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This mortal coil

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Gail Rubin has been talking about dying for decades.

She’s been thinking about it even longer and wants others to do the same.

“I’m not morbid,” she said. “I’m a very upbeat person. I was just meant to help people learn about what you need to know for the end of life.”

For the second year in a row, Rubin has organized the Before I Die Festival, a weeklong event that covers topics that help people plan ahead for their inevitable death. The festival starts Tuesday and will run through Nov. 4, featuring events and activities in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Rubin said people should not only begin planning and funding their funerals but they should be talking to their loved ones about their wishes, planning their end-of-life celebrations and putting into place medical directives and a will.

The festival features a Día de los Muertos party at Sunset Memorial Park on Halloween ($25 to attend). Organizers will serve beer and wine that features artwork by local artist Sean Wells.

Rubin said even as a teenager she thought about the rituals surrounding the end of someone’s life in vague ways. In college, she made a short film that featured the grim reaper and his intended target trying to make a deal that would allow the man to live.

“I have always been interested in planning ahead for the end of life,” she said. “I started the Death Cafe here in 2012.”

The cafes, she said, began popping up in the United Kingdom and after learning about them she knew it was something she wanted to start in Albuquerque. The gatherings usually take place at local coffee houses. Strangers get together and talk about their thoughts about their own mortality.

Rubin, a self-proclaimed death educator and a certified thanatologist – someone who studies death and dying – has written three books, including “A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die” and “Kicking the Bucket List: 100 Downsizing and Organizing Things to Do Before You Die.”

The festival kicks off with the Create A Great Funeral Day. Activities that day include a yoga class, an obituary-writing and life-celebration planning workshop, and a tour of the Fathers Building Futures workshop where the group makes urns and caskets. The second day of the festival is Halloween and will include a Día del los Muertos party at Sunset Memorial Park. Cost to participate is $25 and comes with dinner and drinks.

The rest of the week will feature talks about downsizing, medical care and funeral arrangements and a tour of the historic Fairview Cemetery, films at the Guild Cinema and a behind-the-scenes look at the Office of the Medical Investigator (space is limited). The festival will culminate with a booth at the Día de los Muertos Marigold Parade & Festival in the South Valley at noon Nov. 4. For a full list of events visit

Jody Herrington, general manager at Strong-Thorne Mortuary, said a funeral can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars up to $20,000.

Those who don’t plan, she said, leave family members with the burden of paying for the funeral and sorting out the details. She said in times of grief, people are under a lot of stress, which could lead to fighting and poor decisions.

“When emotions are high, little things can explode into huge arguments,” she said. “Interpersonal relationship come into play and they are amplified by death.”

She said every society has rituals around death and it’s not unusual or in poor taste to think about one’s own death. She said making plans in advance, even going so far as to visit a funeral home, pick out a casket and pay for the funeral, takes the stress off the entire family.

“These rituals are what make us remember who we are,” she said. “Very few of us want to die, but we all die.”