The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
May 132010

As Bill and I pointed out in Generations and The Fourth Turning, every generation approaches life’s major passages with its own distinctive style.  And that certainly includes death.  In recent years, most of the media attention has focused on how the Silent (born 1925-1942) are choosing to negotiate the final passage—e.g., with warmly humanized nursing homes and hospices (like the “Eden Alternative”) and movies like “The Bucket List.”  (In his final moments, apparently, Jack Nicholson will be carefully crossing the last of 27 items off his agenda.)  The G.I. (born 1901-1924) exit style—emphasizing social largesse and institutional pomp—is already fast fading.  The Silent style is kinder, gentler, more personal, and, as always with this generation, touched by ironic humor.

Yet we Boomer (born 1943-1960) are also getting older.  And if you look carefully, you can already catch glimpses of how Boomers will do it (and are doing it) differently.  With Boomers, the nursing homes will be gone entirely, replaced by “elective communities” and NORC’s (naturally occurring retirement communities—meaning, I go nowhere; I will get some Generation X (born 1961-1981) contractor to bring services to me!).  As for all those lists, I think many Boomers will throw away the pen and the lined paper… and opt for an experience more interior, more mythical, more transcendent.  And will mind-altering drugs play a role?  For many Boomers, you bet.  They came in handy in our youth, and many of us will revisit them, like a familiar friend, at the end.

It is in this sober and reflective spirit that I offer the following AP story about a 1943-cohort woman who, worried about the grave prognosis for her cancer, enrolled in one of a burgeoning number of programs that offer psychedelic drugs to terminal patients.  In her case, the experience was very positive—as it has also been, it seems, for many others.  The story received an amazing 337 comments.  It took me back to Carlos Castaneda, “the teachings of Don Juan,” certain mushrooms, and the deserts of the southwest.  If you’re not a Boomer, you wouldn’t understand.

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  • I have wondered about this for some time. As a Gen-X'er who just turned 37, I'm also interested in how my generation (broadly speaking) will choose to consider their final days.

  • danielmc999

    Off topic, but I thought you would be interested in this WSJ article on generational concerns:

    Perhaps a bit drier than it could have been, but it certainly got the point across.

  • swsstudentatiuh

    Like you said, i (being a Millennial) didn't quite understand the last bit. However, the entire posting is still very interesting. My only question is, how will Millennials choose to head out of life?

  • Lauren- SWS

    Being a millennial with a Bommer parent I can see the Boomers doing whatever possible (maybe drugs?) to hold onto life. But then again I am just a supid millennial!

  • RB

    I am boomer who is the youngest of 6 siblings. Both parents are deceased, my oldest sibling is deceased, 4 of 7 1st cousins are gone, and I am almost sure to outlive my spouse (who has a chronic disease). Most of my family members have moved away to Boston, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, etc. My concern is how long I am dead before anyone discovers it. I have a medical directive, but fear no one will know where it is when I need it. We can talk about ideal lifestyles during our end time but in reality I am likely to be lying on the floor for god knows how long before I pass. I'll probably have to name my attorney my executor and he will probably steal my assets in probate. What a country!