I spoke with Alison Bossert of Final Bow Productions, a celebration-of-life event company, on the challenges and joys of organizing end-of-life events. Her comments show that all types of event planning can be rewarding while opening my eyes to yet another career path for planners.

JE: Please provide a summation of your career experience.

AB: After 17 years creating some of the most lavish, star-studded movie premiere experiences in the industry at Sony Pictures Entertainment, I ventured out to create Final Bow Productions, a unique celebration-of-life event company.

Final Bow came to be when after producing hundreds of film premieres, award show parties and corporate retreats, I was granted the privilege to design memorial services for several entertainment industry luminaries.

While often dealing with people’s most raw emotions, I found this work extremely gratifying by helping families, friends and colleagues through a most difficult time while creating a memorable life celebration. 

JE: For readers who are in the hotel—or other venue or destination—segment of the hospitality industry, what questions they should ask of those who come to them to plan an end-of-life-celebration or memorial and what special considerations should they have?

AB: Guest count is my number one question. Most funerals are not events where invitations are ordinarily sent out or RSVPs taken—you just attend.

It’s important to plan by having an invitation emailed with an RSVP so that the guest count can be managed. The invitation will most likely be forwarded on to those that knew the person.

JE: For those in the meetings and events industry who plan meetings and conventions, what can they learn that would help them move into events like life celebrations that are not like the skills needed for even unusual special events?

AB: Compassion and empathy are needed to work in this area of event production. It’s unlike any other events you'll work on as an event professional and you have to understand that your clients might not be able to answer questions right away or want to make decisions.

You need to help them along. They are in the fog of grief and you are guiding them through what is probably the most difficult moment in their lives. You will also have to understand that you are working with your clients—they need to be part of the creative process and may even take things like a memorial reel or printed program into their own hands and work on them.

JE: For all people, what 3-5 steps should they take now that will help in planning an end-of-life event—whether funeral, memorial, life celebration or nothing at all—for those who survive beyond them? 

AB: Give yourself and others time—grief is a terribly difficult emotion which becomes even more acute when adding the pressure of planning a service.

If the deceased has wishes for a religious ceremony, go forth with those plans. The memorial service or celebration of life can take place weeks or even months after death.

Planning and paying honor to a life well lived will show through in the service. If the deceased didn’t want a service, honor their wishes. But if family and friends gather informally to reminisce, let it happen to help those loved ones go move through grief. 

JE: Lastly, what did I not ask that you want others to know about what you do?

AB: The work is not sad and depressing—most of my clients have told some very funny stories about their loved ones.

I have laughed a lot, and finding humor is so important when working in this arena.

I also feel I’ve gotten to know the person that we are celebrating even if I never met them. That tells the client that they’ve been able to fully convey the story and celebrate a life well lived.

Related Reading From the May 2019 Edition of Friday With Joan

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