What supports the existence of an afterlife

How we want to die tomorrow.

 
With the buzzwords migration, digitization & corona, an important phenomenon has been displaced from our perception radar that will fundamentally affect us in the economy and society in the next 20 to 30 years: demographic aging. It has been taking place gradually since the 1970s, but its obvious visibility will increase significantly in the near future due to the baby boom cohorts. And with more and more older people in the streets and everyday life, further topics such as health care, age-appropriate living and quality of life in old age, but also self-determined dying and dealing with death, will be more in focus.
The team of authors
Dr. Uwe Lebokis a marketing expert for brand positioning of brands, Context Thinking® and initiator for brands in “dead ends”. The demographer with a doctorate is a board member (CMO) at the market research and branding consultancy K&A BrandResearch® and primarily supports medium-sized companies with research-based brand strategies.

Michael Bachmann has been part of the management team at FriedWald GmbH since 2007, responsible for the areas of public relations, forest management and customer service. Before that, after completing his business administration studies at the University of Cologne, he held various marketing positions at an international consumer goods manufacturer in Hamburg for several years.

Carola Wacker master heads the public relations work at the pioneer and market leader for forest burials FriedWald. Before that, she held a responsible position at an international consumer goods manufacturer for many years. The humanities scholar is a member of the Federal Association of Communicators and the network of experienced communicators GWPR Germany.
The moments surrounding our death in particular have become more differentiated in the last ten to 20 years. As in other industries, personal approach and individual support as possible have the highest priority. Dealing with death has become more varied in recent years: despite the increasing demand for services in the last phase of life, classic burials in individual or family graves are declining. A serious change is emerging, which can be traced back to very different, overlapping changes in attitudes towards death and burials

With age comes death

The average age of the population in industrialized countries has been increasing for years. In 1980 the average age in Germany was 36.5 years, it has now risen to 44.5 years (2019). According to the Federal Statistical Office, the proportion of those people who are over 65 years of age (and will definitely die in the next few decades) is currently 21 percent. Due to the increasing life expectancy, the remaining years of life will increase for the over 65s. At the same time, the cognitive dissonance between actual age and self-perception (“how old I actually feel”, see Fig. 1) grows with the age experienced: The trend is likely to continue that older people will feel younger and younger.

Difference between actual and perceived age (click to enlarge)

At the same time, religiosity is declining in the younger generations, which has direct consequences on attitudes towards death. Due to the changing needs with regard to dealing with death, death prevention and funeral services, the FriedWald company, as the market leader for forest burials, has set itself the goal of continuously analyzing motive structures and mourning behavior across generations.
About the Friedwald Jenseits study 2020

With the "Beyond Hour 2020", K&A BrandResearch / respondi carried out a representative baseline measurement with n = 3000 respondents from the generations of traditionals (born 1949 and older), baby boomers (born 1950-1964) and Gen X (born 1965-1979) performed. In addition to attitudes towards religion, cemeteries and burials, individual death prevention as well as personal mechanisms in dealing with grief and death were examined. The survey is largely based on insights from previous psychological research on coping with grief using K&A psychodramas.
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Now we could assume that most people do not think about death until mid-life. In fact, there is a shift forward when people think about their own demise.

In the Friedwald Jenseits study, 78 percent of all respondents aged 55 and over said that they at least occasionally worry about their own death. In the next generation X (ages 40 to 55), however, it is already 70 percent. It is also becoming less and less of a taboo subject to talk about the subject of death in a social environment. In the case of people over 70, this is 68 percent due to special contextual phases of life - but also 52 percent in Generation X, who address death among friends and acquaintances.

The reason for this is less the Christian faith or an occidental-Christian attitude; only a minority of Generation X (27 percent) feel they are religious people or people who live according to Christian rules. Accordingly, not even half of all people over the age of 40 hope that they will have a different life after death. In the case of religiously living people, it is at least 60 percent (in the case of non-religious people 23 percent). Accordingly, almost 60 percent of all respondents are convinced that death means the end of their own existence.

