West Linn author attends 30 funerals in 60 days

by: SUBMITTED - Allison Clarke celebrates the release of her new book with a party Sept. 13 at Kells Irish Restaurant & Pub in downtown Portland.The ritual was the same every time. Read the newspaper, circle the most interesting listing, walk in, sign the guest book, fawn over a lifetime of photos and then sit in the back row.

While some writers perfect their craft amid the daily buzz of coffee shops or in the solitude of their personal study, West Linn author Allison Clarke, 41, worked among the dead. Her source of inspiration: funerals.

Yet while writing her book, “What Will They Say? 30 Funerals in 60 Days,” Clarke discovered more joy than sorrow, more life than death and that each individual profoundly affects the lives of everyone around them.

The idea for the book came to her midair in 2010 on a plane to Atlanta, while she was reading “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle.

“I got to thinking about what makes me so urgent to live,” she said. “In the subconscious we fear death, so I thought I would go to funerals.”by: SUBMITTED - Allison Clarke owns the consulting firm Allison Clarke Consulting and is author of 'What Will They Say? 30 Funerals in 60 Days.'

Clarke aspired to attend the funerals of exceptional strangers to learn from their adventurous lives. Some friends and family members thought she was crazy, others ingenious. Regardless of their impressions, Clarke — a mother of two and owner of her own consulting firm — was tenacious.

It began with a phone call to a funeral parlor, then the burden of reading countless obituaries. If the person sounded interesting, she attended the funeral. Every time, she wore black clothing and the pearls her father gave her.

In the end, she attended 30 funerals in 60 days across the greater Portland area. Some days, she attended three funerals a day.

“Being removed from the person, not knowing them, let me just focus on the impact of that life,” Clarke said. “People are unaware of how many people they influence in their life.”

One funeral honored the life of a 42-year-old woman with an amazing caramel corn recipe. Another, the life of a 93-year-old crossword enthusiast. Another, the 87-year-old whose grandson played “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” on the bagpipes. One honored the life of a 104-year-old Austrian immigrant.

Sometimes Clarke left the funerals singing. Other times — in the instances of a suicide or horrible accident, for example — she cried.

“I was definitely more inspired than I was sad, but I cried at seven different funerals,” she said. “You get to know the person in the funeral, and the slide show really brings out life. I liked these people. Part of me wished I would have met them in their lifetime.”

After the services, she wrote on the back of programs and index cards. She reflected on what it means to “live in the now” and have a life well lived. Her notes became the book, which was released on Sept. SUBMITTED - 'What Will They Say? 30 Funerals in 60 Days' was released Sept. 15. You can purchase copies of the book on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.

The names of the deceased and locations have been changed, but the impact remains. Each chapter of the book also begins with a photo and quote of an inspirational person still living. Four of the 30 individuals featured are from West Linn.

The book features Sharon Murphy, director of PAWS Animal Shelter, Dan Morlan of Active Edge Physical Therapy, Dave Harkin of the Portland Running Company and Colin Wall, a building engineer at Stafford Primary School.

“There are so many people around us who can inspire us,” Clarke said. “It's amazing the power that one person has.”

Clarke hopes that readers will finish her book and choose to live a more intentional life. She hopes they will do spontaneous nice things for strangers, mail handwritten letters and give their gift of time to others.

“If nothing else, I hope to plant the seeds in people to live life a little differently,” she said.

This message — the same message she teaches to her two daughters, ages 11 and 13, at Rosemont Ridge Middle School — also resonates personally.

“I look at death and living differently,” she said. “I have even more passion for living in the moment.”

The book, “What Will They Say? 30 Funerals in 60 Days,” is available for purchase on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.

About Allison Clarke

Allison Clarke is a personal coach, public speaking teacher and keynote speaker, who for the last 20 years has worked with companies like Fred Meyer, Intel and Dick Hannah Dealerships to teach employees to communicate more effectively.

She formed her company, Allison Clarke Consulting, two years ago.

She uses her book, “What Will They Say? 30 Funerals in 60 Days,” as a training workshop and is working to franchise her training manual.

For information, call 503-318-4517 or visit

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