Skip

Making peace with death
February 4, 2014 5:51 AM   Subscribe


 
Great piece. Are there photos of the coffin somewhere? It sounds like a beautiful work (though I wouldn't be surprised to find he kept it private).
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:03 AM on February 4 [1 favorite]


" It’s pretty much impossible to feel anger at someone for driving too slowly in front of you in traffic when you’ve just come from sanding your own coffin."

wow...
posted by HuronBob at 6:03 AM on February 4 [13 favorites]


Thanks for sharing.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:20 AM on February 4 [1 favorite]


I love this King of the Hill episode!
posted by Aizkolari at 6:34 AM on February 4


That was deeply moving.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:46 AM on February 4 [1 favorite]


I don't get why his wife was upset in the first place. When my wife was dying, if she had been well enough and wanted to, I don't see why doing this would have bothered me. She choose her own coffin, why not build it? It's not as if we didn't all realize she was dying.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 6:58 AM on February 4 [5 favorites]


tylerkaraszewski, I'm very sorry for your loss.

I don't get why his wife was upset in the first place. When my wife was dying, if she had been well enough and wanted to, I don't see why doing this would have bothered me. She choose her own coffin, why not build it? It's not as if we didn't all realize she was dying.

I think it had to do with their belief that it signaled he was giving up. It sounds like you had already reached a place where you could understand your wife wanting to make final preparations.
posted by slmorri at 7:06 AM on February 4 [5 favorites]


Speaking of planning ahead:

Shelves for Life
These shelves are designed to last you a lifetime. The wood will colour, the surfaces will mark and stain and over the years and the furniture will become a part of you.

When you die, the shelves can be taken apart and reassembled as a coffin.
posted by zamboni at 7:08 AM on February 4 [23 favorites]


I'm surprised that I haven't heard of more people doing this, honestly. It sounds like it could be a really meaningful retirement project, for people who enjoy that sort of thing.
posted by likeatoaster at 7:15 AM on February 4


There's a bit in one of Anne Lamott's books where she is talking about a friend from her church with terminal cancer who decided to order a plain pine box coffin and have it delivered as part of the getting-ready-for-the-end process.

But once it got there, she found it frightening, even though she was so close to the end and had done a lot of emotional work in dealing with it.

So her husband and other church members asked the kids of the church (who knew about the woman's illness) to make a lot of paintings and drawings, and they pasted those, as well as images the woman liked from calendars, on the coffin, to make it less terrible.

I still don't know how I feel about that; I try to imagine being those folks and I don't know if it would make things worse or better to help someone prepare their own coffin. Not that it matters how I would feel.

Personally, I'm aiming for a green burial, no coffin. Maybe a small marker if they allow it.
posted by emjaybee at 7:15 AM on February 4


I don't get why his wife was upset in the first place. When my wife was dying, if she had been well enough and wanted to, I don't see why doing this would have bothered me. She choose her own coffin, why not build it? It's not as if we didn't all realize she was dying.

I'm sorry for your loss.

I've seen this attitude in many people, particularly if they've never had a major loss in their life. For those of us who have seen suffering and dying and the peace it can finally bring up close, we know there's nothing to fear. Losing someone hurts, but knowing they're finally done hurting can bring great comfort as well.
posted by nevercalm at 7:16 AM on February 4 [2 favorites]


As I Lay Dying is tough reading for most readers totally unfamiliar with Faulkner, but it is usually on the short list of his best books. The main action is Cash Brunden sawing and hammering on his mother's coffin outside while she lays dying inside, listening. They made a movie of it in 2013. Apparently it never made it to the theatres.

But New Zealand has video of DIY coffins.
posted by bukvich at 7:31 AM on February 4


I guess we are all circling the drain. Just that for some of us, the circles are smaller, now, than for others.
posted by Danf at 7:31 AM on February 4 [6 favorites]


likeatoaster: It sounds like it could be a really meaningful retirement project, for people who enjoy that sort of thing.

Put that way, it sounds like the most grim arts-and-crafts room at the retirement center.

My father-in-law is a woodworker by hobby, and now that he's retired in a home with ample space for his hobby, he has been building a lot of furniture. He would make a damn fine coffin, but that is a pretty strong statement to make it for yourself. Most people think you should fight to live until your last breath, so such a creation is challenging, as noted in the article. I'm not sure if I want to forward this to him, or even mention it to him, as I wish him happy years of wood-working. Even discussing this with someone older than you can be tricky.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:13 AM on February 4 [1 favorite]


I completely understand the wife's reaction. It's a macabre idea. You have so little life left, why spend it on death-oriented things?

