Why We’re Mad About Coffins…. And Their Handles!

Now when you think of a coffin a couple of things might spring to mind, depending on how much American TV you watch. You’ll either picture a standard British box – polished wood and brass handles – or a big fancy American casket. But, more and more, we’re seeing people make different choices for their dispatch box – from beautiful wicker affairs to standard coffins shrink-wrapped with the emblem of your favourite football team. As with everything here at CC Central – there’s no right or wrong when it comes to coffins…

What we will say is coffins do have an effect on people. It may be that you haven’t seen a person since before they died and, the first time you see them after death is when they’re being lifted out of a hearse in their coffin. We have seen mourners literally recoil at this sight – understandably so. We have also seen that a cardboard coffin, decorated with maps and photos and postcards and images that were meaningful to the person inside, can be much more approachable and, actually, central to proceedings. We’ve seen how cathartic the process of decorating a coffin can be – not just for someone who is dying and decoring their own coffin, but for people decorating the coffin on someone they love as a last labour of love. Some coffins are definitely friendlier than others and different coffins suit different personalities. As with everything at Coffin Club, there is no right or wrong with coffins – it’s what’s right for you! And, to help you make up your mind, here are some of our (amusing) coffin musings….

pic c/r Coffin Club UK, with thanks to Liz de Havilland

The Cold Shoulder

Here, in the UK, we’re used to seeing coffins ‘shouldered’ by pallbearers (even though the name comes from something else entirely – the ‘pall’ was the cloth draped over the coffin and the pallbearers held the corners of the cloth, not the coffin itself). We think of oak caskets with shiny brass handles – solid wood, loving polished to an obsidian sheen. Solid brass glinting in the cemetery sunlight. Actually… what most of us are presented with in the hideous coffin catalogue (that’s the thing we’re most often told upsets people in their visit to the undertakers) is a coffin made of some sort of composite material with a plastic ‘oak effect’ veneer stuck on. And those shiny brass handles? They’re plastic, too.

So, not only is this creation environmentally pretty unsound – there’s a lot of nasty man-made materials in there – but it’s not really fit for purpose. Those handles (enough about the handles, already!) are not weight-bearing. You can’t pick these coffins up using the handles. If you tried to pick these coffins up using the handles, the handles would ping off – and that makes us a bit cross as it feels like something that is obstructing us from being part of this final ritual of departure for our dead. We want to be able to carry a coffin. We want to be able to carry it without having to shoulder it. We want it to be easy, not to be another layer of stress in an already stressful day.

We LOVE a weight-bearing handle. We love that weight-bearing handles enable people to carry their dead themselves, without the help of a funeral director or bearers. We love that weight-bearing handles often are found on more interesting or environmentally sound coffins (although checking the green credentials of coffins may well have to be another blog in its own right!).

The Famous Coffin Club Flat-pack Coffin

Obviously, we LOVE our flat-pack ply coffins – we are clearly biased but, like the mothers of prodigiously talented children, we have every right to be. They are made by our fabulous friends in Holland – Coffin in a Box – and get their green credentials not just through their ergonomic construction – nothing is left to waste – but also, because they flat-pack, transport and delivery of them is more economical.  If you want to plan ahead, they’re easy to store as you can shove them under your bed or behind your sofa and no-one need ever know they’re there. And, of course, their handles are weight-bearing! Whaaattt??!

Of course the other fabulous thing about our coffins is that you can decorate them! We’ve had some wonderful works of art and some cut-out-and-stick-on efforts that may lack artistic merit but really reflect the life of the person the coffin belongs to. You can paint a bit with blackboard paint and have chalks at the ready on the day – or leave a white space for messages. We’ve had families who’ve had a family-only committal the day after the celebration-of-life (where the coffin was present) and they’ve commented on how much they enjoyed reading the messages that had been written on the coffin the day before, by their guests.

The draw-back of having a coffin ahead of time is that you may change (ie no longer fit in your wooden overcoat), you may change your mind (spot a lovely shroud in the local charity shop), the law may change (currently coffin regulation is different crem-to-crem) or you may not need a coffin at all (lost at sea, decide to leave your bod to medical science). So, maybe only go for one of our fabulous flat-packs if the end is in sight!

