The Rise Of The Boomeral


Jul 8, 2013
The Rise Of The Boomeral Have you noticed the traditional funeral is dying out? A combination of over-exposure (two World Wars), universal healthcare (NHS) and rising affluence have all conspired to remove death from the domestic arena and thus from most people’s experience.

The subject is now shrouded (well spotted –gold star for you) in euphemism and over-tactfulness. Not so long ago builder/undertakers made coffins and bodies stayed at home in the front room until the funeral. Nowadays, people pass away in hospitals or nursing homes, they’re removed to a funeral director’s premises, given hallowed new status as the deceased and laid in state in the chapel of rest. Even the honesty of cold, muddy burial grounds is often traded in for the well-meant artificiality of the weather-proof crematorium chapel.
       
Meanwhile, old age – sorry, later life, also boasts a lively new veneer. Everything from retirement living to funeral plans is sugar-coated with images of lively silver-haired’s gambolling on beaches & sand dunes, toasting us with champagne from the sunset-tinted decks of cruise liners, or just strolling hand in hand through verdant woodland with child models to represent grandchildren.
    
The reason for all these energetic, life-affirming portrayals? Enter, stage left, the Baby Boomers.
 
“Folks born 1946-1964 please form an orderly line. Born 1965? Sorry, wrong queue. You need Generation X, across the corridor in Room 10. Thank you. Oh, by the way everyone, Generation Y are outside stealing your cars.”

The Boomers enjoyed unprecedented access to education, becoming more socially aware and more willing to question authority than previous generations. They also experienced constant economic growth. But controversy lurks close by:
 
“We had become not merely the luckiest but also the most selfish generation in history” – Jeremy Paxman, BBC Newsnight presenter (and Boomer).

Ouch..! That’s enough to make a roomful of Boomers shuffle their feet and stare guiltily at the floor. Or maybe not. The mis-placed sense of self-entitlement is more symptomatic of Generations X & especially Y (I’m an X-man). At times I’ve found myself in clients’ homes setting up funeral prepayment plans whilst their adult children sit there glowering in the corner, fearing a reduction in their inheritance. They wish!
 
“Dear Kids, We’ve helped you enough over the years. Your Mother & I have paid for our funerals and we’ve left the rest to the grandchildren. Love M & D.”

But getting back to where I started, the Boomers’ well-informed and often well-funded attention has now turned to their final send-off and they’re behind a new wave of change in the British Way Of Death. They’re redefining their approach to funerals the same way they redefined every other aspect of life and society. The Boomers’ social and environmental awareness is inspiring a re-engagement with, and reclamation of, death & dying. Yes, it started with aging free-thinkers, protestors and counter-culturalists. Their vigorous anti-paternalist views meaning that even the natural birth movement is now joined by a natural death movement, advocating everything from green burials to Soul Midwives.

“Soul Midwives?!” Cue rolling eyes and hoots of derision. Ignore the hippy-sounding label. Soul Midwives are trained palliative carers who draw alongside to offer practical help (helping people to die at home, for example) as well as alleviating the fear, loneliness and anxiety surrounding death. You don’t get that on the NHS… 

But whereas eco-friendly, celebration of life ceremonies were once seen as the preserve of the free-range, muesli-fuelled, knit-your-own-yoghurt brigade, they’re now decidedly mainstream. Alternative is becoming conventional, contemporary will soon be traditional and personalised is now standardised. I’m seeing massive growth in personalised and contemporary funerals, often encompassing the “green” element as an expression of values or beliefs. 

Green, contemporary, personalised, or more often a combination of all three, it all requires huge change in how I work and how I meet clients’ expectations. Internet-savvy silver surfers are making full use of the online information democracy too, so undertakers like me (strangely, that term is coming back into vogue) must re-invent ourselves to satisfy a more informed public.
   
The generation that invented youth culture and gave us free love, drugs and rock & roll, clearly have their own ideas about how to “go gentle into that good night.” I foresee the era of the “Boomeral.”


James Baker owns and runs Fred Stevens Funeral Directors of Nailsworth, Glos.

He is the author of “A Life In Death – Memoirs Of A Cotswold Funeral Director




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