Before I Die Festival gives end-of-life planning an upbeat twist
Bakersfield Californian, The (CA)
June 01-- Jun. 1--Dying isn't something most people want to think about, but a local funeral home is working to bring more comfort and awareness to funeral planning.
Greenlawn Funeral Home Southwest hosted its inaugural Before I Die Festival on Saturday, which featured workshops on issues such as hospice care and estate planning as well as games, tours and other activities aimed at helping people plan for their own deaths and those of their loved ones.
"This festival gives people a chance to find out everything they always wanted to know about death, funerals, cremation and burial but were always afraid to ask," said Jim LaMar, president of Greenlawn Funeral Homes and Cemeteries. "We want to take the fear out of thinking about death and funerals and maybe even inject a bit of entertainment into the day."
A lot of attendees expressed an interest in cremation, including Wasco resident Linda Greene. Greene said she wanted to know what the options were, what the process was like and where it was legal to scatter ashes.
"You think about (death) and you joke about it, but to hear how things actually work is a good idea. It helps give you an idea of what you really want to be done," she said.
When Greene said she heard about the festival and what it included, she was immediately drawn to the upbeat nature to it.
"I think it's a great idea," she said. "It has a sense of humor, which is important. It's not maudlin, which takes the sting out of talking about it. We have a large group of senior citizens in Bakersfield, and they have a lot of questions."
Irma Estrada said she is battling several chronic health conditions -- including diabetes, valley fever and kidney disease -- and wants to get a head start on the planning process.
"I want to see what the options are so I can try to make it easier for the people I leave behind," she said. "I've told my kids that I want to be cremated and have my ashes thrown at sea, but they say they want me here, so I'm trying to figure out what to do."
LaMar said many relatives struggle with what to do with their loved ones' ashes, and many come to regret scattering all of them at sea or other locations.
"So many families have come back later and said, 'I wish we had retained 10 percent, 15 percent, and put it somewhere we could go,'" he told festival attendees. "I always encourage people to just inter a little bit somewhere, or if you even just have a nameplate somewhere. It helps keep them alive."
One thing that funeral planning expert and author Gail Rubin, who was the featured speaker at the event, said she hears often from people is that they don't care about having any kind of service. However, Rubin said a service is more about the loved ones who have to move on.
"We as individuals affect more lives than we now by just being who we are," she said. "When we die -- yes, I used the D-word -- people want to fill that hole in their hearts. By saying 'don't have a funeral for me when I'm gone,' you are doing a disservice to the people who love you."
LaMar said what it comes down to is that loved ones need to be remembered.
"Every life has a story, and with every life, that story deserves to be told," he said. "When it's not told, how do you continue that story? Everybody deserves to have their story go on forever."
Joseph Luiz can be reached at 661-395-7368. Follow him on Twitter: @JLuiz_TBC.
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