2005 7:17 pm US/Central
Scituate, R.I. (AP) Helen Busby
has no plans to die anytime soon.
But on a recent spring
day, the 60-year-old Providence nurse was taking measurements for
It had to fit her petite 5-foot-4 frame, and
leave a few inches to spare in case she gains weight. And it had to
be sturdy enough to hold dozens of books because until she needs it,
it'll sit in her living room as shelving.
It also had to be
painted with trees, clouds and maybe some birds -- because Busby's
favorite thing to do is walk in the woods.
"My kids think
I'm crazy," she said. "First, I'm designing my coffin. Second, I
plan to use it as furniture before I go."
specifically baby boomers who have made it a habit to do things
their own way, are thinking outside the box when it comes to bidding
farewell to the dearly departed.
"They want something
different from what mom and dad and the grandparents had," said
George Dickinson, a professor of sociology at The College of
Charleston in Charleston, S.C.
Custom-made caskets reflect a
loved one's passions. Acoustic guitars and electronic keyboards
replace hymnals to provide a personal soundtrack of a memorial
service. Cremated remains are shot into space, fashioned into
jewelry and turned into reefs to help restore underwater habitats.
"These aren't cookie-cutter funerals anymore," said Maggie
Wein, who works at Bradshaw Funeral Home in St. Paul, Minn.
Wein said in her more than three years as an administrative
assistant at the family-run chain of homes, she's arranged
everything from the very simple to hours-long affairs. She helped
plan a funeral for a movie lover that included screenings of
favorite films and serving fresh-popped popcorn. She also arranged
for a casket to be taken from the funeral home to a cemetery on a
"The man loved hay rides," Wein said. "We want to
In the past decade, funeral professionals have
become event planners, industry experts say. They design theme-based
services, interview family members to learn personal details about
the deceased and go to hospitality seminars.
"You used to go
to a funeral home expecting the grim reaper or Dracula to help you
out," said Dickinson, who has written textbooks and teaches classes
on death and dying.
Now, he said, funeral homes host open
houses that show off their services and the federal government
mandates that they show price lists for comparison shopping.
"Boomers want bang for their buck. Even in the afterlife,"
said Bill Burns, a funeral services analyst at the New Orleans-based
brokerage firm Johnson Rice & Co.
Burns said the $16
billion funeral services industry has to respond to boomers' desires
if just to stay in business.
"Baby boomers have changed
every market because of their sheer size. They're driving this one
too," Burns said.
One growing trend is cremation. Ten years
ago, 21 percent of Americans were cremated. Today, 28 percent are,
according to the Cremation Association of North America. That figure
is expected to rise to about 43 percent by 2025.
"A lot of
funeral homes are now offering cremation services," Burns said.
At about $1,000, cremation is cheaper than traditional
services which can cost around $10,000 between a coffin, service and
burial, Burns said.
Ashes can be melded into concrete "reef
balls" by Eternal Reefs in Decatur, Ga., or launched into space by
Houston-based Space Services Inc. LifeGem in Elk Grove Village,
Ill., will turn ashes into diamonds.
president-elect of the National Funeral Directors Association, said
he's made changes at his funeral home in Rockland, Mass., to cater
to consumers' needs.
A few years ago, he would've never
thought he'd have plasma screen televisions at his funeral home.
"Now we have two," he said.
incorporated slideshows, home videos and biopics into services,
Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles
produces short documentaries about the deceased. The funeral chapel
also is equipped for live webcasts of funeral services.
Experts said the personal touches help families cope with
"It's therapeutic," Wein said. "They realize
they're celebrating a life, not just mourning a death."
Dickinson said boomers' interest in doing something unique
also is forcing the generation that thought it would live forever to
talk about death, and not be so afraid of it.
better about the whole thing -- dying that is -- if they can at
least feel like they planned for it and were a part of the process,
if you will," he said.
Some people are bucking the system
all together, Dickinson added, and conducting funerals at home. Laws
vary widely from state to state, but it's legal for families to
handle a body on their own in most places.
who owns Blue Light Coffin Co. in Scituate and is hand painting
Busby's coffin, says the most important thing for people to realize
is that there are options.
"I am very aware that by no means
is everyone going to want to buy their coffin in advance, design it
and possibly use it as a hope chest or liquor cabinet," she said.
"But it's good to know you have choices."
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