Planning your funeral doesn’t have to be scary

— Says the author of ‘It’s Your Funeral: Plan the Celebration of a Lifetime Before it’s Too Late’

‘It’s Your Funeral! Plan the Celebration of a Lifetime — Before it’s Too Late’ is by Kathy Benjamin, Quirk Books, 176 pages, $14.40.
‘It’s Your Funeral! Plan the Celebration of a Lifetime — Before it’s Too Late’ is by Kathy Benjamin


The pandemic has forced many to rethink and readjust their present with their future. Some have left jobs that provided steady paychecks and a predictable complacency for unknown, yet meaningful passion projects. Others are are taking more control of their destinies as they see fit. Unwilling to settle in life anymore. So why would you settle in death?

That’s the question Kathy Benjamin, author of “It’s Your Funeral! Plan the Celebration of a Lifetime — Before it’s Too Late,” asks. Amid the book’s 176 pages, Benjamin exposes readers to death in a light, humorous, and practical way, akin to a soothing bath, rather than a brisk cold shower.

The Austin-based writer’s niche is death (her last book centered on bizarre funeral traditions and practices). Having panic attacks as a teen, Benjamin said enduring them felt like she was dying. It was then that she started wrestling with the idea of death.

“I feel like I’m actually dying all the time, so maybe I should learn about the history of death and all that,” she said. “If I’m going to be so scared of it, I should learn about it because then I’d kind of have some control over it.”

It’s that control that Benjamin wants to give to readers of this book. She introduces readers to concepts and steps one should contemplate now, in order to make sure the last big gathering centered on you is as memorable as you and your loved ones wish. Poring over the book, one finds interesting final resting options such as body donation that goes beyond being a medical cadaver, “infinity burial suits” that lets one look like a ninja at burial, but also helps nourish plants as decomposition begins; and quirky clubs and businesses that allow one to make death unique (as in hiring mourners to fill out your grieving space and time, and designing your own coffin).

Kathy Benjamin knows death can be scary, but she's determined to show that planning your own funeral doesn't have to be.
Kathy Benjamin knows death can be scary, but she’s determined to show that planning your own funeral doesn’t have to be.

Now before you think this is all a bit macabre, Benjamin’s book also serves as a personal log so you can start planning your big event. Amid the pages, she offers prompts and pages where you can jot down thoughts and ideas on fashioning your own funeral. If you want to have a theme? Put it down in the book. You want to start working on your eulogy/obituary/epitaph, will, or your “final” playlist? Benjamin gives you space in her book to do so. It’s like a demise workbook where you can place your best photos to be used for the funeral and your passwords to your digital life, for your loved ones to have access to that space once you’re gone. If all the details are in the book, a loved one just has to pick it up and use it as a reference to make sure your day of mourning is one you envisioned.

As Benjamin writes: “Think about death in a manner that will motivate you to live the best, most fulfilling life possible. By preparing for death in a spiritual and physical way, you are ensuring that you will succeed right to the end.”

“Everyone’s going to die, if you’re willing to be OK with thinking about that, and in a fun way, then the book is for you,” she said.

We talked with Benjamin to learn more about the details of death and thinking “outside the coffin” for posterity’s sake. The following interview has been condensed and edited.

Q: How much time did it take you to find all this data about death? You share what was in the late Tony Curtis’ casket.

Kathy Benjamin: I have shelves of books that range from textbooks to pop culture books about death, and it’s something that a lot more people than you think are interested in so when you start doing online research you might just find a list of, here’s what people have in their coffin and then from there, you’re like: ‘OK, let’s check if this is true.’ Let’s go back and check newspaper articles and more legitimate websites and things and those details are out there. People want to know. I think of it as when you see someone post on Facebook — somebody in my family died. I know for me, and based on what people reply, the first thing is: What did they die of? We want these details around death. It’s just something people are really interested in. The information is out there and if you go looking for it, you can find it.

Q: Was the timing for the release of the book on point or a little off, given the pandemic?

KB: That was unbelievable timing, either good or bad, how you want to look at it. I ended up researching and writing during that whole early wave in the summer (2020) and into the second wave, and it was very weird. It was very weird to wake up, and the first thing I would do every morning for months was check how many people were dead and where the hot spots were, and then write … just a lot of compartmentalization. My idea was because people who were confronting death so much, maybe it would open up a lot of people’s minds who wouldn’t normally be open to reading this kind of book, they’d be like: ‘OK, I’ve faced my mortality in the past year. So actually, maybe, I should think about it.’

