My business tagline is that “I will do for you as I would do for my own.” This week I have had the opportunity to walk that walk. This week I am building a casket for my mother.
You might think that when a coffineer builds one for his own mother, he pulls out all the stops, that he builds the fanciest casket that he’s ever built. After all, it’s for mom, right? Not so. This is the plainest (and smallest) casket that I’ve ever built. Smallest because one size does not fit all. By the end my mom had become a very small, very old person. She would have been lost in a “standard” casket. And plainest because I know her tastes like no other. She liked Ikea – I don’t do Ikea – and she loved Shaker for the same reasons. Clean lines, utilitarian designs, materials not pretending to be something that they are not. So plain it is.
As I build a casket, a name for the project usually works its way into my head. Last fall I built one as Hurricane Joaquin drenched the Carolinas beyond the open shop doors. That casket was named, in my head only, ‘Joaquin.’ This build, for my mother Jane, has become ‘Plain Jane.’ Southern yellow pine, good workmanship, tight chamfered joints. There will be no handles on this one. She will be cremated day after tomorrow, so there will be no pall bearers, though Carolyn and I will be there throughout the process. But with no need for pall bearers, there is no need for handles. And mom was practical like that.
Usually when I get a funky board I set it aside to used in the floor. But Jane always liked the boards with imperfections the best, so for her I used the board with the knots in the center of the lid. She liked the odd and quirky ones best in everything. For which I am personally grateful.
We are cremating because that’s what she wanted. All things being equal, I would have gone another route, but she was a person of strongly held opinions, and on this point she was most clear. So cremation it will be. She was also an amazingly well read person. Although I suspect she would have thought it nonsense, I plan to place a favorite book or two of hers in with her. Maybe Henry James – she loved the 19th century. As the fire consumes what’s been left behind, the smoke will mingle – mom, literature, and pine.
This has not been a happy project. On any build I am aware of what this means to someone, but this one is close to home. But it has been a good project, even a healing project. The hospice people offered both clergy and social workers. I appreciate the good work that both those fields do. But I’m a guy from the Midwest – shop time works for me. We – mom and I – had this one last project together. I’m OK with saying goodbye now.