How Boomers View Death
Death used to be considered a morbid topic, but today baby boomers are embracing the subject and even coming up with personalized ways in which they want to be remembered.
Dan Biggins owns a family funeral home in Rockland, MA. While the majority of his services are traditional, he’s noticing that more and more boomers have begun to think outside the box. There were the four children who built a makeshift campsite at his funeral home, complete with a canoe, tent and cooler, for their deceased dad, a die-hard camper. Recently, fellow deejays of another dearly departed set up his equipment in Biggins’s main room, blasting his favorite songs there and at the graveyard.
Prefer cremation? Those who can’t bear to part with a loved one can have their ashes fashioned into pendants, rings, wind chimes, decorative funerary urns and coral reefs. There are also websites for those who want to preserve their digital legacy after they’re gone.
Approaching Death With Personal Expression
Just as they have put their personal stamp on every stage of life, boomers are approaching death differently than their parents. They’re talking about it, rather than denying, it, and sometimes using “The End” for personal expression, but also to clarify how they want to live that final chapter.
New Jersey social psychologist Susan Newman says,
“Boomers are the first generation to bring this previously closeted, taboo topic out in the open. Many are having discussions with family about what life-saving medical procedures they want, or don’t want, and what their funeral, or non-funeral, should look like.”
“People used to be much more religious and cling to the traditions of their faith, culture or community,” says Biggins, a spokesman for the National Funeral Directors Association. “I’m seeing boomers who want a unique and meaningful experience that celebrates their life or the life of their loved ones.” That might be a themed funeral, say, a sports team’s logo on the casket of an avid fan. Or, it may mean a “celebration of life” that mixes laughter and humor with tears and reminiscences, rather than pure solemnity.
This new frontier includes an increase in home funerals and cremation. While 44% of Americans are already opting for cremations (cheaper and more environmentally-friendly), look for many more as boomers age. Besides, those relatives scattered around the country aren’t likely to do much cemetery visiting anyway.
“It doesn’t matter if you spend $500 on a cremation or $10,000 on a funeral, that person is just as dead, just as loved, and just as missed,” says Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA). “What matters is the coming together of family and friends to support each other and tell stories.”
Death Takes Center Stage in Conversations
With all the choices —and watching the consequences of close-mouthed aging parents not discuss their final wishes— boomers are tackling the topic head on. They’re inviting friends over for “death dinners” to discuss the subject and attending “death cafes” at a bookstore, church or restaurant.
You can’t escape death. Want a casket? Check out Costco or your local mall. You can plan way ahead and buy a multi-purpose casket that can be used as a bookshelf, couch or end table until the Grim Reaper appears.
Of course, most people don’t choose casket couches, rings with remains or themed funerals. But, they may want a funeral celebrant (someone who writes and delivers a eulogy) rather than clergy. Or, something that’s different to reflect their individuality.
To get you thinking about what you or a loved one wants, consider the four tips below. It takes out the guesswork for others and is smart planning:
- Decide what you, a parent, relative or a friend want at the end of life. Talk! A resource to get that difficult conversation going is The Conversation Project.
- Put it in writing. Among the documents you’ll want are a will, healthcare directive, durable power of attorney, living will, and Do Not Resuscitate form. Critical: tell loved ones where they are.
- Visit funeral homes or call crematoriums. Compare prices and services. Local volunteer chapters of the FCA often have local price surveys for rates in their area. Slocum says to be careful about pre-paying for funerals (each state regulates differently and there may be costs you didn’t know about).
- Research your options. The National Funeral Home Alliance has workshops and support for home funerals. Myfuneral.com (whose motto is “The Early Bird Gets the Worm, Remember, It’s Your Funeral, Enjoy It While You’re Still Alive”) lets you plan your own service with music, photos and readings. The National Funeral Directors Association website has suggestions based on a person’s profession or hobbies. Some employers have begun offering funeral planning services with “funeral concierges.”
Here’s a final thought: For the penultimate sendoff, have your ashes loaded into a rocket and shot into space. As they say, the sky’s the limit.
Have you attended a memorable funeral that focused on celebrating the life of that individual in a unique way? Share your experiences with us in the comments below.
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