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. 

Leave a Reply

8 Comment threads
6 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
10 Comment authors
KateyanneCharles Cowlingbob higgersonTracyJeff Harbeson Recent comment authors

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

newest oldest most voted

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.

bob higgerson
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.

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…

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?


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.


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?

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.

james showers

Hear hear.
Right on Rupert.