Coffins are going through a change of image in our culture, though an understandably slow change because everything to do with the subject of death and dying is conservative, whether the funeral industry (though with notable exceptions) or our society…you’re likely to be in a group of one if you ask people at a party if they’ve thought about their coffin recently.
Risking, then, online isolation, let me point to the popularity of the display of Ghanaian and English ‘designer’ coffins at January’s South Bank exhibition on death, and also to the growing trend for decorating coffins of loved ones with bespoke designs, graffiti, illustrations, words of affection and humour, even glued on newspaper cuttings and photographs of footballers and pin ups.
I’m all for this trend as it will make people think about the choice of coffin, rather than nod through what the funeral director suggests as the price of the coffin makes up a large part of the cost of the funeral.
On a range of costs you have at one end the elaborately built coffins much loved by some Ghanaians and the wonderful Crazy Coffins, to the plain cardboard coffins that will be supplied direct to the family from companies such as Greenfield Creations.
I believe that the involvement of bereaved loved ones, or those facing bereavement, in choosing an appropriate coffin (such an eco-friendly type if the departed was concerned with the environment) and decorating it with personal images and messages, can reduce the feeling of helplessness, anxiety and anguish that death inevitably causes.
Playing a part in personalising the coffin is a way of saying that you accept death and aren’t going to collapse into grief when confronted by it. So, I’ll risk telling my friends and fellow party goers that the next time I’m involved in a funeral I’m going to decorate the coffin.
It might clear the room, but at least I’m doing my bit to change our culture. (Probably why the last time you were invited to a party was five years ago – ed.)