is it going to be a place that’s available? So, I think for me, it is a good comparison, because it is essentially trying to plan a very sad wedding in a week. A wedding no one wants to go to. And you’re crying the whole time instead of being excited and happy. You’re really upset the whole time.
KE: We hear so many stories of families that get torn apart because of disagreements. “No, mom would have wanted this.” “No, I know she would have wanted this.” But there’s nothing written down.
KB: That’s another thing, too, thinking about how the funeral reflects the person. One’s relationship with everyone is different. So maybe the friend who goes to the funeral in the church is thinking, “What is this?” Maybe to the person’s daughter it does reflect their relationship. What you really want is for the person that was lost to be reflected the way they wanted to be reflected, because you’re saying goodbye to them. That’s what’s important. Before you even get into the will and the like. And families will get torn apart about this. I put things like that in the book: who gets what jewelry? Big questions like that. Because you don’t want conflict during that period. Again, I keep going back to people dealing with grief and sadness, and then you throw in all these things that don’t have to be thrown in. And even if you can’t get yourself to have these conversations beforehand, which I very much encourage, you can at least have things written down in a way that’s clear, “Ok, so and so says this, and so and so says this.” But in each person’s handwriting they’ve written down what they want.
KE: One of the things that I love in the book is that there is this section about your playlists. Music is so important to most people. I love that you have, “A form for your playlist,” but then there’s also a form for, “Do not play this.” [chuckles] I think that is great! I never would have thought of that.
KB: Yeah, I thought of it for two reasons. A lot of people play Yesterday or Imagine, and I’m fine with The Beatles; I’m fine with John Lennon on his own. I hate both of those songs. I hate them. If someone played Imagine at my funeral, I would be so angry. And also, in fact I put it on the list, is Ding Dong the Witch is Dead. My husband is British, and when Margaret Thatcher died, who was very controversial, there was an online movement to buy Ding Dong the Witch is Dead so it would be number one that week on the radio, on the charts, and it was. So, these are things that you have to think about.
KE: The thing about putting it down too, as you’ve said before, is that it’s written down. There’s no discrepancy here. If you’re playing Ding Dong the Witch is Dead, and I didn’t ask for it, that’s on you. [chuckles]
KB: [chuckles] Yes, yes! I don’t mean to say that you can’t have fun with your playlist. I think that’s definitely fun. I think a lot of people, apparently in England, especially, do Always Look on the Bright Side of Life from The Life of Brian. That’s a very popular choice. Which is fabulous and it’s funny, and it does still fit. We all have those songs that would seem very funeral-like that we hate. Don’t go the easy way, don’t play Imagine. [both chuckle]
KE: So, what motivated you to write the book? Obviously, there’s a need for it. I guess this is a two-part question. How did it come about? But then, also, how did you decide to flavor it with the humor? Because death is serious and somber and sad in most cases. People think of it in that way. So, you took this other road, and decided, “No, let’s put the ‘fun’ in ‘funeral’.”
KB: Yeah, it’s always weird to answer those questions [laughter], but what motivated me was that I got an email from the publisher asking me if I wanted to write it, and I said, “Yes.” I had written Funerals to Die For a few years ago, and they had come up with the It’s your Funeral idea in-house. They had envisioned something quite different. Almost more of pamphlet, something very short, that was more just a workbook. So, I went back to them and said, “Ok, I feel like we need to make this more informative. And we need to expand on some things.” And so, we went back and forth on that, but it was perfect because it was something that I was so passionate about beforehand. In fact, a day or two days after I signed the contract for it, I got a Facebook memory from 5 years before where I had basically written the thesis of the book. I said, “Please you guys,” especially since I wrote Funerals to Die For, “this is something that needs to get done.” And it was happening more and more then. It’s happening all the time now. The thing that kills me is seeing the GoFundMes for funerals. Because again, they’re so expensive, especially if it’s for a death you’re not expecting. Do you have ten grand in your account that you can just spend in the next week or so? And then obviously, during Covid that was so much more. You just constantly saw that, and that really killed me. So, I wanted to get it out there for people. The timing was totally coincidental. I was contacted in early March by the publisher. Early March 2020, so right as the pandemic was starting. I wrote it through that first wave. It ended up being that time when people were saying, “Wow, we just saw what can happen. We’re very tired, we don’t want to think about it, we’re all living right now. So, let’s laugh because at this point all you can do is laugh. And let’s just get a few things down and plan something.”
