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A Fish on a Casket? How Can That Be?

Yes, John does do custom caskets! Occasionally we will have a request for customization of a casket. If time allows, we make every effort to accommodate those requests. Some customization is included in our base price for a casket. For example, if a person is very tall or very small, and there is time to build a casket to suit, John will make one that will fit the deceased appropriately. Size changes are included in our base price of $1800 for an Eno River Casket. Other than sizing up or down, customization is billed based on the time needed for project completion.

Over the years John has done custom work other than size changes to personalize caskets for individuals. This can be done when the client is in hospice or there is plenty of lead time. Sometimes the client has been ordering for themselves, and other times we have been working with a family member. One family asked John to carve a salmon in the lid of the casket for the man who loved to fish the rivers of Oregon. A Jewish man asked for a Star of David on the lid of his casket. One evening before a casket was to be delivered the next day, a family called and asked John if he could make a slot in the casket so that people could leave final messages for their loved one. John designed and fashioned a mail slot in the lid just above the deceased's right hand. The slot was closed with a tightly fitting piece of wood at the end of the funeral and was nearly invisible.

Beyond that, we have encouraged families to make the caskets and the funeral ceremony their own. More than one family has painted handprints or fingerprints or messages on caskets. My favorite one was customized by the family of a patriarch, the father of five generations, who came to the United States from the Old Country. A family member painted a tree trunk on the lid of his casket. At his funeral, each member of the family dipped their finger in green paint and added a leaf to the tree. It was a beautiful tree of life that represented the life he had given to his large, vibrant family.

John regards the interior of the casket as sacred space, a space for the beloved person whose life is being remembered. It is a space that he deems inappropriate for the intrusion of any hardware having to do with the casket. Anything placed into the casket with the deceased should have meaning and value to them or to their survivors. For now, at least, our caskets are not lined. Our caskets are truly the plain pine box that many people tell their families they always wanted. To make our loved ones seem more comfortable though, many of us – yes “us” because this is what we did when John’s mom died – wrap our loved ones in an old, beloved family quilt. This is another way families can individualize the plain pine box.

Although we don’t have them listed on our website, a couple of other options have evolved over the years. These options are for people who are perfectly healthy and are ordering caskets for themselves. As you can imagine, since we are a one-man shop, we aren’t able to store caskets or guarantee that we will be able to deliver a pre-paid casket in 20 years when a person who is healthy today needs it at last. So other possibilities are simply using it as a coffee table (what a wild conversation piece that is, right!?), putting hinges on the lid and using it as a large blanket chest or an oversize toybox for the grandchildren, or fitting it with shelves and putting favorite books on the shelves which will be removed when the casket is needed for its usual purpose. I’m sure that if you are considering storing a casket for your own future use, you can think of other alternative uses. Bring us your ideas and let us collaborate and make it work for you!

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