Articles

Giving Choice and Power to the Dying

Sisters Fiona and Trish helped make this casket for their mother from packing crates sitting in the backyard.
Photo by Bernadette Camus

By Sandra Moon

Are you with me in thinking the funeral industry is incredibly expensive? Would you take that thought one step further and build your own coffin? Well you can make your own coffin and one way is by accessing a coffin club. But the benefits of making a coffin goes far beyond the financial as I discovered. The conversations and stories at Australia’s original Community Coffin Club are assisting the grief journey and returning choice and power to the dying.

 “The Community Coffin Club gives a place for grief to go and gives a place for the energy to go,” explains Lynne Jarvis, Secretary of Care Beyond Cure Inc, the community organisation behind the initiative. “There’s also the sense of achievement with building the coffin and when you see the person and the coffin you’ve made at the funeral there is a great pride, so it provides an opportunity for healthy bereavement.”

For Lynne being able to give a sense of agency to the dying and their loved ones in their grief journey is an honour. “What is beautiful is giving people control and choice- two really important things when it comes to dying.”

Established in 2016 in Ulverstone Tasmania the Community Coffin Club began when Lynne, then a social worker at Hospice At Home, was working with a family with little means. The husband wanted to make a coffin for his wife. Lynne says it began from there with that one coffin and a subsequent community meeting demonstrated a wider community need. Currently the club is open once a week, to those with or without a terminal diagnosis, and provides a mentor to help with the build of the coffin, a referral service, planning and psychological support.

According to Lynne “The emotional support comes about through the making of the coffin and that’s where the stories are shared.” The rawness and honesty of the conversations are reflective of the trust and camaraderie that the unique space offers. “You cannot make a coffin and not talk about death,” Lynne says.

Last year there was a middle-aged man, who shared his insight from a boat cruise with his family. During the trip he sat alone at the front of the boat and looked all around at the beauty of nature. In that moment he realised he was dying and was saying goodbye to all of that beauty and he cried and grieved.

The club also had a mother build her coffin accompanied by her two daughters. She had seen the prices for a burial and said, “No way”. So as a family they made a coffin out of packing crates. Some members of the extended family baulked at the idea of a DIY coffin but when an opportunity arose for the wider family members to assist, they visited the club. Together they sanded and cut and the involvement changed the family’s perception.    

Lynne chuckles as she describes Gina who made her coffin two years ago but is still coming. She has defied her diagnosis and now joins every week for a cuppa and a chat and brings along her embroidery. 

“It’s very powerful,” Lynne tells me. “Everyone is amazing and shares some special moments. There are also some beautiful relationships that develop along the way.”

To read more about Australia’s first Community Coffin Club visit a story on the ABC’s site.

This three minute BBC video on coffin clubs popping up in the UK is definitely worth a watch.

Dive into Care Beyond Cure Inc to find out more about the organisation behind Ulverston’s Community Coffin Club.

Here’s our story on The Kiwi Coffin Club.

For the blog lovers here’s The Bottom Drawer’s coffin club story.

And as we reach the end of National Advance Care Planning Week this post from Good Grief! is a great intro to planning and all the good stuff on our website.

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