Casket Contemplations

Sep 22, 2009 | 0 comments

“Just a simple casket, that’s all I want,” my father-in-law told me. That’s not a whole lot of direction when you want to pre-plan a funeral for someone. Although he was still alive at the time to provide more input, he wasn’t very forthcoming. I’m reminded of the plague victim in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail who said “I’m not dead yet.”

Per my father-in-law’s directions, my husband and I looked at the simplest casket offered, but we actually chose a better-than-basic model. The simplest one had no handles, and we knew our pallbearers would need something to grab onto besides the bottom of the box.

The importance of handles was reinforced by a graveside funeral I witnessed, where middle-aged pallbearers struggled to carry a handle-less coffin from the hearse to the grave. They had no way to get a good grasp, and when the burden got too heavy, they set it down above the grave in a spot where it got caught on the webbing that would lower the casket. The assembled mourners collectively held their breath watching the coffin precariously tip on the supports over the grave as the pallbearers tried to slide the box without pinching their fingers on the rollers below.

You can keep it simple, but whatever you do, get handles!

Funeral providers offer a wide range of caskets for burial, ranging from high-end metal with fine fabric linings, to elegant hardwoods or simple pine, to a growing number of “green” caskets designed to break down into organic matter along with the body. Cultural background, religious dictates, past funeral experiences, and your budget influence the type of casket, indeed the whole range of funeral services, you choose.

I’d like to reinforce the importance of shopping around before you need a casket. A mind-boggling array is available, and trying to pick one out under the duress of grief is akin to buying a car in one afternoon without research because the auto you’ve been driving for years suddenly dies. You may get buyer’s remorse as soon as you drive off the lot and wonder if you paid too much.

You do have options for where you buy a casket. A Federal Trade Commission ruling made it illegal for any funeral home to refuse a casket purchased from an outside source, charge a handling fee for it, or pressure a buyer against using a coffin purchased elsewhere. Outside casket providers include discount online sources and individual wood workers. Many providers ship on short notice, but waiting for the delivery of a coffin when you need it NOW is nerve-wracking.

The challenge, of course, is where do you keep a casket before you need to use it? I have seen pine box caskets used as bookshelves or wine racks, designed to have the shelves removed when the time of need comes. A wood worker in Ashland, Oregon makes coffin kits that fit in a slender cardboard box that can be stored in the garage or under a piece of furniture.

However, keeping a coffin at home is considered bad feng shui, if you believe in that sort of thing, and you certainly wouldn’t want to keep one under your bed. One option is to use a storage locker to keep a pre-need coffin off-site, if you’re already storing other things there.

A Good Goodbye