Standing in their completed coffins are (from left) Zeus-Hannah Suzette, Helen Tracy and Shelly Ridley. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHUCK LAKIN

Coffin-building workshop encourages pre-planning

SULLIVAN — Regional School Unit 24 Adult Education featured a class Oct. 19 that taught students to make quite the conversation piece — a coffin.

It’s not a Halloween prop either. It’s the student’s coffin. For burial.

“You’re not getting out of this alive and it’s a gift to your survivors if you’ve made some arrangements,” said instructor Chuck Lakin of Waterville.

Acknowledging their own mortality often motivates people to complete a bucket list of experiences they always wanted to have, he said. But it doesn’t motivate people in the same way to make arrangements for their funerals.

Lakin counsels clients through end-of-life decisions, which include burial, among other things.

“I spent a lot of time talking to people about alternatives to conventional funerals,” he said.

“Many people do not know they can plan a funeral or burial that is out of the ordinary or alternative to more familiar services or arrangements,” according to Lakin’s website, “We believe it is everyone’s choice to live as one chooses until one dies. Why not have choices with one’s funeral and burial planning as well?”

The site offers a number of funeral options, including plans for building your own coffin out of natural pine. During one of his presentations, a woman asked if he would consider leading a workshop on coffin building in Massachusetts. A local newspaper did an article on it.

Lakin returned to Maine and showed the newspaper article to people up here, most of whom were unsure how to react. But Jean Girmscheid, workforce and community life coordinator with RSU 24 Adult Ed, said, “Let’s do it.”

Three other people, a woman and her two grown daughters, took the local three-hour class. It was Lakin’s third coffin workshop.

“That was a blast,” he said. “It was fun to watch them try to figure out how to get them home.”

The coffins are, literally, life size. Students who register are asked to provide their measurements so that they can make a coffin that fits them.

But, what do you do with a coffin when you get it home?

“You can stand it upright, put shelves in it and use it as a bookcase,” Lakin said. “Or you can use it as a coffee table.”

He offers designs that can be easily retrofitted to serve as furniture until the coffin is needed. Lakin knows one previous student who uses her coffin as furniture and as a conversation piece when she has guests.

“She can hardly wait for a lull in the conversation so she can drop in the conversation, ‘That’s my coffin in the corner,’” Lakin said.

He hopes the coffin workshops can help spur conversations about making funeral arrangements ahead of time, allowing survivors more time to mourn.

Lakin said he will continue to lead coffin workshops as long as there is interest.

“I do it because it’s fun,” he said. “I really enjoy the process and I think it’s valuable.”


Johanna S. Billings

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Johanna S. Billings covers eastern Hancock County and western Washington County. An avid photographer, she lives in Steuben with her husband and several cats. She welcomes tips and story ideas. Email her at [email protected]

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