Monday, November 19, 2018

From the grave of posts

Every year I start far more posts than I ever publish, and as this year is dying I thought I’d have a rummage through the drafts folder to see if there were any I meant to finish, but never did. This post was one such long-forgotten post, and while it’s about a seemingly darker subject—coffin clubs—it’s not at all grim.

The video above is from TVNZ’s Loading Docs series of short documentaries available through TVNZ’s Demand service and/or, as in this case, on their YouTube Channel (which has all sorts of TVNZ programming available to watch). I found out about it in the first place because Roger Green emailed me about it with a link to a National Geographic piece that included the video above. He knows I like quirky things, and when it’s about New Zealand, so much the better.

Naturally, I had to know more, so I got some links for the post—and then forgot about it entirely. In my defence, that was early February which wasn’t a particularly productive blogging period for me. Better late than never?

Coffin Clubs New Zealand was founded in Rotorua in 2010 by Katie Williams, who’d worked as a palliative care nurse, and has since expanded around New Zealand and overseas. The idea is that by building their own coffins, people can take the scariness of death and turn it into a celebration.

There’s also a very practical reason for the interest: Cost. Conventional coffins can cost thousands of dollars, and while cheaper and greener versions are increasingly available, the ones built by coffin clubs are often cheapest of all. After all, spending piles of money on something that’s going to rot away doesn’t really make a lot of sense. With their typical deadpan humour, the Coffin Clubs NZ website says they’re “Makers of Fine, Affordable Underground Furniture”.

There’s been a trend in recent years to lighten up funerals in New Zealand. Wakes are often held in people’s own homes now, and funerals are often not in a church or with any religious trappings. All of which makes sense in a laid-back, secular country. But the coffins themselves have been pretty traditional and, yes, boring, for a long time.

Nowadays there are a growing number of “eco” options available, from standard wood coffins made from natural wood with no artificial or toxic substances, through to woven baskets, cardboard, and even wool. Not all options can be used everywhere, but many options that cause less environmental damage are available.

Even commercial companies are getting into the “less boring” act. A few months ago, I saw an ad in a local magazine (at right) from a funeral director that offered fancier coffins (there was a TVNZ series about modern funeral direction called “The Casketeers”, some of which can be seen at the TVNZ YouTube link above). I ripped the ad out of the magazine to include with this post, but the other side was an ad for hearing aides, and didn’t have the magazine name. So, no idea where the ad actually appeared. I often look at vintage ads, and I wonder if in the future someone will see an ad like this and think, "Can you believe anyone would ever be seen in something like that?!"

All of this loosening up is good, in my opinion. While most of us would prefer to keep death waiting for as long as possible, ultimately none of us gets to opt out—at least, not yet. And while it remains an inevitability, we may as well have a little fun along the way. Coffin clubs aren’t for everyone, obviously, but the celebratory spirit behind it really should be.

There’s also a more straightforward “60 Second Docs” story about the Coffin Clubs:

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