We are all going to have to face the grim reaper, as Mount Airy Learning Tree instructor Kyle Tevlin makes clear, so our friends and family members might as well enjoy themselves while we do.

By Barbara Sherf

In 2012, Kyle Tevlin had been to several “ho hum” funerals and decided to plan her funeral and add some fun to it. The idea morphed, and her business, “I Want a Fun Funeral,” was launched.

Tevlin, 57, still works as a graphic artist while building the cottage company she feels so passionate about. “We tend to follow the traditional funeral home model of a viewing, service, burial and meal, but I believe there can be so much more than that,” Tevlin said. “Death is not a failure; it’s a normal part of life. It can be so much better to inject happiness and laughter into this final farewell.”

In an October course she taught through Mt. Airy Learning Tree, Tevlin helped participants understand their funerals while gaining ideas about how they could inject more of their personalities into their goodbye parties.

“People put a lot of energy and creativity into fun birthdays, weddings and retirement celebrations, so why not do something inspiring at the end of life?” asked Tevlin, a Main Line resident.

She cited the example of a cat lover who wants her friends to skip a formal service and spend the day playing with the cats at a shelter and perhaps adopting one in her honor. Then there is the connoisseur of low-priced “value wines” who wants his friends to open his bottles and gather to lift a glass in his memory.

“People are taking their life celebrations to the ballpark, beaches, bars, parks, amusement parks. Whatever location has the most meaning for them,” Tevlin said. “But you need to plan it ahead of time and give your loved ones permission to carry out a nontraditional funeral, or chances are it won’t happen.”

Tevlin has her plans in place. She is donating her body to science through Humanity Gifts Registry (hgrpa.org) at Jefferson Hospital. As for the fun part of it? “My family likes games, and I like crafts, so I’m asking them to get a miniature coffin and spend an afternoon decorating it and tossing in notes or memories while sharing stories and laughs,” she said.

“My playlist, which I’m always adding to, can be playing in the background.” Because fun has been a big part of her life, Tevlin feels confident her goodbye will be lighthearted. And all of her “stuff” will be disposed of via a silent auction, with the proceeds going to The Hunger Project.

A member of the nonprofit Funeral Consumers Alliance, Tevlin also educates consumers about hosting home funerals, what to do with ashes or cremains and green burials.

“I know somebody who has asked that his ashes be put into 18 separate bags and sprinkled at the 18 holes of his favorite golf course,” Tevlin noted. “Others have let Monarch butterflies loose at their backyard service. People don’t realize how many options are out there.”

Tevlin likes the idea of having a trivia contest about the deceased with appropriate prizes and prayer cards with a photo and favorite saying, poem or quote. She knows of a writer who wants a personalized bookmark created and given away, a gardener who would like her seed collection distributed and a cook who would like recipe cards handed down.

“For foodies, is there a favorite restaurant and specialty item you would like family and friends to gather at and try? Or maybe a more intimate potluck at someone’s home? How about an ice cream sundae party? One woman was adamant about having a sit-down dinner versus a buffet,” Tevlin said. “She simply hated buffets.”

Tevlin has heard of everything from motorcycles to convertibles and from tractors to horses pulling a casket. She believes pets can play an important role in a funeral. “I know an animal lover of the highest order who said if it were up her, she’d only have animals at her funeral but has opted to defer to her family on that one.”

Tevlin believes there is no idea that is “too out there … If you Google it, it’s probably been done.”

For more information, go to Iwantafunfuneral.com. Barbara Sherf captures the stories of individuals in print, audio and video. She can be reached at 215-990-9317. This article is reprinted, with permission, from Milestones, the monthly publication of the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.

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