Last Updated: February 1, 2018
Death used to be considered a morbid topic, but baby boomers are embracing the subject and are even coming up with personalized ways in which they want to be remembered.
Dan Biggins owns a family funeral home in Rockland, Massachusetts. While the majority of his services are traditional, he’s noticing that more and more boomers have begun to think outside the box.
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There were the four children who built a makeshift campsite at his funeral home, complete with a canoe, cooler and tent, for their deceased dad, a die-hard camper, he says. 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 decorative funerary urns, pendants and rings. There are also websites for those who want to preserve their digital legacy after they’re gone.
Just as they have put their personal stamp on every stage of life, boomers are approaching death differently than their parents.
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…” says Biggins, a spokesman for the National Funeral Directors Association.
“I’m seeing boomers who want a meaningful and unique 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 humor with tears and reminiscences, rather than pure solemnity.
This new frontier includes an increase in cremation and home funerals. While 44% of Americans are already opting for more environmentally-friendly and less costly cremations, look for much more as boomers age. “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.”
With all the choices there are today and watching the consequences of their own parents not discuss their final wishes, baby boomers are tackling the topic head-on. They’re inviting friends over for dinners to discuss the subject and attending “death cafes” at bookstores, churches and restaurants.
To get you thinking about what choices you or an aging loved one wants to make in the end, consider the tips below:
Although it can be difficult, it’s important to consider and plan your wishes. A resource to get that difficult conversation going is The Conversation Project.
Among the documents you’ll want are a durable power of attorney, health care directive, living will. Don’t forget to tell loved ones where to locate those documents.
The National Funeral Home Alliance has support and workshops for home funerals. MyFuneral.com (whose motto is “The early bird gets the worm, rmember, 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 also has suggestions based on a person’s hobbies or profession. Some employers have even begun offering funeral planning services with “funeral concierges.”
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).
Have you celebrated the life of an individual in a unique way? Share your experiences and stories with us in the comments below.