Assignment 7

Planning funeral celebrations with a personal touch

Friday, June 01, 2012

For most of the important events in your life, you can find people to plan them out for you -- birthday parties, weddings and graduation events, for example. So why not have someone plan your funeral? One Bay Area woman is trying to carve out a niche for herself by helping others with their final wishes.

Barbara Gibson of Oakland spent most her life in public relations. But when she was laid off, she saw an opportunity to reinvent herself.

"My mother passed away without any last wishes. She had had Alzheimer's for many, many years so I had no concept of what she would want, and I have a 17-year-old son -- and I thought, if something happened to me, I wouldn't want him to have to go through this," she said.

There are companies that help terminally ill people prepare for their end, but Gibson wanted to offer services to people who are still healthy and alive.

Last Wishes, the business she launched late last year, targets baby boomers -- and business has taken off. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, 71 percent of baby boomers don't want a traditional funeral.

"I am not a lawyer, I won't do their will. I am not a nurse or a doctor, so I can't do their medical directives. But basically I help them organize and sift through all the many options and get them on the road," Gibson said.

The cost of Gibson's services average around $500. She guides clients through their options. Do they want be buried or cremated? What happens to their digital legacy? Who's responsible for taking care of executing the plan? Will there be a party? What will be served?

Evelyn Dalton of Danville plans to be around for a while but felt the time was right to make her end-of-life plans. "It's one of those things you should do if you're a certified grown up, just like doing your taxes or doing a will," Dalton said.

She met with Gibson three times to draft her last wishes. "It was a very cathartic experience, chilling to a certain degree. I wrote my own obituary," Dalton said.

Dalton's plans are complete for now, but nothing is set in stone. She will revisit them annually to make updates.

Not every plan is as simple.

"The most interesting one I've gotten recently was from someone who asked me if I could do a Viking funeral with flaming arrows shot through the air at a wooden ship and with Wagnerian music in the background -- which I think is a truly Bay Area idea," Gibson said.

She hopes others will find peace in knowing that when the end comes, their last wishes will be taken care of. While funerals are sad, they're also a celebration of a life lived."I think that we need to get away from thinking of it as something very morbid and sad," Gibson said.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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