Q. I recently attended the funeral of a coworker, who was an active environmentalist. She was buried in a biodegradable coffin. I’ve never heard of such a thing. I thought caskets were pretty routine—pine or some other wood. Is this something new?
A. There once was a time when a casket was just a casket. But that’s long past. Along with the trend toward “green” living has come a little known offshoot—ecologically-correct burial. If you type “environmentally friendly coffins” into an online search engine like Google, you’ll find many companies on the Internet offering an array of biodegradable caskets. For example, you can purchase eco-friendly willow, bamboo or even recycled paper caskets today. A recent segment titled “Designing for the Departed” on CBS-TV’s show “Sunday Morning” revealed other choices that reflect the times we’re in. Did you know there are now “plus size” coffins? Today, decorated coffins depicting the occupation or interests of the deceased can become vehicles for celebrating a person’s life. The casket of a deceased fireman might be painted with images of a firefighter’s hat, fire truck or other equipment. Imagine the possibilities for a golfer, coin collector, gardener, bridge player, pipe smoker, swimmer or skier who has died.
Even ordinary, unadorned caskets offer a number of choices. Do you prefer pine, mahogany, walnut, maple or some other wood? Or perhaps you prefer metal, like steel, copper or bronze? Other considerations may include quality of craftsmanship and coffin lining. In other parts of the world, customs can vary substantially, depending on the culture. In Ghana, burial is often an extravagant enterprise involving a very costly casket. Relatives spare no expense because they believe it is an investment in future good luck for the family. In addition, a lavish funeral and casket is believed to protect the departed. On the other hand, very religious Jews (but not Reformed Jews) are buried in a plain pine box and cannot be cremated or embalmed. In Islamic countries, burial is usually without a coffin.
Be aware that regardless of the type of casket you select—or the size of the family budget—you can buy a coffin at the funeral home or from an independent casket company. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires funeral homes to accept the coffin of your choice, no matter where you’ve purchased it.
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Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.
Image Source: Flickr Creative Commons/emilio labrador