A group in Tasmania is trying to lift the lid on funeral expenses. Members have been making DIY coffins from wood but are now branching into cardboard; They say it’s cheaper, more environmentally friendly and can come as a flatpack.
When Jenny Cox’s brother-in-law Phil died earlier this year she knew a cardboard coffin was the perfect choice. “We were looking for a solution for Phil that was really environmentally friendly,” she said. “This coffin was made out of bioboard so it was a compostable coffin and that really fitted with his values and the things he believed in.
“He was a strong environmentalist and loved the bush.” Phil Gregg was a Vietnam veteran and avid lover of comic books. “We ended up painting The Phantom [on his coffin] because he had been a collector of Phantom comics for 50 years and his life in some ways paralleled the Phantom.”
Ms Cox said painting the coffin helped her grieve and heal. “When you paint, the process of painting makes you become calm and centred and you have to do that to be able to paint,” she said.
“So it actually helped me immensely, just the physical process of being still and painting.”
The Community Coffin Club in Ulverstone in Tasmania’s north-west usually makes wooden coffins but members are now trying to lift the lid on rising funeral costs. The cardboard coffins are significantly cheaper, can be decorated easily and also come as a flatpack. It is the third coffin Jenny Cox has painted for loved ones in her life.
“When someone dies you feel so helpless, and everybody says what can I do to help and there really isn’t anything anyone can do,” she said. “So I felt that by painting the coffin, I could take a layer of stress out of their life and be able to do something that reflected on that person. “And talking about the design and what to put on it, that process helps everyone.”
Artist Emma Dean’s brother was buried in a traditional coffin when he died a few years ago. “It was horrible,” she said. “Something like these cardboard flatpack coffins would have been much more perfect.
“It’s cheap, and it’s a really nice process of bringing people together to decorate it. I love the idea.”
Ms Dean said while a lot of people saw death as quite morbid, it could be something that is celebrated. “Just bringing people together in that time where they’re grieving and coming together in those quiet times and just writing on a coffin or painting it together, it’s really beautiful,” she said. “Sometimes when you’re grieving you’re awake at two o’clock in the morning or something … so painting a little bit here and there can help settle you.
“It brings people together so they can actually reflect on the person’s that’s passed away, and it’s that creativity coming through, working with your hands and remembering who is this person that’s passed over.”
‘The last thing you make’
Gina McKinlay said she was completely at peace with having terminal lung cancer. “Dying has never bothered me, it’s a process of life,” she said. She has outlived her prognosis by three and a half years. Last year, with the help from volunteers at the club, she built her own coffin out of pine but would also recommend cardboard. “It’s reasonably priced of course, in fact it’s jolly cheap, it’s more eco-friendly too,” she said.
“And they come as a flatpack so they’re easy to assemble and decorate or paint or whatever you like. “It’s a feeling of accomplishment too, it might be the last large thing that you make, who knows.”
Helping cut funeral costs
The average cost of a funeral in Australia is between $4,000 and $20,000. “When someone dies, you’re so grief-stricken and you want the very best for that person but the very best doesn’t have to be the most expensive,” Jenny Cox said. “People think ‘my mother is the most important person in the world to me so of course we’ll have the $2,000 coffin and the $5,000 handles’ — it’s nuts.
“I mean, that might be what some people need but I think you can express how much you love the person in another way and it’s doesn’t always have to revolve around money, it could involve attention and care and kindness.”
The flatpacks are able to be posted anywhere in Australia.