For Baby Boomers, the Stairways to Heaven Are Changing
When it comes to funerals, many Baby Boomers are literally thinking outside the box.
Of course, that really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Those born between 1946 and 1964 have been constantly reinventing most life stages as they have been passing through them. So why should death be any different?
Over the next few years, you should be prepared to encounter a whole different array of extremely personalized funerals.
Somber Is Out, Lively Life Stories Are In
First of all, many Baby Boomers aren’t as religious as their predecessors. This means that traditional religious services with somber music and a prayer-intoning minister aren’t to their liking.
Instead, they are opting for leaving-of-life events that focus more on the living aspects of life. The trend started years ago with relatives and friends placing themed picture boards around the funeral home for visitors to view. Now, in many cases that look back has been augmented with home videos of important people and events in the deceased life.
Personalized Playlists and Services on the Beach
Funeral music is also changing. Instead of “Amazing Grace” or other hymns, families are designing playlists populated with songs by rock artists such as Bruce Springsteen or the Rolling Stones.
When Richie Nocella, one of my best friends from my Villanova University years, died a few years ago, his wife Karen asked that Richie’s favorite song “Jumping Jack Flash” be played at the service. Not only did current Villanova president Father Peter Donahue agree to that request, he also told a few hilarious stories about Richie’s adventures with that tune, as well as using the live playing as a time for all those attending the service to close their eyes and silently reflect on their relationship with Rich.
Just as it did in the 1960s, the West Coast seems to be leading the way in the new wave of alternate funeral services. In California, for example, ex-surfers are having their services conducted on their favorite beach. Bikers are having funeral events staged in parks and near highways where they loved to ride.
In Las Vegas, a new idea for casino workers is to have services in a side room of the casino where they worked. That way fellow casino workers can pay their respects on their breaks without leaving their shifts.
Saying Farewell in a “Green” Way
But perhaps the newest Baby Boom trend nationwide is to have a service that focuses on the environment or calls attention to some other social cause.
While people have opted for cremations for decades, more people than ever are taking that route to free up land for other uses.
Many are now seeking green, environmentally friendly funerals, which means no embalming, no metal or non-biodegradable caskets, or concrete vaults.
While it has been common for people to request contributions be made to their favorite causes, now some families are choosing to have a speaker from that group or organization attend the service and speak on behalf of the cause.
Continuing Social Activism After Death
Many of those who were socially committed in life want to continue that activism in death. Organ donations are on the rise. Many other people are including sizeable donations in wills to causes or organizations to continue a legacy of helping.
My wife and I have decided to donate our bodies to science. Under that program, our bodies will be transported to a nearby teaching hospital of our choice and remain there to be studied and used for five years. At the end of that time, the remains are cremated and returned to the family.
My wife has set aside money so that our son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren can travel to Africa and spread her remains over her favorite place in the world – the Serengeti in Kenya and Tanzania.
I want most of my ashes to be mingled with those of my wife, but I think I might want a portion held out and tossed on the stage of my grandkids favorite touring bands of the time, unless Bruce Springsteen is still performing. Then I want both of them to go to the concert and decorate the Boss’ stage.
If that does happen, I also want them to hold up a big sign that says: “Hey, Bruce – Please play “Loose Ends,” “All That Heaven Will Allow” “I’m Goin Down” “Seeds” and “The Price You Pay” for our dead Grandpop, who was a Jersey boy just like you”.
Some traditionalists find the new wave of funeral services in bad taste and/or sacrilegious. What is your take on the issue? Do you have a special way you would like to be remembered at your final service? What kind of music would you like to be played at your funeral? Please join the conversation.
Dave Price is a retired journalist and educator now establishing a freelance writing/speaking/consulting practice in Atlanta, Georgia. He’s specializing in four subjects – issues on aging, grandparenting, the Baby Boom generation, and classic rock music. In between writing articles, touring around with his wife of 4 decades, playing with his grandkids, dining on great regional food, and napping, he’s working on a nonfiction book about the Baby Boomers and their relationship with music today. Please visit Dave’s author page and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.