We love a willow or wicker coffin – mainly for the aesthetic – they look so pretty interwoven with wild flowers and really suit a woodland burial, natural burial ground or barn setting. There are even some places where you can go to make your own, or the person you love’s, willow coffin – what a wonderful labour of love.  

Daughters photo-bombing their mum’s coffin – they said she loved a party and was the life-and-soul and this picture really reflects that fact!

Never Felt So Good….

Felt coffins have a certain je ne cest pas… they seem very cosy which Kate T thinks would suit Kate D, as Kate D is always complaining about being cold. However, Kate D wants a life-size picture of Kevin Bacon on the inside of her coffin lid and that might be a bit tricky with a felt coffin. Can we staple, Kevin?

Felt coffin – with thanks to the Good Funeral Guide for image

Just Chuck Me Out In A Cardboard Box

Let’s have a quick word about cardboard coffins – often seen as the eco-warriors of the underground furniture world. However, a word of caution on that front. If you’ve ever been a boy scout or a girl guide and got your camping badge you’ll know a thing or two about building fires. First, you gather your twigs and leaves and little bits of wood to use as kindling. You get your kindling underway before you lay your big log on top and it’s the burning kindling that gets the log underway. Now, let’s get back to you and your cardboard coffin. When it comes to cremation, the body is the log and the coffin acts as kindling. So, going back to our cardboard coffin, have a think about how cardboard burns… that’s right… not very well!! As a result of this, the cremator has to use more gas to get the body burning properly underway. So, when it comes to going green for cremation, cardboard coffins really aren’t the way to go.

However, for the ‘chuck me out in a cardboard box with the bins’ brigade, they do have that utilitarian aesthetic and they are, generally, at the very budget end of coffin sales. Also, they can be decorated and we’ve all ready told you why that’s a good a thing!

All That Glitters

Of course, it’s well known that in the world of funerals Kate and Kate are all about adding a touch of glamour and narry a day goes by when someone doesn’t tag them into a video featuring a glitter coffin. We’ve got to say when it comes to being bling-tastic … they are! But a quick squiz at the website tells us that the majority of their products use non-biodegradable glitter, which is a real shame. They do have a biodegradable glitter range, though, in a small array of colours so I guess, if you really have to go for the glitz, that’s the way to do it.

Left On The Shelf

Another coffin we’re always tagged into is the coffin that doubles up as a shelf – we love this idea! Although we’re a bit worried what’s going to happen to your nick-nacks once the shelf is dismantled to make your coffin. Perhaps a bit of Swedish death cleaning will be in order before the shelves are finally dismantled. And, it will have the same issue that our flat-pack coffin has if you get it ahead of time… you don’t know how you’re going to go. You might have gained a ton of weight or, conversely, been blown up in an enormous gas explosion – premature cremation. Also, while we absolutely love the look of this coffin – it is very easy on the eye – it has no handles at all!!! Yikes!

America to Africa

Here in the UK we find US coffins rather fascinating … it’s the half-open thing so that you can see the person that really gets us. That and the fact that, like all things American, they’re big and brash and very expensive. However, they do seem to be mainly solid wood (our research is quite fleeting so feel free to correct us) and they do seem to have weight-bearing handles so we’re going to have to give them a couple of points for that! Also, for burial, they have metal caskets which Kate T is quite drawn to… shiny… shiny… And she does quite fancy having her head sticking out until the last minute… just in case she has a last-minute revival and can literally get the last word in!

We couldn’t leave without a quick mention of the magnificent coffins of Ghana… if anyone cares to care the Kates a giant coffin that represents them, knock yourselves out. Kate T will have a giant pink lipstick and Kate D can have Kevin Bacon, again (I tell you that woman’s obsessed!).

And to end… we have heard there’s a new range of glass coffins about to be brought to the market. Will they catch on? Remains to be seen!! (Groan.)