Q: Is there anything considered too “out there” or taboo for a funeral?

KB: I always think that funerals really are for the people who are still alive to deal with their grief, so I wouldn’t do anything that’s going to offend loved ones. I can’t think of what it might be, but if there’s a real disagreement on what is OK, then maybe take the people who are going to be crying and keep them in mind. But really, it’s your party. Plan what you want. There are so many options out there. Some people, they still think cremation isn’t acceptable. Because death is so personal, there’s always going to be people who think something is too far, even things that seem normal for your culture or for your generation.

Q: You mention some interesting mourning/funeral businesses, but many seem to be in other countries. Do we have anything cool in the U.S. as far as death goes that maybe other places don’t have?

KB: One thing we have more than anywhere in the world is body farms. We have a couple and just one or two in the entire rest of the world. The biggest in the world is at the University of Tennessee. For people who don’t know, body farms are where you can donate your body as if you would to science, but instead of doing organ transplants or whatever with it, they put you in the trunk of a car or they put you in a pond or they just lay you out and then they see what happens to you as you decompose. Law enforcement recruits come in and study you to learn how to solve crimes based on what happens to bodies that are left in different situations. I think they get about 100 bodies a year. I always tell people about body farms because if you’re into “true crime” and don’t care what happens to you and you’re not grossed out by it, then do it because it’s really cool and it’s helpful.

Q: You mention mummification and traditional Viking send offs, what about the burning of a shrouded body on a pyre? Have you heard about that? It was the way hunters were sent into the afterlife on the TV series “Supernatural.”

KB: I haven’t heard of anyone doing it in America but obviously that’s a big pop culture thing. For Hindus, that’s the way it happens in India … you go to the Ganges, and they have places specifically where you pay for the wood and they make a pyre and that’s how people go out. I doubt there’s a cemetery or a park that would allow you to do it in the U.S., but on private land, you’re pretty much allowed to do whatever. I would definitely check on regulations. You would have to get the pyre quite hot to burn the body to ash, like hotter than you think to make sure you don’t get a barbecued grandpa.

Q: In your research, have you come across anything that completely surprised you because it’s so unheard of?

KB: There’s been things like funerary cannibalism, which is where you eat loved ones after they’ve died. But once you’ve read the reasons why different tribes around the world have done it, you’re like ‘OK, I can see why that meant something, why it was meant to be emotional and beautiful.’ Things like sky burial in Tibet, they have a Buddhist monk chop up the body and lay it out for the vultures to come get. Part of it ties back to Buddhist tradition but also it’s Tibet, you can’t dig holes there in the mountains. So, there’s a logical reason for it. When you look at these things that originally seem gross or weird, once you learn the reasons behind them it all comes back in the end to trying to do something respectful for the dead, and trying to give the living that closure.

Q: What are your plans for your funeral?

KB: I definitely want to be cremated. I don’t know if I want people to necessarily come together for a funeral for me but like I have a playlist, and even before the book I had a whole document on the computer of what I wanted. I want all the people to know about the playlist and then they can kind of sit and think about how awesome I am while the sad songs play, and then there’s different places that I would want my ashes scattered.

Complete Article HERE!

Longfellow And The Deep Hidden Woods

The stories we read to and tell our children become the basis of their understanding of the world. Stories contribute to their language development as well as their critical thinking, and coping skills. Death and grief are particularly thorny subjects to communicate to children, not because our children are incapable of grasping the message, but because we, the adult storytellers, are often unprepared for, or uncomfortable with, the topics ourselves.


I am proud to announce the publication of my second children’s book

Longfellow And The Deep Hidden Woods.


Longfellow, the bravest and noblest wiener dog in the world…


As our story begins, Longfellow is a puppy learning how to be a good friend to his human companions, old Henry and Henry’s nurse Miss O’weeza Tuffy. By the end, Longfellow has grown old himself, but he is still ready for one final adventure.


What happens in between is an unforgettable and heartwarming tale that throws a tender light on the difficult truths of loss and longing as well as on our greatest hopes.


Click on the book cover below to buy!

Longfellow cover


The Longfellow story is perfect for introducing children, ages 4-9, to the concepts of death and bereavement for a family member, friend, or beloved pet. It is up-lifting, life-affirming, and hope-filled.


