Friday, August 30, 2013

tomorrow we’ll build a coffin

My Dad died yesterday, peacefully, surrounded by some close family. After many years of battling debilitating illness, it was a relief to have a passing so swift and peaceful.

Today we met with the funeral director and after a fairly intense planning suggestion, a slightly light-hearted question was asked.

Do we have to purchase a brought coffin?

No came the answer.

And with increasing energy, we began to explore the possibilities of building, then decorating, our own. It would be a group project while we wait for the funeral. It would be an act of love. It would help us process our emotions. It would connect us, personally, with what is happening. It would allow different family groups – some builders, some decorators, some cup of tea makers, to be at work.

We each do our little bit.

Saturday update: Friday night the plan was made, with a bit of help from the internet. Saturday morning we confirmed the plan and brought the pine. Saturday afternoon we built the base, sides, handles and lid. The grandkids did lots of the drilling, while the adults supervised and guided. A really rich time of participation and learning.

Saturday evening update: And now, in the evening, after dinner, a blonde wood stain. It has brought out the pine wood, offered some sense of a proper finish, and laid the foundation for the decorator crew on Sunday. A different group of participants were involved in this painting phase, folk who felt they could contribute via paint, more than hammer and drill.

Sunday evening: With the coffin built, today became a day of decoration. Each person found a spot around the sides – a panel for each family. Some used words, others song lyrics, others stencils, beads or lolly wrappers. Across the generations words of love and memory were inscribed. The coffin is now individualised, made with love, decorated with care. The lid has been kept free and before the funeral, participants will be invited to add their words of memory. It has been a rich, full weekend. The activity has created memories and given us something to storytell together, as we seek to find new ways to relate and connect as a family.

Monday morning: So the funeral director returned to take away the coffin. She seemed genuinely impressed, moved by the heartfelt decorations on the side and the extensive number of screws used to hold down the lid.

It felt good to help her load the coffin into the hearse.

And then to close the boot and realise that I’d personally been able to be part of making what would carry Dad for his final physical journey, first to the church tomorrow and finally into cremation.

We built that. For Dad

(The problems were to emerge later that day. Our coffin handles were great for multiple hands to hold, but not good for sliding into the crematorium chamber. Thankfully, the funeral directors took the initiative and added some sheeting on the bottom, to allow for a smoother roll.)

Tuesday at the funeral: As hoped, a handmade coffin, already decorated, proved a big of a magnet. The service was from 3:30pm, with refreshments and fellowship from 2 pm. This included the invitation for folk to sign the coffin and/or leave a message. It was wonderful seeing folk gathered around the coffin, reading, talking, interacting, messaging. It allowed another layer of storytelling and helped people connect with the reality of Dad’s death.

We made a backup plan. If we’re not successful by Monday, we can go back to the catalogue. Which gives us two days to see what we can produce.

Posted by steve at 07:30 PM


  1. Strange, unusual, and I must say, overwhelmingly beautiful. My thoughts and prayers are with you and yours…

    Comment by Rickard Bjerkander — August 31, 2013 @ 9:10 am

  2. Fantastic idea. Pray that it will be a blessed family time of grief together

    Comment by Nige — August 31, 2013 @ 6:20 pm

  3. An unorthodox, yet beautiful and powerful way to grieve! I have even heard of American Indians who would carve a Totem Pole for a deceased warrior, then when it was completed, {it would} end their grief!

    Comment by Richard Russell — September 1, 2013 @ 8:12 am

  4. That’s lovely. We did the same for our son and building a coffin for him was an important and significant part of our grieving journey particularly as we didn’t get to say goodbye to him as he died while travelling in Vietnam. We also made a film about his funeral which can be seen on our website in memory of our son Josh:

    Comment by Jane Harris — September 1, 2013 @ 11:54 am

  5. I hear a deep spiritual resonance in this journey for all of you that speaks profoundly of your fathers faith journey as he impacted those close to him by family ties and lives he touched whether over many years or brief moments (like mine). In the preparations for this final farewell I sense new life emerging as this spiritual journey is told around the world and others will find new expressions of faith!
    May he rest in peace
    Shalom to you my friend

    Comment by Olive Fleming Drane — September 2, 2013 @ 7:48 pm

  6. I’ve found following the journey to be a comforting and learning experience.

    Comment by Bruce Grindlay — September 3, 2013 @ 5:37 pm

  7. Very powerful Steve. I’m sure of great help and healing for your family. Something that I will never forget reading about it.

    Comment by Jonathan Davies — September 4, 2013 @ 1:23 pm

  8. Thanks for all the interactions. I will put up some pics once I’m convinced the data roaming of another country won’t come into play. It has been a most important thing to do. And to document

    steve taylor

    Comment by steve — September 4, 2013 @ 1:44 pm

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