KE: And that’s a fast turn-around for an entire book. It’s not a small book.
KB: I wrote it over 6 or 7 months, and then it was published almost a year after that. It felt slow at the time. [laughs] Publishing, yeah. It was about a year and a half basically between being contacted about it and it being published. And yes, the whole time it was the Covid pandemic. There were a couple days when I’d have a chapter due, or I’d have a chapter due in a few days, and I’d just email them and say, “Look, today I can’t, I can’t sit down and make jokes. I’ve checked the death list right as I woke up. I just can’t do it today.” So, it was a very weird kind of compartmentalization, but in a way, it also helped me get through it, because I felt, “Ok, this is why I’m doing this.”
KE: Ok, so how did it work? With the humor? Did you know right off the bat that you were going to have that element to it?
KB: Writing for Cracked [cracked.com] was how I was taught to be a writer. Then Funerals to Die For is also tongue-in-cheek. There are other workbooks like this out there, and they all have like roses on the front, and scripted letters, blah, blah, blah. And those are great. Seriously, as long as you’re planning, I don’t care what you get. But they’re definitely more about, “Put down what you want, and this is serious, and it’s very sad and everything.” And there’s not one of those types of books out there, and I looked, that is humorous. So, I think not everyone is going to be motivated and drawn to a maudlin one. The funeral itself is sad, losing someone is sad. Everything around it doesn’t have to be. Some people would say maybe it’s not appropriate, but we have dark humor for a reason. The idea of the soldier making jokes about death when they’re on the front line. That’s what you do. That’s how people get through it. I don’t cross any lines in this. I’m not inappropriate about death. I’m respectful of the idea and the person reading it. But you can still have a laugh. It’s fine. It’s how we are going to deal with this thing that, yeah, is going to suck.
KE: And it’s true, in my reading it, I would find myself laughing at things. It starts making me think of funny things that I could plan to make, sort of raise the mood a bit, for when I’m gone. It doesn’t all have to be sad. Especially if you are a person where humor is important, and you have a funniness about you. Why would you want someone to sit through a very sad service that didn’t reflect you at all?
KB: These days you do see more of the idea that it’s a celebration of life. There’s an example in the book about a man in Ireland with one of his daughters. He arranged that as he was being put in the grave there was a recording of him saying, “Help! Help! Help! It’s dark in here!” Which, personally, I would not like [laughs] at all. But everyone who was there immediately got it, and his daughter was a part of it. And so, I think if that’s what reflected this man, good for him. But there’s also an example of a man who always liked Burger King. So, the hearse went through the drive through and got one last Whopper for him. And so, those are things where you can almost hear them and you say, “Oh, ok, I know who this person was,” and maybe you didn’t even know them. Adding those kinds of things to one’s own funeral plans, people are going to feel, “Oooh ya, ya, that’s so-and-so,” as opposed to, “We’re all thinking of him,” but so sad and people are crying. I will say, I’m also a fan of the sad funeral. I think that is a perfectly legitimate thing. People do need that moment of release and crying. So, it’s just what you want, what you think your loved ones will want, and what will help people grieve, at the end of the day.
KE: People plan weddings from when they are a child, so why aren’t we doing the same thing with funerals? Because we’re afraid? Is it that sort of thing where it’s bad luck to talk about it because then it could happen? But guess what? It’s going to happen.
