In New Zealand, an eclectic group of older adults is changing how we think about death. Rather than giving over to the alarm or depression an expiration date often causes, they’ve formed Coffin Clubs. This community, made up of about 160 people from all over the country, is all about comfort…and coffin-making. For them, death is inevitable, but not without having a damn good time.
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Coffin Clubs began back in 2010. Founded in Roturua by a palliative care nurse named Katie Williams (who was 77 at the time), these clubs all began from one statement. “I’d like to build my own coffin,” Williams said during a brainstorming session at the retired and semi-retired persons’ University of Third Age (U3A) meeting. She later told National Geographic she couldn’t recall why the statement had come up. “For a reason that I have absolutely no idea about in retrospect,” she recalls.
After a few seconds of stunned silence, her idea was met with intrigue. Ex-carpenters and builders, along with a host of creative women, forged the Coffin Club together in Williams’ garage. And now, according to Williams, “There’s about 50 to 60 that come to our ‘club day’ each Wednesday. These people come to order their coffins, to decorate their coffins, to come help out the newcomers.”
For some, this is a strange way to approach death. Many of us don’t like to discuss it, and associate it with dread and anxiety. And our avoidance of the topic can lead to unfortunate habits.
As Sheldon Soloman, professor of psychology at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, has toldHealthlinein another article, “Death is such an unwelcome topic, we immediately try to get it out of our head by doing things to distract ourselves.” But talking about it could put these “avoidance” measures to rest, and start to bring a healthy perspective.
The Coffin Clubs certainly keep communication about loss at the forefront. Many have said goodbye to life partners, best friends, and even daughters and sons. While coffin decorating, they celebrate their coming death in the same way they celebrate each joyous minute of their lives. It’s also an effective ritual to cope with loss. According toThe Journal of Experimental Psychology, 80 percent of individuals partake in some form ofprivate ritual when dealing with loss. Study participants who reflected on past rituals, or created new ones, reported experiencing lower levels of grief than before.
For Williams, this celebration of life and death is represented in the glitter on her coffin. “I’m a very glittery person, and I want my coffin to show that.”
Allison Krupp is an American writer, editor, and ghostwriting novelist. Between wild, multi-continental adventures, she resides in Berlin, Germany. Check out her website here.