World’s Strangest

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Class That Helps You Build Your Own Coffin

Burial in the United States is increasingly expensive, so some people have made their final plans with thrift in mind. That’s where Minnesota woodworker Randy Schnobrich steps in. He teaches traditional coffin building over a three-day, $700 course. Many of the participants are building coffins for themselves:

“A lot of people cringe at the idea of building their own casket,” Schnobrich says. “They see it as morbid. They think, ‘Boy, that must be kind of weird.’ But for some folks, they want to have a hand in, an intimate connection with the end of their life. Instead of just being a bystander, you can be involved in at least this aspect of your death.”

Marilyn Bader’s friends have seen her casket in her bedroom and said, “Isn’t that a little weird, having your casket in your bedroom?” But Bader, a widow who makes her living as a health care researcher, shrugs off such talk. “It’s something I made,” she says. “I’m proud of it.”

What I find fascinating about this story is that some of Schnobrich’s students begin the project when they’re dying. The act of building their coffins helps them emotionally process their mortality:

A retired teacher in her mid-60s named Carla made her coffin shortly before she died of cancer. Carla was undergoing chemotherapy before the coffin-making class. Schnobrich said she was so fatigued that he set up a futon in the workshop so Carla could nap when she needed to. At times, she had so little strength that Schnobrich had to help her push screws into the casket with a cordless drill.

“She was extremely motivated and wanted to do as much as she could,” Schnobrich recalls.

Link | Photo: Jon Kalish

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November 21st, 2011

Stranger to the World


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