KB: Yeah, I suppose when it comes to a wedding the comparison would be people who don’t want to sign a prenup, because if you sign a prenup then you’re going to get divorced. Well, you could get divorced. You don’t know. So, you prepare for these things. Well, the great divorce with life is definitely going to happen, so you may as well prepare. You can go your entire life never talking about your death, never, ever thinking about it. You’re still going to die. It’s the one thing that is going to happen to literally everyone. I don’t want to use the word selfish, because I understand not wanting to think about death, let me tell you. But it’s this idea of that even if it’s scary, even if it’s going to take a hard sitting down and looking at yourself and dealing with some realities for a couple hours, you must do it. Think of how hard it is, and people have probably experienced how hard it is, for your loved ones when you die, and there’s no plan at all. And there’s no money, and there’s no idea of what you want done, and there’s just nothing. There’s the reality of someone dying and then immediately the reality of, “Oh my gosh, we have to plan this wedding-sized thing. It’s an act of love, it’s an act of caring, of saying, “Yeah, especially if it’s hard for me to sit down and do this, I’m doing it because I want the lives of the people I love to be better.” I like the comparison of parents. I don’t have children, but parents always say, “I’d take a bullet for my child.” And I’m thinking, “Ok, so you’ll take a bullet for your child, but then you won’t sit down and talk to them about what they need to do after you’ve taken that bullet.” [laughter] That’s the line for you. You’re willing to die for them, you’re just not willing to talk about what funeral you want after you die because that’s too much. Everyone does things for their loved ones, and this is something you should do for your loved ones. Even if it’s hard.
KE: That’s certainly what the When You Die Project is about. It’s to help people have those conversations while they’re still in good health. It’s not death knocking at your door. To me, it’s going to be a lighter affair if those big things aren’t in the picture.
KB: Yes. I think if you are in a place where you’re terminal, obviously, I still think you should do it. But it’s going to be a very different conversation when it’s a theoretical thing that we all assume will happen when we’re ninety. As opposed to, “Ok, the doctor said I have 6 months.” It’s a lot harder to be funny about that kind of situation. It’s a lot easier to say, “Well, I’m really old and we have holograms and everything’s different. If funerals are still the same, here’s what I want.”
KB: It’s just in case. It’s going to happen, we all don’t want it to happen, but just in case.
KE: When you were doing all the research, is there anything that surprised you? Or that really stood out?
KB: I think, I hadn’t realized, just because it’s not an area that’s really interested me, I hadn’t realized how big green burials are getting. Since then, I’ve realized if you want to invest in something, invest in someone who’s doing green burials. [chuckles] It is getting huge, because obviously people are waking up to the reality of climate change and the planet. And if you live your whole life trying to be green, being buried when you’ve been embalmed, and you’re in a memorial park, and you’re taking up a lot of land, and you’re in a big casket that’s not really going to decompose, and it’s going to be all these things, well, you kind of ruin everything you’ve worked for. [chuckles] Or at least you don’t go out the way you tried to live. There are so many different options coming up for green burials. And even while I was writing it, I think both Washington State and Colorado approved what is known as “corpse composting.” You are essentially made into compost. People talk about using their cremates to feed a tree. Cremates don’t have any nutrients; you don’t actually feed the tree. It’s symbolic. Corpse composting is a way in which you are actually turned into nutrients and can be spread in the garden, or on tree roots, or anything like that. So, two states now, I think, have approved that. And again, that happened in the past two years, when I was writing the book. So, it’s something that is getting a lot bigger. I think a lot of people should know about that because I think a lot of people would be interested.
KE: Absolutely. I just read a piece today about being buried at sea. They just put you in a shroud and put you out. There are also a lot of legal issues that you write about. Do you need a permit, for example? Again, these are things we don’t think about.
