In New Zealand, ‘coffin clubs’ bury taboos linked to death

In New Zealand, 'coffin clubs' bury taboos linked to death

In “coffin clubs” in New Zealand, seniors put the finishing touches on their final resting place and share laughs while talking casually about the afterlife.

Kevin Heyward took inspiration for his beer from an Austin Healey, a 1950s sports car.

My daughter came up with the idea.“, explains this 79-year-old car enthusiast with a smile, dusting the sawdust from his overalls.

His coffin is fully equipped: false steering wheel, windshield, rubber wheels with metal hubcaps, wooden mudguards, hood, painted side doors and rear-view mirrors.

The heavy coffin, with six wooden handles, is even equipped with headlights, Mr. Heyward explains to AFP in the workshop of the Coffin Club in the town of Hastings, in the North Island of New Zealand.

He weighs a certain amount and I’m a big man“. “I told my six grandsons they better start lifting weights, because they’ll wear it one day“, he jokes.

This club is one of four in New Zealand, the first having opened in 2010 in Rotorua, on the North Island. Some officially have up to 800 members.

At the Hastings club, Jim Thorne, a lively 75-year-old motorcycle fan, used his cabinetmaking skills to build a coffin decorated with a painted motorcycle track.

It is stored in his garage, next to a collection of motorcycles.

Most of his friends “are pretty amazed and ask him why he does it” when they hear about his coffin-making hobby, he agrees.

This is my contribution for my last days“, he emphasizes.

“Dying to have a coffin”

There is an attitude among certain people which makes (death) almost a taboo subject, which they find very difficult to talk about.“, souligne Jim Thorne.

More “they generally manage to overcome it. At the end of the day, it’s a fact of life“.

With the newbies, he breaks the ice with humor by asking them: “Are you dying to have a coffin?“.

The atmosphere of the club is far from morbid and jokes flow during the morning tea break accompanied by scones.

We’re a little special, but we’re happy. There are always lots of jokes“, explains Helen Bromley, secretary of the club which mainly attracts older people.

The club provides a space to talk about death during weekly meetings.

I think everyone here has come to terms with the idea of ​​dying, whether it’s decorating their coffin or helping others decorate theirs.“, says Helen Bromley.

Some members want to spare their loved ones from having to bear the increasing costs of funerals.

The club also makes and decorates coffins for grieving families. On average, a funeral costs around 5,600 euros in New Zealand, and coffins cost around 670 to 2,200 euros, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

Color “Remember Me”

For a low membership fee, the Hastings club offers each new member a plywood coffin, ready to be decorated, which comes in four sizes.

During tea, Helen Bromley reports that a member suffering from cancer is in intensive care after a fall. His brother asked the club to finish his coffin as a priority.

The club also makes funeral urns, which it sells to the local crematorium, and small baby coffins, which it donates.

Midwives and nurses at Hastings Hospital asked us to never, ever stop making small coffins“, explains the old lady.

The club also knits blankets, teddy bears, pillows and hearts for infants’ coffins.

One of the members, Christina Ellison, 75, said she lost a little girl and was comforted to know that the club helps other families grieving the loss of a child.

The little baby coffins are so beautiful and made with such care“, she says.

She’s moving soon but plans to take her coffin, painted a blue-gray color called “Remember Me.”