I'm hoping to be felled by something instantaneous - at a ripe old age, of course - so I don't get to worry about it. We'll see. Perhaps I should take up some extreme sport...

That said, one of the things about dying is that it's YOUR death. No one gets to do it for you, and you can do what you like.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:49 AM on February 4 [2 favorites]


This reminds me of John Donne, who, knowing he was dying, posed in his shroud for drawings that became the basis for the sculpture that is his memorial in St Paul's.

Lying in your own shroud and pretending to be dead for portraiture is streets more macabre than building your own coffin.
posted by Coobeastie at 9:17 AM on February 4 [6 favorites]


Last fall, when my dad was in hospice at home, the hospice people brought this hospital bed for him. We moved out all the furniture from the master bedroom, but there was nowhere else to put the king frame and mattress and springs, so we propped it against the wall. It was the wall his single hospital bed was facing.

I worried at the time (and wonder now) if it bothered him, the idea that the furniture was a temporary yet necessary arrangement for the rest of us, that it would be restored to its position in his room when the room was no longer his to belong to, that he was obliged to stare at it every day. We tried covering it with a blanket, but it just made it feel even more like a stopgap, so we left it, the brocade of the mattress forming a pale floral backdrop for the 14 days he had left.

In a way, it probably helped him let go.
posted by mochapickle at 9:27 AM on February 4


We even made T-shirts that read, “I’m dying to show you my latest project.”

I like this guy. This was wonderfully written.
posted by peep at 11:02 AM on February 4 [1 favorite]


Interesting idea. I could definitely see myself doing this, if I ever have the "good fortune" to know roughly when I'm going to die, while still being well enough to execute the project. My grandparents were buried (after cremation) in a decorated gourd made by my Aunt; first my grandmother, and then my grandfather when he died six months or so later. For my grandfather, the gourd was exhumed and their ashes were mixed – I've always found this one of the most powerful memorials possible, befitting the 50-year-long loving partnership that they shared.

The only thing I would change, if it were me, would be the concrete vault. I've worked in cemeteries (the same one that my grandparents and several other relatives are buried in, actually) and it always blew my mind that the traditional burial process involves not only pumping the corpse full of chemical preservatives and then placing it in a 200-lb airtight coffin full of nonbiodegradable fabric and filler and lined with lead, but also a thick concrete vault sealed with silicone caulking. (Extra money if you want the vault painted bronze, silver, or gold with caulking to match, naturally.) I've just never been able to figure out why.

When my time comes, a pine box sounds fine. Even better would be to just put a shroud over my naked body and lower me directly into the dirt. No embalming, please; I want my body to return to the earth as fast as possible and without poisoning anything in the process. The opportunity to return my body to the cycle of nature, there to slowly diffuse out across the biosphere and be re-incarnated piecemeal in an endless profusion of other organisms, is one of my greatest comforts when facing the prospect of my mortality. I really do not want to get in the way of that.
posted by Scientist at 12:12 PM on February 4 [4 favorites]


My sculpture instructor's made his own headstone. It's of a guy supporting a bowl over his head. When it rains, the water runs out his mouth as if he's vomiting.

He thinks he could definitely do a better job these days.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:49 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]


The opportunity to return my body to the cycle of nature, there to slowly diffuse out across the biosphere and be re-incarnated piecemeal in an endless profusion of other organisms, is one of my greatest comforts when facing the prospect of my mortality. I really do not want to get in the way of that.

You should have a look at Natural or Green Burial.
posted by zamboni at 12:51 PM on February 4


I'm planning on building my own coffin. It'll be a rectangular pine/spruce/fir box but it won't be plain. Instead it'll feature a bunch of cool woodworking techniques that I've always admired. Stuff like Moorish/Bermuda dovetails, chip carving, curved floating panel lid and inlays.
posted by Mitheral at 2:39 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]


I always liked the concept of ancients who packed along with the body of the deceased many things to help along on the journey. This sounds much like that here.
posted by OhSusannah at 4:40 PM on February 4


The idea that surviving cancer is somehow linked to "not giving up" has always bothered me, so when I came to the part in the article about how other people thought he was giving up and laying down to die, I got mad, then sad.
posted by Pendragon at 7:09 AM on February 5


As they say, "There's a difference between giving up and knowing when you've had enough."
posted by aryma at 8:41 PM on February 5


« Older Ten Minutes of Transformers Transforming   |   Daft Gump Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post