2019 will mark two milestones for me. Inremember was born out of the need to provide families with something better in the way of supporting them in the creation of alternative celebrations of life memorials. Something that the market place wants and needs but simply isn’t being serviced by our traditional funeral industry at the level of highly personalized events. The second milestone for 2019 is that my son’s generation (the millennials), according to the Pew Research Center, will now be the largest adult population group in the United States.
So let’s step back and ask the rhetorical question, why are there going to be more millennials than boomers from this point forward? The answer is pretty simple, we’re dying. The boomer population — born from 1946 to 1964 peaked in size at about 79 million in 1999. And when you’re in those statistics (like me) as a ‘boomer,’ that’s a tad of an eye-opener! According to the Census Bureau, all baby boomers with be older than age 65 in just ten years.
I’m not precisely fixated by census statistics and death. Still, as an entrepreneur, I do see realized there was a big opportunity in death. And part of that realization (being a baby boomer myself), is to turn the lens on myself and admit that the end of my runway is in view. A bit far off in the distance, I hope, but I have a pretty good idea that things are going to get a little crazy when I finally lift off.
Another new phenomenon for ‘us boomers’ is death seems to be everywhere now. Maybe we’re just more aware of it, but there’s no doubt we’re starting to lose parents and friends. There isn’t a day now that goes by without some mention of parental illness, Dementia, nursing home or daycare needs for our parents, and death. It’s a daily occurrence, as seen in our social media feeds, workplaces, or casual encounters with our neighbors walking their dogs too.
I met a good friend the other day for happy hour and to share a beer. The reason for getting together was for me to listen to him as a friend. He had just lost his father of 93 years. He shared with me his new normal: grief, the stress, and aftermath of hospice, death certificates, picking a container for cremation and urn, and battling the constant ‘up-selling’ and the costs associated with working with funeral homes and cemeteries. And the family in-arguing of the dismantling of the estate, and how best to produce a final tribute memorial. And most of all, for both of us to agree that this is the new normal. “We’re in the front car of the roller-coaster now,” he said. Never was a more accurate statement made, I thought!
We all know Forest Gump’s melancholy quote, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates – You never know what you’re gonna get.’ I think this our culture is changing from something a little less passive and accepting to one that wants to be more engaged with the process of what it means to live and die. And to express how we want to participate in this thing called life and death.
“As many boomers watch their parents die, accepting the soulless, one-size-fits-all deaths that society deals with them, they seem to be rebelling one last time.”
Joe Mooallem author of ‘Death, Redesigned.’ California Sunday Magazine 2015.
Everywhere we look from newspapers pieces to Frontline specials, the topic de jour is on mortality; assisted-suicide laws, green burials, advance directives which spell out wishes for end-of-life-care, and unfortunately active shooters and casualties including service members. There's even the Death Café movement, where folks gather for coffee, tea, and cake to talk about mortality — our generation as Mooallem says, is “striving to make death more palatable, more expressive.”
And not just boomers are starting to have conversations, millennials, and gen-x’ers are beginning to talk and have conversations about death and mortality. Perhaps I’ll start a ‘Death Happy Hour.’ I’m sure it would attract some folks who simply want to talk about what they’re going through, what they’re afraid of, and how to plan for a good death. I think we have to. For far too long, the traditional funeral industry (and it is a 20 billion dollar a year business just in in the United States), has kept death arms-length away from us by telling us what to do and how to do it. “We’ll take care of all of the arrangements.”
Being in the front car of a roller-coaster is certainly full throttle with eyes wide open. Taking the lead and enjoying the ride, no matter of all the twists and turns, ups and downs, and the exhilaration of accepting the unknown. I’m very encouraged that more people in more places talk about death - on social media, parties, cafes, or at the bar. Being part of an aging population is like being in the first car of a roller-coaster. And there’s no getting off until the end of the ride.