You decided to read this article because you saw the title and thought, what the hell? This has to be one of those extortionate, attention grabbing headlines that never pan out (click bait!) If it was indeed click bait, maybe I would have titled it “She went to see a funeral director and you won’t believe what happened next!”
Actually, I didn’t go to see a Funeral Director, but I did speak to a few, and to a Coffin Wholesaler on this journey, but I didn’t find what I was looking for in these places, surprisingly. But I’m getting ahead of myself. They say the best place to start is at the beginning, for an overview of the situation.
(Just as a forewarning, I am pretty open about death. I don’t believe death is the end of existence, and as such I currently have little fear of it, or talking about it.)
If you know me, my decision to purchase my coffin (with no theoretical wisp of my death in sight) perhaps is not surprising at all. If you don’t know me, well…
The decision was based around my displeasure that no one will get to enjoy my coffin. I mean, one day, I’ll be dead, I’ll probably have a coffin (unless we’re in the middle of a zombie apocalypse), but as it will just be my soulless corpse chilling in there, I won’t be able to enjoy it. I’ll be long gone, thank you!
And it’s unlikely that anyone attending my funeral will be enjoying my coffin because, well — I’ll be dead.
Coffins are expensive. I’ve found some excellent bargains and clever life hacks when it comes to coffin shopping (thanks to a good year or more of solid research), but essentially, in your time of need, you can expect to pay between £1000 – 3000 as standard for a coffin. The cheaper end of this is reserved for wicker and basic plywood boxes. You could pick up a cardboard biodegradable coffin for around £600. If you want a full blown American Steel Casket, you know, the hotrod of all coffins, the kind you see on American CBS dramas, ones that we don’t really use in the UK, and that in many cases you cannot place in a cemetery because of the ground restrictions and absolute lack of biodegradability — those beasts are serious pieces of equipment, and they don’t come cheap. You’re looking between £2,500 and £20,000 depending on your colours and embellishments (do you want satin or cheap crepe for lining, and would you like gold player handles?)
So I knew two things when I started this journey.
1. I like coffins, and I’m not happy to simply have one for my corpse only. Be it as coffee table (like at this cool bar in Belgium) or as a centre piece (like at the Last Tuesday society in Shoreditch), or as a bookshelf (like these cool people) or even an entire kitchen, I wanted to have one.
2. I don’t plan on dying any time soon, so I had time to do my research, and at an initial glance it appeared that the industry of death in the UK makes a lot of money out of a box you use for three days at most and often burn or rot with. (I’m not saying there shouldn’t be money in it for the suppliers, I’m just saying you’re either happy with granny going in a biodegradable wicker basket, which is just how she would have wanted it anyway, or you’re an oil magnate who can spend thousands on a fully kitted out, well finished and well crafted coffin from a specialist dealer. Or you’re like the rest of us and are or will be, stuck in the middle with a not-very-well-made, white-crappy-crepe-lined, wood-laminate-mdf box that you’ll pay a lot of money for, and shed a lot of tears over.
So price, presumably, is my first hurdle.
My next stage of research was to hit up a few funeral directors (no punches were thrown), and my next major setback was that coffins are generally NOT BLACK?! Which I find absurd considering how much black we wear in London. I hadn’t even imagined that a black coffin would be hard to find, but it really was a serious problem, “There just isn’t a market for them here,” I was told.
(Editorial note: subsequently if you are looking for a nice black coffin, I have done the research for you – get in touch!)
I pushed ahead and met with a funeral director turned coffin wholesaler, and shared an awkward coffin viewing with a family who just lost a much loved uncle. Yes, I did initially feel a bit embarrassed. But, actually, my money is just as good as late Uncle Johnny’s, right? And if you are wondering, no I didn’t climb in to try one out in front of the grieving family (on the amusing side, how novel that out of anyone shopping for a coffin, I was uniquely in a position to ‘try before you buy’!)
I didn’t buy a coffin right there and then, but I learned that I definitely wanted a full American Casket (you know, the hotrod coffins I mentioned earlier). Because they look awesome – and sure they aren’t anthropomorphic, but they are just damn sleek and cool. Also, they are so big I was convinced I could convert one into a bed.
Because it’s every goth girl’s dream to sleep in a coffin, right?
Okay, maybe it’s just me.
I also learned that a full size American Casket was not in my budget right now. Not by a long shot. So I went home. Back to the drawing board. And I sat on the idea.
For about a week, before I had a new idea. Second hand coffins. Ok, don’t freak out, second hand doesn’t necessarily mean ‘used’. Anyway, there I was googling coffins like a crazy person, finding them on eBay, Facebook market place, Schpok, Gumtree, Freecycle. For real. People genuinely have secondhand coffins they want to get rid of. It’s not a common thing, but it is definitely a thing.
But none of them were quite right. My heart had been stolen by the idea of an American casket, and they just aren’t commonly available in the UK (trust me to want the most complicated, difficult object to source 🙄). I almost bought a couple of different ones, just as a “it’ll do till I get the one I want” kind of thing. I even got outbid on a black and white striped beetle juice coffin on eBay (yes, I was outbid on a coffin).
I went back to the guy who imported coffins, and was going to purchase one of the “it’ll do” ones from him (photo above), and then I checked Facebook marketplace again, just one last time. And this little surprise popped up.
I mean, it looks like an American Casket.
I dropped a message to the seller, immediately. At this point I really didn’t care if Uncle Johnny had been decomposing in it for the last five years (I am totally joking.)
She didn’t reply immediately. So I became the stalker ex-girlfriend. I messaged her again a couple of hours later. And again the following day. And possibly the day after that. And then I waited.
A week later she got back to me (seriously, who takes a week to reply on social media?), and she told me it was actually a dark grey brown, nothing like the picture but pretty much brand new except that it had been sitting in a shed for the last 5 years — a diy project gone wrong converting a hearse and a coffin into a camper and a trailer (clearly my kind of people, except for the social media neglect).
So I bought it. I hadn’t even seen the thing. And I hired a van and coerced a couple of my girlfriends into driving across the country to pick it up.
Pick up day arrived, and we drove….and drove….and then finally, I met my coffin.
It was love at first site. And I think we caused a stir the neighbourhood won’t forget soon, three upstanding young society women carrying a coffin to the back of a hire van (and the knowledge remains with the three of us how complicated it is to move a coffin that weighs 120kgs with an odd number of people.)
The journey back to London was a smooth, uneventful one. But then, we had to get a 7’ x 3’ x 3’ steel box up a very narrow three flights of stairs. Cue awkward interaction with a father and his son who felt duty bound when they met us on the stairs to help the girls get the giant coffin (currently on an ungraceful sideways angle wedged between two concrete walls) reverently up the remaining flights of stairs.
We got there, in the end. The coffin made it to my room, and it looks awesome. And yes, I do feel I’ve reached a milestone of success in my life.
Because it is the coolest thing ever.
Of course, converting it into a bed was a whole other story (did I mention that it had a body hoist installed inside it?), but you’ll have to come back next time for that story….
as for me, I’m just chilling in my coffin…
Cover photo by Tom Oates, 2013