KB: Yes, and those are the kinds of things that, especially at the time, become very tedious and annoying and difficult. So, those are especially the kinds of things you can think about beforehand. Some things you need paperwork for beforehand. There’s something called a “body farm,” for example. And, if you want to donate your organs to certain places, you need to have paperwork completed before you die. So that’s one thing that you can do now, if those are the kinds of things that interest you. But yes, burial at sea. It’s cool and it’s very green and people are getting into it. You don’t have to be a sailor or anything like that. But you can’t just go and dump a body in the ocean. [chuckles] That’s not allowed. So yes, there are rules and laws and paperwork you need to get. It’s very possible, but it’s one of those things that requires a little bit of planning. So, you just put in that little bit of planning effort, what you have to do, and who you have to talk to, and what you have to sign. And then that just takes a day of work for someone, if they ended up wanting to do that for you.
KE: When you are writing this, clearly, you’re looking at your own planning. You’re not like the carpenter that doesn’t have a door on the house, [chuckles] as we always say. You’ve put your money where your mouth is.
KB: Oh, completely, yes. Well before I had been approached to write this, I had, and still have (even though I filled out my own book), a document on my computer that says, “If I die,” which really should say, “When I die,” but I wrote, “If.” And in it I essentially just wrote everything down, in the same way as in the book. But it’s a list of, “Here’s what I want; here’s the playlist I want,” and all those types of things. Some of the things I had already written down and then got put into the book. Weirdly, I don’t want a traditional funeral. I’ve lived in a lot of very far-flung places, and I wouldn’t want to ask a lot of people to fly across an ocean to come to a funeral. So, I made a playlist of three songs, and I have a document that I wrote kind of as a goodbye letter. And I update it occasionally as things change. I have a list of people I want that sent to. And then there’s the playlist, which is already on YouTube. [chuckles] So, I’m saying, “Here’s my playlist,” and I want them all to just sit at the same time if possible, and just reflect around the world and listen to the songs, and read the piece from me, and just have a moment where they can have private grief. And grieve however they want to and maybe be what might be called inappropriate if they were in public. Or I know a lot of introverts who would probably find going to a funeral very stressful. And I say to them, “You have your private time, think about how awesome I was and cry and do whatever you want. Great.” So, that’s what I want as a memorial funeral. And I want to be cremated. That’s something that I’ve wanted pretty much for as long as I can remember and didn’t change even as I researched all the new ways. For me, cremation, that kind of destruction by fire, I find very symbolic. And I like the options you have with cremates.
KE: So, it’s all very well and good to fill out the book and have it. But the next thing is, it’s very important to tell somebody.
KB: Yes. I understand the limitations of my book. I tried to fit everything in there, but there’s a lot more. There are people you need to call, there are documents you need to fill out. I cannot encourage enough that you talk to your loved ones. I don’t care if you never buy my book and never fill it out. Talk to your loved ones! [chuckles] Write it down somehow, just let them know. At the very least, the basics. Do you want a full burial? Do you want to be cremated? Do you not want anything? Do you want to be donated to science? These are the basics of what happens to your body, at the very least. And I would say, write a will. For god’s sake, write a will! Please. You can go on [the website] willing.com or other sites, but I’ve heard sometimes they can be a challenge, so get a lawyer, if you can. And then the other important thing for me is the digital information. Let people know, put it anywhere you want, hide it, I don’t care. But let people know that there is a document somewhere with your passwords and your information. And they can get Facebook to take your Facebook account and turn it into one of the memorial pages. Those are, for me, the big things. And yes, seriously, talk to people. The thing for me was that my family is a family of planners, and very pragmatic. “Ok, everyone’s dying, let’s deal with this.” And so, I’ve been asked, “Did you want to write this book because you had a bad experience with a funeral?” And it’s really the opposite. My family all did this, well before the book existed. [chuckles] My grandmother died, I mean she died at 94, so it wasn’t a surprise, but she had had her funeral planned from the time she was 60. And everything was done, but even then, there were surprises. Even though she’d had this thing planned, and she was 94, and we all knew it was coming, there were still things that were surprising and upsetting and inconvenient. And so, I can’t imagine what it would be like if all that planning hadn’t been there. Instead of this, “Ok, let’s mourn my grandmother,” it would have been a disaster. So, I want people to do this because I feel like I’ve been very lucky. My family’s been very lucky, in that we haven’t had that experience. And I just cannot imagine how bad it is.