I hope you enjoy this sampling of the beautiful illustrations my collaborator, David Cantero, prepared for this book.

A Very Extra-Ordinary Place

HURRAY! My friend, David Cantero, and I made it.


Just in time for the holiday giving 2012!

A very extra-ordinary old woman with magical powers wants to share her very extra-ordinary gifts with her very ordinary neighbors.

The very ordinary village, full of very ordinary people doing very ordinary things, is soon to become a very extra-ordinary place indeed. But first the wise old woman with magical powers must discover a way to visit her neighbors without them knowing it is she.

Joy and laughter, music and dancing all make life very extra-ordinary

Click on the book cover below to purchase.


A Very Extra-Ordinary Place marks our first collaboration.  It is a delightful and beautifully illustrated children’s book.

For more information about the story, sample pages and where to buy look HERE!



We wind up our sneak preview of the ten people who will be joining you in the on-the-page support group in The Amateur’s Guide To Death and Dying; Enhancing the End of Life. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to get to know them better once you start the book, but until then, these thumbnail sketches will serve as a handy reference.

Max, 86, is a retired salesman. He is 5’7” with a stocky build. He has the spry demeanor of a man twenty years his junior. He sports a full head of unusually black hair. “Comes right out of a bottle. Gray hair is for old guys.”

He is quick with a joke and has an infectious Cheshire cat grin. Max had bypass surgery several years ago, and until recently has been healthy and active.

Six months ago he began to complain of stomach pain and noticed that he was losing weight. The doctors found cancer in eighty percent of his stomach. Surgery was out of the question, because at his age it would be too risky. When pushed, his doctors finally conceded that, at best, he might have a year to live. “The news hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s not me I’m worried about, it’s my Sylvia.”

Max is the primary caregiver for his wife of sixty-five years, Sylvia, who recently has had a series of small strokes. Max’s three sons and other family members have been trying to buoy his spirits by reminding him that he is a fighter. “You’ll beat this too, dad. You’ll live to be a hundred.”

Sylvia is also in denial about Max’s condition. She claims he is fine and assures everyone that they are managing just as before. However, when their youngest son came to visit the other day, he found no food in the house and discovered his parents had not eaten in over twenty-four hours. Sylvia broke down and tearfully admitted she had been rejecting relatives’ offers to shop and cook because they were too ashamed to admit they couldn’t care for themselves.

Max was raised a pious Jew in Poland, but now he says he’s an agnostic. “How could there be a God when there is so much pain and sorrow in the world?” Max concedes that instead of planning for his death, he is frozen in a panic about what will happen to Sylvia after he dies. “I know this isn’t helping matters any, but I don’t know what else to do.”


We continue our sneak preview of the ten people who will be joining you in the on-the-page support group in The Amateur’s Guide To Death and Dying; Enhancing the End of Life. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to get to know them better once you start the book, but until then, these thumbnail sketches will serve as a handy reference.

Robin, 25, is in recovery and has been for four years. She ran away from home at 16 and lived on the street until she was 19. She was a big-time heroin addict who turned tricks to pay for her habit. “It was a crummy life. I had this total death wish. I shared needles, had unprotected sex, you name it. How or why I survived, I’ll never know. I’ve been raped, beaten, and robbed, each more than once.”

Only after being hospitalized for a severe case of pneumonia and testing positive for HIV did Robin begin to turn her life around. “Is it okay to say that HIV is the best thing that ever happened to me?”

After a year of rehab, she got a job at Safeway and moved into a small flat with her boyfriend Bobby. “We met at an AA meeting. He’s in recovery too.” Her life was finally coming together. “The new HIV drug cocktail I’m on has worked miracles. My viral load went from 700,000 to an undetectable level. I applied to journalism school and am supposed to start in the fall.”

But she’s had to put everything on hold. Bobby wasn’t as lucky. No combination of drugs halted the ravages of AIDS for him. Now 27, he is actively dying. It’s not likely he’ll live out the month.

Despite Bobby’s bad luck, Robin is trying to stay upbeat. “I’ve been through so much to get to this point. I can’t let this setback pull me down again. Bobby would never forgive me.”

She says that watching the man she loves slowly die is the hardest thing she’s ever had to do. “Getting clean and sober was a cakewalk compared to this.” She’s emotionally drained. “It feels like something in me is dying.” Tears well up in her green eyes.

