Carry the coffin, it’ll help you carry on

Charles Cowling

The Coffinmaker from Dan McComb on Vimeo.

“I think one of the most important aspects of the coffin is that it can be carried. And I think we’re meant to carry each other, and I think carrying someone you love, committing them, is very important for us that we deal with death; we want to know that we have played our part and that we have shouldered our burden. So, if we make it too convenient, then we’re depriving ourselves of a chance to get stronger so that we can carry on.”

“It changes the funeral from something you watch to something you do … All the coffins we use have working handles, six of them. This means that anyone can carry it without worrying about dropping it or not being the same height … If you want to be involved in a funeral, really involved, carry the coffin … Feel the uncompromising weight, the handles biting into your hand. Let your body form a physical memory of this moment … Feel what’s happening … You have honoured them with effort; you can do no more.” Rupert Callender. Listen to his Pause for Thought on BBC Radio Devon here. 

14 thoughts on “Carry the coffin, it’ll help you carry on

  1. Charles Cowling
    Kateyanne

    And ‘carrying’ your dead one in the other way: the heavy burden of your grief as love. After carrying a coffin, the imprint of the weight is remembered in your muscles. How squeezed your heart was with emotion and effort. Oh Ru, thank you. And Jonathon the image of the little parade of various descendants carrying Charles to his place under the pear tree is perfect.


    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    bob higgerson

    Most important! Have people of equal height opposite each other or the taller person does all the work. Unless the coffin is quite light avoid shouldering and preferably carry low. Extra caution required when ascending stairs as rear carriers bear greater load.


    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      Charles Cowling

      Sound advice. Thanks for that, Bob.


      Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    Jeff Harbeson

    Interesting blog and information about the custom of carrying a coffin. In the US, we sometimes struggle to find people with enough strength to actually do the job…


    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      Charles Cowling

      Ah, but Jeff, your caskets are something else. A Brit coffin is probably half the weight.


      Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling
    James Leedam

    We recommend carrying ‘underarm’ which is safer, more inclusive and more befitting in a natural setting. We have been looking at designs of wheeled birds, but haven’t found the right one yet. Recommendations?


    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      Tracy

      James, if you find one up to the job, I would be interested to know which. I bought a bamboo stretcher to help families carry coffins, but it is too heavy on its own alone. I now always ensure coffins have load bearing handles and carry underarm where possible, and yes, it definately seems more befitting especially for a natural burial ground. Merry Christmas James 🙂 Tracy.


      Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling
    Charles Cowling

    I agree with you, Kitty. Shouldering discriminates against women, children, tall people, short people, disabled people, blind people, children, the very old… And plastic decorative handles also deter family participation.


    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      Jonathan

      I disagree with you, Charles; though plastic handles only confuse people, shouldering doesn’t discriminate against anyone. If it was your daughter, three grandsons and and a great-granddaughter and great grandson along with a toddler in your back garden shuffling you across the lawn to your hole under the pear tree, making a detour round the pond hopefully without falling in, who’d be anywhere nearby to discriminate? Would you turn in your grave, or be proud?

      It’s only so-called ‘dignity’ that discriminates against anyone at a funeral.


      Charles Cowling
      1. Charles Cowling
        Kitty

        So, are the plastic handles for decoration only?


        Charles Cowling
        1. Charles Cowling
          Jonathan

          Believe it or not, Kitty, if the bearers lifted the coffin by the plastic handles they would snap or detach from the coffin, which would fall to the ground on its way to the grave or the catafalque.

          Not my idea of decoration at all, and my question is; what do coffin makers and undertakers think they add to the appearance of a coffin? Like so much else at a modern funeral – the uniform, the vehicles, the forced solemnity in the body language of bored employees – they just look fake.


          Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling
    Kitty

    It’s the shouldering that’s the problem. Like it’s improper or wrong to carry the coffin using the handles. The handles on most coffins can’t take the weight can they?


    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling
    David Holmes

    In my family, we always carry the coffin and I agree, it is always emotional and therapeutic. Wherever possible, I encourage my client families to do the same for exactly the same reason.


    Charles Cowling
  8. Charles Cowling
    james showers

    Hear hear.
    Right on Rupert.


    Charles Cowling

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