KE: What is the response you’ve been getting from the book?
KB: People really like it. I think it’s one of those things where the people who find it are probably the slightly weird ones. [chuckles] It’s a niche group. But yes, it’s been really positive. There is one person who was given an advance copy through the publisher, and she put it on Goodreads and gave it 3 stars, which is fine. Her complaint was that she was twenty-three. [chuckles] So, she doesn’t want to envision it. “I filled it out, but I don’t want really…. I don’t want to think about death.” And I’m thinking, “Ok, maybe it’s not for generation Z. Maybe they’re a little young for it.” But I would hope not. I would hope that even people like that would be interested in it. That’s kind of the one that sticks in my mind. The review that was, “Ok.” There are people this isn’t really for, I guess.
KE: Well, that’s kind of the point of the book though, isn’t it? You need to be thinking about it, even though you don’t want to.
KB: Yes. I would argue that anyone that’s going to give it 1 star, well, ok, no you need this book. [chuckles] I know you don’t want to think about it. That’s the whole point.
KE: That’s right. It is actually for those people. [chuckles] Well, I have to say, it was a delight to read it. And I find that weird to say when we’re talking about planning a funeral. Even the cover. We talked about the covers that are flowery and lovely and poetic. Your book has got a casket with a skeleton in it, wearing a party hat, and raising a glass. It’s quite funny, and I think anyone could tell from the cover that it is. Even the title: It’s Your Funeral. That’s such a good title. For me, the humor was one of the things that made it easier. Did you find that the humor made it easier to write?
KB: Yes. Definitely. I’m actually writing my third book now. I’m doing the research, and it is decidedly not funny. So, it will be the first not-funny book I’ve written. And I’m thinking, “Oh man, I’m going to have to edit out jokes.” I’m going to naturally try. “Oh, this is a really serious and sad thing, let’s make a joke. Ok, edit that out.” Again, I don’t know if it’s just because that’s my background or the fact that I do find death difficult. I think it’s going to be very weird writing it without humor. Writing it straight. Something that’s intertwined in my mind now, “Ok, we’re talking about death, let’s make jokes.” Yup.
KE: Well, I personally appreciate that. [laughter]
KB: [chuckles] Thank you.
KE: Well, I hope you do well with it. Again, I really liked it and we certainly had great responses from the contest. People want to make their plans. The people familiar with the death positive movement are all over it. But this book can get to those who are a little bit reluctant, who really do need to face it and plan.
KB: Yes, it’s for those reluctant people, the people who have never heard of the death positive movement but are open to the idea. But we’re all going to die. So, it’s for everyone. And I lived it. I know what it is to be so terrified of death. And to not be able to think about it. So, with that as my personal background, that’s how I write. What would have helped me when I was at my worst with this fear? A nice, happy little light-yellow book, with a happy skeleton and jokes and references to Nicholas Cage and things like that.
KE: I love the Nicholas Cage references. [laughter]
KB: Yes. That kind of book.
KE: Kathy, thank you so much. Thank you for the book and thank you for talking to us today. We wish you all the best with it. And now I guess I’ll have to brace myself to read something sad.
KB: [chuckles] Yes, yes. The history of Texas is told through its mass graves.
KE: That’s a tall project.
KB: Yeah. [chuckles] Very depressing.
KB: Yeah, I’m having fun.
KE: That’s great. Well, we’ll look for that.
KB: [chuckles] Thank you.
JL: This conversation is brought to you by the When You Die Project. From existential afterlife questions to palliative care and the nuts and bolts of green burial, if it has to do with death and dying, we’re talking about it.
WYD Podcast – It’s Your Funeral With Kathy Benjamin