Her moussed platinum hair is scattered wildly on her head. One simple nose ring is all that remains of the dozen or so body piercings she once brandished. A poorly designed tattoo on her upper right forearm peeks out from under her baggy sweatshirt. “I don’t even know how I got this. I was strung out most of the time. Let’s face it, I was a total freak.”


We continue our sneak preview of the ten people who will be joining you in the on-the-page support group in The Amateur’s Guide To Death and Dying; Enhancing the End of Life. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to get to know them better once you start the book, but until then, these thumbnail sketches will serve as a handy reference.

Raul, 18, was born with a genetic kidney disorder. He has had countless hospitalizations and surgeries. He has been on dialysis for many years. He had a kidney transplant three years ago, but his body rejected it. Within three months of the transplant he was back on dialysis. “Man, I am so tired of living in a body that never works right.”

Raul is as thin as a reed and his skin has the ashen pallor of one who is near death. His chronic pain has aged him far beyond his years. During his interview, Raul is having difficulty making himself comfortable. “I’m havin’ a bad day. The pain is real bitchin’. It ain’t like there’s some days when there’s no pain, only most of the time it ain’t this bad.”

Raul is exhausted and exasperated. Many family concerns weigh upon him, adding anxiety to his already difficult life. “My parents are heavy into the church. I am too, but not like them. They keep telling me it would be a sin to give up. But hey, man, how can it be a sin to wish this shit would end? It’s not like I haven’t tried. I’ve been in the hospital so many times I can’t even count ‘em.”

Raul’s anger and frustration are written all over him, but his machismo prevents him from revealing too much of his inner struggle. His teeth clench against the pain, but then his eyes brighten for a moment. ”Hey, ya know there’s this real hot babe in my school. She’s so fine. I try to talk to her, but she don’t like talking to me. I think she’s afraid I’ll give her some kind of sickness or something.” Raul has never had a girlfriend. “I never even kissed a girl, ‘cept my sister, and she don’t count. What if I die before I get some lovin’? That would really top off this crummy life.”

Only one of his sisters knows that he wants to do this group. “Amelia is the only one who tells me it’s okay to feel the way I do.” Raul is looking for some support for expressing his feelings. He hopes this group will provide that. “I want to be able to talk about dying with my family, but I don’t know how. We’re all real messed up, I guess.”


We continue our sneak preview of the ten people who will be joining you in the on-the-page support group in The Amateur’s Guide To Death and Dying; Enhancing the End of Life. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to get to know them better once you start the book, but until then, these thumbnail sketches will serve as a handy reference.

Mia, 31, is a graduate student in Medieval Languages at Stanford University. Several months ago, she landed in the ICU, near death from an acute lung infection. While she was in the hospital she was diagnosed with a rare lung disorder, which was the source of the initial infection. Since that initial hospitalization, she needs to use oxygen and was advised to seriously consider a lung transplant if she expected to live past 35. Mia reluctantly uses the oxygen, but she won’t consider the transplant. She has chosen a different path.

Mia regularly consults a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, which is consistent with her cultural heritage. She uses a wide array of other modalities, including vitamins, acupuncture, meditation, yoga, massage, and biofeedback. “This is the way I want it. These things make me feel involved and empowered, and that’s more important than anything else.”

Although she likes her American doctor, western medicine leaves her feeling cold and disconnected. She felt robbed of her dignity in the hospital. “They didn’t see me, they just saw my disease.”

Mia was born in Hong Kong, the only daughter of socially prominent and professionally successful parents. She’s lived a charmed and pampered life, but now she knows the downside of living a life of privilege. “Nothing in life prepared me for this kind of adversity.”

Despite her frailty, she has a decidedly tomboyish appearance. She is lively and animated when she speaks. Sometimes she even gets tangled in the plastic tubing that runs from the ever-present oxygen canister to her face. “I haven’t got the hang of this yet. Can you tell?”

The pulse and spritzing sound of the oxygen keeps time with her labored breathing. “I once felt immortal, which now seems weird because I’m starting to realize I could be quite dead in a year.” She has an overriding dread of her final days. “I can’t even imagine what it will be like. I’m sure it’ll be just horrible. I panic when I have to struggle for a breath now. What will it be like then? I sometimes get so frightened I cry.”