Hi, my name is Lynne and I currently work part-time as a Social Worker with The District Nurses on the North West Coast of Tasmania. I work voluntarily with Care Beyond Cure – Community Palliative Care Spaces and the Community Coffin Club is their initiative; a first for Australia, following on from Katie at the Kiwi Coffin Club in Rotorua. I founded Jumave in 2016 and I am also involved with Groundbreakers, a group aiming to put Natural Burial on the map here in Tasmania.
I love what I do because the intersection where social justice and human rights meets dying, death and after death care, poses many challenges for those affected while offering a unique opportunity for individuals and communities to work creatively to address needs at a structural and service delivery level.
The Coffin Club, as an example, was established in September 2016 following an information and BBQ session at the Men’s Shed in Ulverstone on Dying 2 Know Day. With the support of the Lions Club of Ulverstone, Central Coast Council, The Men’s Shed, The District Nurses, William from England, Chuck from Maine, Katie from NZ and most importantly, the people who wanted it in the first place, it has grown and provides an occasion for conversations, education, planning and support while identifying unmet needs.
Here at the Club, individuals or family members/friends can make a coffin for themselves or a loved one. They simply have to provide the materials and enthusiasim for the task at hand. A mentor, support and access to the space and equipment are provided free but what happens most importantly, is in the process itself.
I remember with great fondness a gentle giant of a man, terminally ill and determined to have a homemade coffin. One where nothing was going to get inside other than him! He came several times beforehand with his daughter, first to find out what was needed, then to bring some materials. His daughter started making the coffin and from quiet tears in the beginning, she grew in confidence and with pride. His son attended one day also prior to returning interstate which added to the richness of their story. The coffin was unfinished at the time of his death several days later, but we all knew exactly what he wanted, and what he wanted, was achieved with the help of club members and a few of the men from the shed pitching in on that day – lining and all.
Pictures are taken throughout people’s journey as they make their coffin, then compiled into a video as a memento and a reminder that they ‘can do anything’ as our adopted song says.
For anyone keen to start their own Community Coffin Club, identify key resources in your community such as a supportive community or men’s shed that has access to equipment, an individual or two with woodwork skills prepared to be a mentor, a service club for financial support if needed and most importantly gauge the level of interest beforehand. Yes, anyone can make a coffin, but not all people have access to resources and support in order to do it. That is where as a group, you can make a difference.
It is important that people know their rights and responsibilities in the dying, death and after death care space, are provided with the opportunity for choice across these areas and when needed, given the support to make positive change for themselves and their community. None of this happens if we don’t talk about it. So, what are you waiting for?
Check out the Coffin Club.