Boomers Doing Death a Little Differently
News stories about “selfish” baby boomers hogging scarce jobs, breaking the nation’s pension piggy bank, or throwing their weight around proliferate. Finally, along comes an industry that is downright happy to see boomers coming.
To the funeral industry, the deaths of baby boomers – people born between 1946 and 1964 – is a windfall worth lusting over. But first, the industry must survive the current “death trough,” the decline in death caused by advances in medical science, among other things.
According to federal agencies that track population and health statistics, the nation’s death rate has dipped slightly and is expected to be “stagnant” for several more years. But baby boomers won’t be able to cheat the inevitable forever. The U.S. Census Bureau projects the annual number of deaths in the United States will rise from 2.6 million in 2010 to 3 million in 2024 and 4 million in 2043.
But as they change just about every aspect of society as they trot along life’s path, boomers already are changing the way we do death.
“We are seeing people wanting much more customized, personalized services,” said Bonnie Duer, president of the Kern County Funeral Directors Association.
Families are burying loved ones in everyday clothing rather than fancy suits and dresses. Video presentations are being prepared and played at funerals to highlight the departed’s life. When Duer’s mother died earlier this year, her “famous” oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe was featured on the back of the memorial card.
Duer said the personal touch even applies to caskets. Duer noted the new Dodger coffin on display in Greenlawn Mortuary and Cemetery’s River Boulevard showroom. She predicts the Dodger blue insignias on the inside and in discreet locations along the outside edges will be a big hit in Bakersfield. Caskets can be purchased in other professional and collegiate sports motifs, as well. And if sports doesn’t rattle your bones, there’s the Star Trek coffin.
Clearly boomers’ funerals will differ from the Greatest Generation’s. Boomers and their families, who want it “their way,” are quick to question requirements and costs of traditional services. As a result, the rate of cremations is skyrocketing.
Ann Gallon of Bakersfield, a volunteer with the Funeral Consumer Alliance of Kern County, reports California is outpacing the nation. She said an estimated 60 percent of the final arrangements in California are by cremation, with 30 percent nationwide. Gallon’s group is part of a national non-profit organization (go to www.funerals.org) that advises people on alternative funeral arrangements and how to cut costs.
Since boomers reportedly have been lousy savers for retirement, you can bet they have set aside even less money for their final hurrah. But it’s more than just wanting to save money that drives people to organizations such as Gallon’s.
“People want to spend whatever money they have left on the living, rather than on the dead,” said Nancie Edwards, a volunteer with a Funeral Consumer Alliance chapter in Florida. Counting the rich and the poor among her members, Edwards noted the section reserved for cremation ashes in her community’s new veterans’ cemetery is as large as the space for traditional burials.
But alternative funerals, including cremations, still can be pricey.
“I’ve heard of people making jewelry, where cremated remains are placed and given out to each of the kids,” Edwards said. “There’s a company that makes artificial reefs that hold cremated remains, which are lowered into the ocean.”
In Duer’s Bakersfield showroom, urns come in a wide range of motifs, from sports teams to Precious Moments. The cowboys among us even can be encased in bronze boots.
But if boomers want to dictate their “exit strategy,” they need to write it down. Consumer groups and funeral directors may disagree over whether funeral arrangements should be paid for in advance, but they agree written plans reduce family squabbles and stress.
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