Recalled age from the first thoughts about one's own passing (click to enlarge)

Death loses its horror (only eight percent are afraid of hell) and becomes more normal. The end of an existence is understood as the course of life and what happens to the body after death becomes less important (40 percent for less religious people). The astonishingly early preoccupation with one's own death is strongly related to the context of the experience of death, grief or life-threatening illnesses among family members, friends and close acquaintances. In Gen X in particular, there is a lively exchange between children and parents (traditionals, over 70s), but also about issues relating to death prevention.

As if the light is turned off

The desire for self-determination when dying is central across all generations. Long illnesses, life-prolonging measures through medical apparatus and a painful wasting away are rejected by more than 80 percent of those questioned at the age of 40+. Death as a care case, in dementia or in isolation ("being alone") also triggers discomfort. Correspondingly, with advancing age, death is also perceived as redemption when the body and mind function only to a very limited extent.

Dying Needs (click to enlarge)

Today it is a central concern of most over 40s that relatives and friends regain joy of life as quickly as possible after their own death. It is true that around 50 percent of those surveyed make sure that their relatives do not forget you even after you die or that they have succeeded in leaving their mark on the world. It is much more important, however, that one's own death does not cause any financial or long-term emotional burden (64 percent) for the bereaved.

In order to keep this as low as possible, precautions should be taken. However, 65 percent of Gen X state that they have not yet taken any precautions (compared to only 28 percent of those over 70). Here, on the one hand, the "rapture of the age of death seems to be reflected in the distant future" due to the continuing increase in life expectancy and the associated, lower perceived need for living wills, power of attorney, wills or funeral provisions related to this.

The inner images of one's own death are quite concrete. As part of a diary query in the Friedwald-Jenseits study, moods and imagery were also asked openly that would come to mind if the respondents imagined lying on their deathbed. In 44 percent, feelings such as sadness, gratitude, relief, confidence, but also fear and anxiety (15 percent) come to mind, followed by thoughts about their own life as looking back, as a balance sheet like their own film (32 percent), wishes about A painless and easy death as possible (12 percent), the most important things for the relatives and practical considerations (nine percent). In the case of people who live religiously, thoughts about life after death (15 percent) are also more firmly anchored. Overall, most of the statements focus on your own life, the most important people during your lifetime and a careful feeling for your own feelings in the (projected) momentum of dying.

Selected quotes about moods in the projective context of one's own death (click to enlarge)

The funeral itself is given little space in the final thoughts, even if, in fact, with increasing age, the tendency to think about one's own funeral and appropriate precautions increases. As with the thoughts about one's own death, wishes no longer outweigh the focus on grief (61 percent). Rather, beautiful moments - including those of one's own life - should be in the foreground at funerals (59 percent). 47 percent of those surveyed no longer value funerals after their death.

What's left of us

Cemeteries are understood across generations among the over 40s as places of silent remembrance, part of our life and our culture, whereas in comparison with the over 70s in Gen X, more and more people do not like cemeteries (17 percent) or find cemeteries eerie (nine percent). Nevertheless, more than two thirds see cemeteries as the established standard for commemorating the dead.

However, burials in individual or family graves as ideal for their own burial continue to lose importance: Less than 25 percent consider burials in coffins for themselves. In the future, therefore, cremations in the cemetery or in nature (including FriedWald) will increase. Already today, almost 80 percent would prefer a cremation or urn burial for themselves. So it will be lighter in the cemeteries ...

It is all the more important that people's needs are given greater consideration early on, also with regard to their own death. In this context, moods of hope, relief and lightness provide easier access to emotions than traditions of mourning and ritualized burial ceremonies that are felt to be difficult. As for other industries, the same applies to service providers in the very last phase of life: needs and contexts change. Not internalizing a change, only wanting to help shape a change moderately, leads to dead ends. Or to abandoned graves, empty cemeteries and empty churches ...