Got anything to stop this coffin?

Published in The Sault Star July 7, 2022

Building a coffin for your wife strikes me as a grave mistake, even if you have the decency to wait until she is dead before gifting her with it.

Yet I expect many readers were deeply moved when an 84-year-old British Columbia man recounted how he and his grandkids lovingly crafted a red cedar casket for his late wife’s final journey.

Don Robertson’s poignant first-person account was published in The Globe and Mail last month.

But while his story drew a tear from my eye, it also sent a few shudders up my spine.

That’s because in my experiences with both women and woodworking I’ve committed more than a few mistakes-to-learn-from. Too many to count, a committee with a female quorum might chorus.

Make sure the coffin is big enough for you, because I’m betting  you will predecease her

Like many men, most of my woodworking projects have turned out just fine and were used and appreciated. But there’s always something no amount of Gorilla Glue can rescue.

One time I built a coffee table out of pine boards, carefully joined and nicely finished. It looked great and the price was right.

But my design failed to account for the tare weight of a couple of pre-teens roughhousing. The legs collapsed like a mall roof. No amount of reinforcing could make me confident enough to set the good china on that table, if we had had any good china.

Now apply that possibility of an engineering miscalculation to building your wife’s coffin. Even if it has to hold together only as far as the crematorium, that’s too much margin of error.

Mr. Robertson might well be more accomplished in a workshop than am I. (I can hear that female chorus again.) He and a friend build tables and bookshelves out of repurposed wood, selling them and donating the money to charity.

But I can spot one flaw even from this distance: He didn’t clear the project with his wife first. The homemade casket was an idea he came up with while making funeral arrangements.

Perhaps she would have approved. Robertson notes his spouse made it clear that she wanted the simplest of funerals. 

But I think some women would be waiting, in whatever afterlife to which they both might be consigned, to haul him over the coals. Assuming that venue had coals.

I suspect each woman has her own limit of items that her partner may hand-craft for her instead of buying at a decent store. For most, their own coffin probably crosses into no-man’s land.

If I broached the prospect to some women of my acquaintance, they might agree to having me craft their casket only if I allowed them to use leftover scraps of pastel wool to knit me a laying-out suit for my own funeral.

Other women I have known might label me an incredibly cheap so-and-so. A few might even take steps to ensure I predeceased them.

The only way some women would accept a coffin put together by their husband is if it came from Ikea. Maybe the kit would be called the VaampirsHomen. 

Coincidentally, a story going the rounds earlier this year had the Swedish big box retailer selling burial boxes in a box. Turns out it was just a hoax promoted by a British spoof site.

But until Ikea appreciates the depth of this untapped market for coffins that can be assembled with an Allen wrench, aging women must shudder at the knowledge that most men have a huge supply of scrap wood in the rafters of their garages.

Like that coffee-table top that I’ve kept all these years.

(By the way, did you know the word “casket” originally referred to a jewelry box, and didn’t come to be a synonym for “coffin” until the mid-1800s? Who says an arts education is a dead end.)

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