What a wonderful feature in The New York Times a few days ago. Reporter John Leland, whose work has been critiqued in these pixels before, writes that baby boomers are planning their own funerals or those of their parents, with less God, more consumer.
"Baby boomers are all about being in control," said [Mark] Duffey, who started his company after running a chain of funeral homes. "This generation wants to control everything, from the food to the words to the order of the service. And this is one area where consumers feel out of control."
What they want, he said, are services that reflect their lives and tastes. One family asked for a memorial service on the 18th green of their father's favorite golf course, "because that's where dad was instead of church on Sunday mornings, so why are we going to church," Mr. Duffey said. "Line up his buddies, and hit balls." Another wanted his friends to ride Harleys down his favorite road, scattering his ashes.
For something that happens to everyone -- eventually -- there sure is a shortage of coverage for regular, old-fashioned death and dying. I mean, I read the obituaries as devoutly as anyone, but features like Leland's are what newspapers need. And Leland does a great job of just sharing the facts in a very interesting and picturesque but straightforward manner. I love that. I love how it allows a reader like me -- who does not think death is the best moment to highlight our obsession with consumerism -- to cringe with each detail while also allowing scores of baby boomers to jot down tips for their funerals. This next paragraph in particular caught my eye:
The biggest change, Mr. Duffey said, is that as more families choose cremation -- close to 70 percent in some parts of the West -- services have become less somber because there is not a dead body present. "The body's a downer, especially for boomers," Mr. Duffey said. "If the body doesn't have to be there, it frees us up to do what we want. They may want to have it in a country club or bar or their favorite restaurant. That's where consumers want to go."
Wow! Yeah, that whole mind-body dualism we seem to have embraced . . . what to say? When you think of the religious origins of cremation and how the practice was rejected by Christians for nearly two millennia, and when you think about how the practice was brought back in the West 150 or so years ago by atheists and freethinkers, and when you think about how a huge chunk of the people being cremated these days are Christians, it does kind of boggle the mind.
Christians used to agree that cemeteries were sleeping places where people awaited their bodily resurrection. But now that many in the Christian tradition no longer believe that and see the body as an unimportant vessel, they are free to toast it.
The prevalence of the practice of cremation means different things in Hindu communities than Christian communities, not to mention other religions. I hope that reporters start digging into how the practice of cremation in America has doctrinal implications.