In a recent Huff Post 50 article, psychotherapist Carol Smaldino asks, “Will Baby Boomers Make it Fashionable to Deal with Death?” She writes, “I don’t mean ‘fashionable’ as in an insult, but rather as a pattern. The generation that has felt
entitled to rights in arenas of freedom, of evolving, and of comfort, may be involved in movements helping to make death not exactly casual but much more nothing to sneeze at. I write about the subject, not only because it is interesting from human, psychological and social points of view, but also because I am involved rather directly.”
Smaldino’s intriguing article prompted many comments and several shares. I found it on a LinkedIn group page. Instead of responding there, I felt it merited comment here.
Millions of Boomers, the last of whom turns 60 next year, have been confronting another rite of passage over the past decade and it will continue for at least another. They are experiencing the deaths of their parents. Some or our parents die suddenly and others linger through long diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and cancer. We are learning the nuances of dealing with death in ways we may not have learned when we lost our grandparents or other loved ones when we were younger. Talking about disease, memory loss, financial challenges, advance directives and other legal necessities, hospice, where to die, after-death wishes for burial or cremation and services are new topics to those of us who have not been attorneys, psychologists, doctors or health care professionals.
I believe something important that will come out of this collective Boomer experience of their elders dying is a heightened awareness of death. It’s happening in the same way this mega-generation raised awareness of pregnancy and giving birth – embracing a woman’s body changes, family support in the delivery room, natural childbirth, preemies and challenges, in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, and sharing photos and videos of new life emerging from the womb.
I had the pleasure of meeting psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler Ross, author of “On Death and Dying”, in the mid-1980’s when I worked PR at a Human Unity Conference in Hawaii. I was fascinated by her discussion of the five stages of grief and especially of hospice, which I thought was a place where people went to die. She explained hospice as a movement, a way for people to handle their unfinished business before dying and to experience “a good death.” Very few people at the conference knew any more than I did about hospice. I made it a point to learn more and vowed to help my friends understand what hospice was all about.
In 2008, I went to work in marketing for a senior care company that included a hospice division. It was my honor to communicate about this particular hospice to anyone who would listen. My parents relished their hospice experience with Silverado and my sister and I decided that every hospice worker who supported us was an angel.
Today the word “hospice” is truly in the mainstream as families learn about it and commit to supporting their loved ones through death, with respect for their own religions, customs and personal beliefs. In 2010, an estimated 1.581 million patients received services from hospice. Hospice is the only Medicare benefit that includes pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, and 24/7 access to care and support for loved ones following a death. And along with the growth of hospice, there has been a grassroots “celebration of life” movement propelled by Boomers and Pre-Boomers who want to share a joyful celebration of their loved one who has died. They want to do that with humor and laughter as well as sadness and tears, as the characters did in the classic Boomer movie, The Big Chill. And they want the same for themselves when their time comes.
Boomers may not make death “fashionable”, but I believe they are already reinventing dying and death in a way that brings it into the open for discussion and debate, and makes it easier to understand and bear as one of life’s great passages. Boomers are known for wanting to live life to its fullest, an axiom that extends through their own deaths. Why not? The reinvention of death and dying promises to be an invaluable Boomer legacy.
Shannon Ingram, Co-Founder & Senior Editor, BoomerReviews
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