The Impact of Baby Boomers on the Funeral Service
Funeral services have changed considerably over the years, each generation bringing its own sensibilities. Death rites once occupied a considerable amount of time and expense. Mourners wore black for a year or more, and funeral services were long and highly ritualized. Such practices suited the rhythms of life of an earlier generation. Yet, the baby boomers changed nearly everything about their society. Tradition became something to be challenged, even assaulted. Not one aspect of customary life was left unchanged, and funeral services were no exception. Traditional funeral services were modified to suit individual tastes and preferences. The new funerals reflected the deceased as they were in life, as well as the needs of those left behind. Cremations began to compete with burials as many baby boomers showed their concern for the environment. Personal orations replaced long prayers. Graveside services, or simple ceremonies beside an urn, took the place of more formal arrangements. Words were made up for the occasion. Poems might be composed and read. Often, a ceremony might be tailored to represent some interest of the deceased. As well, Baby Boomers became increasingly concerned with issues of fairness and consumer rights. Many recognized that death had become a business, and that was now necessary to safeguard the rights of the decedent and the bereaved. Activism came as much to the fore in this area as in other fields of society.
The popularity of cremation reflects the range of these concerns. For many, cremation seems to solve the problem of too much land being taken up by cemeteries, while at the same time being less expensive than traditional burials. (Kopp & Kemp, 2007) in its most extreme forms, cremation offers a chance to "re-build" a dying environment. It represents a symbolic rebirth of the individual as part of the landscape or seascape i.e. The incorporation of urns into undersea reefs. (Kopp & Kemp, 2007) Such practices also reflect a greater concern with linking death to life. The Twentieth Century witnessed an increasing separation between the processes of death and everyday life. Few boomers were exposed to death up close as children. Many did not even experience the loss of a grandparent prior to adolescence or later. (Hayslip & Peveto, 2005, p. 59) Modern death rites can frequently be seen as attempts on the part of those unfamiliar with death to cope with sudden and painful loss. Studies have shown that death, or thoughts of death, occupy a greater place in the minds of many at the turn of the new millennium. A study of college students in the 1990s - most the children of baby boomers - asked the same question as those asked in a 1935 study. The results were astounding - a society obsessed with death and dying. In particular, participants in the recent study were consumed with thoughts of the process of death, and by images of violent death and death from disease. (Hayslip & Peveto, 2005, pp 61-62) Contemporary funerals help to allay these fears and concerns.
As the above study shows, Baby Boomers have created a world that is much more concerned with the here-and-now. By focusing on the possibly gruesome methods of exiting this life, the boomers have increased relative levels of anxiety over death and dying. The celebration of the…