As millennials age up and boomers age out, people are beginning to address death. Now, don’t take that the wrong way. As death comes into sharper focus for more and more people, it isn’t necessarily a negative conversation.
Traditionally, Americans simply don’t talk about dying. Sure, we encounter death every day in a multitude of ways through pop culture and social media. But in typical American fashion, we don’t usually pay attention or worry about dealing with it until it hits home and actually affects us as individuals. Lately, dealing with it means figuring out how and when you want to die. Residents in Wisconsin have added a new phrase to the conversation about dying: “end-of-life planning.” This new grassroots-style approach to terminal healthcare addresses treatment and care at the end of a patient’s life—a time that is traditionally filled with loss, mourning and chaos. Famed physicist Stephen Hawking, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), recently broached the subject of assisted suicide, another cultural approach to planning for death. This constantly returning and controversial topic raises significant questions about dying on one’s own terms.
Through all of this, one thing remains clear: People are concerned with the process of dying and are finally willing to talk openly about it.
Death is no longer a mystery to us in the sense that it is some random apparition with no apparent rhyme or reason as to why it takes people. We know why and how people die, and we can now prolong life to a degree that before the modern era was unheard of. Boomers, especially, are recognizing that death is something to plan for—and not just by deciding where their stuff goes after they die or whether their remains will be buried or cremated. People are now considering what their legacy looks like and what it encompasses.
A greater cultural emphasis on mental and emotional health can help ease the pain, suffering, fear and dread associated with death. The new attitude developing around death is one of acceptance—learning peace through understanding and then planning for the impact our absence might have. That impact is no longer restricted to your family and friends, and it is no longer simply about leaving them with peace of mind or a laundry list of your possessions. “Impact” has started taking on a positive connotation. Increasingly, the question is not, “What can I leave behind?” Today’s concern is, “How can I make a difference after I’m gone?”
Our legacy will no longer be measured by our wealth or our bloodline, but by the mark we choose to make on the world. And now people are figuring out new ways to make the memory of a loved one mean something that can reach far beyond friends and family to make a real change in the world.