Coffin Clubs are springing up across New Zealand and further afield, providing retirees with new friends, a creative pastime and, ultimately, cheaper funerals.
The Coffin Club is a community group like no other
When old age and over-priced funeral directors are knocking on the door, there’s only one thing to do. Give them both the finger! A group of rebellious, creative Kiwi seniors are doing just that, one crazy coffin at a time.
Ageing need not be an isolating time for these sociable Coffin Club members
Born in the back of a garage 10 years ago, the Coffin Club has since evolved into a bustling cottage enterprise with over 60 active members. Every coffin is decorated by hand to reflect the life of its maker, and only costs a mere $250 to make – a much cheaper option to the commercial coffin which starts at $2,000.
Given the financial strain funerals can place on grieving loved ones, members also donate coffins to families in need and make baby coffins for the local hospital. Ageing is an isolating time for many, but not for these seniors. They look out for each other in times of sickness, and meet weekly not only for their love of coffin making, but for the shared morning tea and the long lasting friendships that have formed between them.
“At the coffin club people feel useful… We have morning tea and lunch, and music, and cuddles.”
The first coffin club was founded in Rotorua on New Zealand’s North Island in 2010 by former palliative care nurse Katie Williams, 77. Since then the model has spread around the country, and there are now a dozen coffin clubs operating in both the North and South Island (aside from the clubs appearing in Australia and beyond).
“Because of my work and my age I had become a perpetual mourner,” Williams told The Guardian. “I had seen lots of people dying and their funerals were nothing to do with the vibrancy and life of those people. You would not know what they were really like. That they had lived and laughed and loved. I had a deep-seated feeling that people’s journey’s deserved a more personal farewell.”
Williams initially launched the Kiwi Coffin Club in her garage, with no tools, no volunteers and no idea how to construct a coffin. But after a host of handy local men came on-board – she calls them “the darlings” – the club took off, and soon moved to a larger facility to cater to its swelling numbers.
“There is a lot of loneliness among the elderly, but at the coffin club people feel useful, and it is very social. We have morning tea and lunch, and music blaring, and cuddles.”
As well as members building their own coffins (home-made coffins cost just NZ$250) the group also construct baby coffins for the local hospital, which they donate for free.
Jeanette Higgins, also 77, lost her daughter and husband in the last two years. Death was on her mind. Last year she attended the club but got “spooked” at the last minute, and didn’t return again until a few months ago. “I think I was a bit overwhelmed initially, I couldn’t decide how to decorate it,” says Higgins, who eventually settled on a silver and black pattern and blue lid.
Coffin Club: The Musical!
Keeping in the spirit of the Coffin Club, the short documentary film below was made in the style of a movie musical! That’s right – every part was sung, danced, and performed by the Coffin Club members. Prepare to be marvelled when these life loving oldies swing their hips in unison, leap for joy, and rows of legs in stoking pop out from coffin caskets!