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Taking control, through the end

Their father's funeral isn't necessarily what baby boomers want for themselves. Even in death, they prefer to personalize everything and make a statement.

By SHARON GINN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 27, 2005

Since the first baby boomers were born nearly 60 years ago, they've found a way to shake up nearly every industry they have come in contact with. In death it will be no different.

Largely dissatisfied with the staid, traditional funerals of their parents and grandparents, boomers are looking for both personalization and the ability to have a final say in how they are remembered.

"One of the themes with the boomer generation, especially boomer women, is the need and the demand for control and solutions to manage the chaos we call life," said Joseph Coughlin, a boomer, the executive director of the Age Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a White House adviser on aging.

"The death of our parents, death of a spouse, the impact on our children, even if they're adult children, is something the boomers in particular are not only going to want to personalize, but they're going to particularize it."

"Particularizing" in this case means breaking it down into the various parts and considering all possibilities. The boomers are the ultimate "self-help generation," used to turning to books and the Internet to search for solutions and choices, Coughlin said.

More than anything, boomers have a desire to "make a statement at the bitter end," Coughlin said. "Our way of making our final statement is planning for it now."

Some conservation-minded boomers are considering "green burials," in which the body is covered with a shroud or put in a wooden box, unembalmed, and left to decompose. Several green burial sites have cropped up in the past few years as a way to conserve undeveloped land while bringing in income for expenses and further conservation. One such site is the Glendale Memorial Nature Preserve in DeFuniak Springs.

Boomers are also expected to choose cremation in greater numbers than their parents, but they don't necessarily want their ashes to sit in an urn on the fireplace.

"We're going to start dropping like flies," said John Wilkerson, co-founder of the preserve and himself a boomer. "We grew up smoking pot, learning about alternatives, questioning the status quo. We had our babies at home, and now we're thinking in terms of directing our own death care, instead of going to a guy in a suit and tie and writing a $10,000 check."

"One of the things that appeals to the baby boomers is they can do interesting things with their remains," said Jack Springer, executive director of the Cremation Society of North America. "They can put them in space, make diamonds out of them, or jewelry..."

One company even makes "reef balls," cast concrete containers for ashes that can be used to create new marine habitats for fish or other sea life.

For those who want a more traditional place for their ashes, cemeteries are opening larger and more interesting-looking memorial parks that offer various places for cremated remains.

"On the whole (boomers) are better educated, wealthier, much more mobile and less traditional in religious ties," Springer said. "They fit the category of the people that choose cremation. Because they're not tied to an area ... no longer do you have the family homestead. There's (often) no reason to be in the cemetery with all the family, because they're not there anymore."

[Last modified September 26, 2005, 20:51:05]

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