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

by Len Lear

“Kyle Tevlin has the perfect combination of empathy, humor and enthusiasm for guiding her workshop participants into planning their own funeral. Not only is it a great idea to have plans set for the end of life, but the process of planning one’s funeral infuses life with greater meaning. I recommend Kyle’s workshop highly, for people of all ages.”

These are the words of Carol Heffler, of Lambertville, Pennsylvania, after she attended a workshop given by Tevlin, owner of a most unusual business called I Want a Fun Funeral. Tevlin, 59, who has run 54 such workshops since she started her company in 2013, will be offering one on behalf of Mt. Airy Learning Tree on Wednesday, March 6, 7 to 9 p.m., at Our House Culture Center, 6380 Germantown Ave.

According to Annette McCabe, of Little Falls, New Jersey, another of Tevlin’s participants, “The knowledge, peace of mind and inspiration that I gained from this seminar was amazing. Such an innovative way to bring comfort and lightheartedness to the subject of planning you own funeral. It was an amazing experience, thought-provoking and fun.”

Tevlin, who grew up in North Jersey but has lived on the Main Line for three years, said she conceived the “fun funeral” idea after going to “quite a few bland funerals … I want to show people that funerals don’t have to be cold and sterile.”

Although the idea of having a “fun” funeral may seem macabre to some, there is reason to believe that funeral mores are changing. For the 2.5 million Americans who die each year, families are “making funeral decisions based on different values than previous generations,” according to Jessica Koth, a spokeswoman for the National Funeral Directors Association.

Cremations are now used in about 45 percent of deaths, and environmentally friendly “green funerals” are becoming more common, according to research by the Huffington Post. From customizing the casket to offering surprising music, costumes, themes and performances at the service, families are “seeking experiences that are different than those they perceive as part of a ‘traditional’ funeral,” said Koth.

“I’ve spoken to over 500 people (at her presentations),” said Tevlin, “but I really have no way of being sure how many people have planned significantly creative sendoffs. All I can go by is observing that the majority of people leaving my events thank me for opening their eyes to options they never knew about and a different, more positive way of seeing funerals.

If Kyle Tevlin had her way, every cemetery would have gravestones like these.

“Considering most people know very little about funerals other than ‘what’s always been done’ and the fact that there is so much more available now that is uplifting, lighthearted and legal, almost everyone learns something that can help them plan a funeral that is more in line with their values and taste.”

What is the most unusual or “fun” funeral Tevlin ever heard of? “It was for a 5-year-old girl who died after being ill her whole life. Her parents held a frilly, upbeat Tea Party, complete with a cupcake decorating station, nail polish station, balloons, stuffed animals and everything their happy, joyful little girl loved most. They were adamant to not have a morbid funeral, but a joyous event to celebrate their daughter in a way that embodied who she was.”

But people are not lining up yet to plan fun funerals, Tevlin conceded. “Most people in the funeral-planning age group are still fairly tied toward the tried and true … but I think the next generation will be having funerals unlike anything that we do today. The current model is coming to an end; I don’t believe it will last another generation, but incremental change is still good!”

What about Tevlin’s plans for her own funeral? Will it be fun? “I’m donating my body to science, so that removes much of the usual ritual. I’m a fan of people getting involved in an activity (and also a fan of home funerals and homemade caskets), so my idea is for family and friends to make a minicasket and spend an afternoon decorating it and putting in whatever items remind them of me.

“Being an artsy-crafty type, this is really my style. I have an ever-growing Funeral Play List being made on my phone, so that music can be playing in the background. They can either burn, bury or just toss the casket later on, maybe on a significant date like my birthday or one-year death anniversary. It’s a bonding experience, and everyone who knows me would know that I would not want something morbid and sad. Food, music, stories, laughs … what’s better than that?”

If Tevlin could meet and spend time with anyone on earth, living or dead, before she departs, who would it be? “Nelson Mandela was my hero. His commitment to justice and equality, without any retribution, is the ultimate inspiration to me. I know he’s not on earth anymore, but I can’t think of anyone alive who has meant that much to me.”

For more information, call MALT at 215-843-6333 or visit iwantafunfuneral.com

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