Two things are certain: death and taxes (the latter, at least, if you’re not in the one percent). But even though death and funerals are a part of life, they’re still hard to talk about. Despite the most basic fact that you will die, only a small amount of people ahead of time.
These women want to change that.
, the brainchild of entertaining expert and event planner Karen Bussen and funeral director Elizabeth Meyer Karansky, aims to make talking about death and dying easier. It’s a digital platform that provides tools and resources — and since it’s 2019, a podcast — for people to either plan a “farewelling” (funeral, memorial) for themselves or a loved one. There are checklists, blog posts, and planning tips sprinkled throughout the site.
Karansky was inspired to get into the field after the untimely death of her father and planning his funeral. She said that, because her family did not know exactly what he wanted, she had regrets over decisions she made — but even if she decided differently, she would still have regrets. The crux is that she and her loved ones did not know what her father wanted.
“The greatest thing you can give someone is telling them what you want and writing it down,” she said, “Because unlike a wedding, it’s not you making the decision.”
While she had been in the funeral industry for over a decade, Bussen became motivated to get involved much more recently due to a crisis in her personal life. “I had an experience personally, a few years back when my younger sister had a very serious health crisis,” she said. “Up until that point I’ve been in the world of celebrating events, producing high-end weddings and parties. I was very much involved in life events and celebrating, but I had never really given a lot of thought to mortality.”
When crisis hit her family, she decided to research events a lot less fun than weddings. Bussen discovered that there were not as nearly as many resources out there for end-of-life planning as there are for weddings. That, combined with the desire to do work with deeper meaning, led her to meeting Karansky and starting Farewelling.
“I’ve been preaching the same message for over a decade, which is basically: we’re all going to die,” Karansky said. “It’s the only obvious thing. Why can’t we open up the conversation and make it a bit more palatable and easier when the time comes?” She said it has always been her mission to talk to people and hear what they want out of their end-of-life planning and make it a comfortable conversation. Otherwise, according to Karansky, it’s just that much harder of a conversation when someone actually dies.
On the Farewelling site there are two pathways: if a loved one has already died or if you or a loved one is planning a future farewelling. From there, there are checklists that cover every topic from what documents need to be in order to how to step-by-step funeral planning. The worksheets have different voices depending on whether someone has already died or will, or whether you’re preparing a memorial for yourself or a loved one.
Being that death and dying can be hard to talk about, another element of Farewelling tries to open people up a bit: the podcast. is an interview show where Bussen talks to both celebrities and non-celebrities all about the topic. Guests range from Bussen’s younger sister to Mo Rocca, who himself hosts a death-themed podcast called .
The idea for the companion podcast came up when thinking about the overarching goal of Farewelling: to get people to “talk about it,” “it” being death and dying. Bussen’s sister is featured in the second episode and according to her, that was the first time they talked about the crisis — and they even lived together for part of that time.
The podcast “was a way that I could normalize the conversation,” said Bussen. “We’re not just talking about death and destruction. We’re coming at it from a place of lightheartedness with respect.” When speaking with her guests, Bussen makes sure to have a treat unique to their interests nearby, be it a snack or hand masks.
“Even the most serious things in life have a moment of humor,” Karansky said. “And it’s okay to acknowledge that.”
Bussen and Karansky want Farewelling to be an authority on the topic of death and funerals. When you think of weddings, you probably think of The Knot. Currently, there are no brands like that for end-of-life planning, and that’s where they want Farewelling to come in. They want the site to be what people think about when they, unfortunately, have to think about funerals.
Not only that, but they want the field itself to shift. “I want to try to influence the industry itself and drag them into the twenty-first century in a positive way,” Bussen said, “So that they can build or create more beautiful spaces, so that they can innovate and help families personalize the celebrations in ways that are still evolving.”
As a funeral director, Karansky said she’s seen more death than most; it’s a heart wrenching experience coupled with having to make critical decisions about a deceased loved one. But Farewelling can take the logistical side out of it, so a funeral or memorial will “be about honoring the person we love,” said Karansky, “And grieving, and taking care of yourself.”
Ultimately, Bussen and Karansky hope to get that number of Americans who talk about their wishes to increase over the next few years — even just a little.