Mortality is not a subject most people want to spend too much time thinking about. After all, facing our inevitable death and the deaths of our loved ones can be unsettling and uncomfortable to say the least. However, in New Zealand, a growing number of seniors are joining clubs that take a startling new approach to inevitable trip six feet under.
According to the Washington Post, people all over New Zealand, most of them elderly, have begun to join so-called coffin clubs. In recent years, five major groups have sprung up all over the country for people who want to design, build and customize coffins — often their own.
The reason why people join these groups is varied. Some people join the groups for the camaraderie and sense of community, others join to find an artistic outlet or to foster a death positive view, but others, like administrative assistant Judith Aitken, have more practical concerns.
“Why spend $5,000 on a coffin and go out ordinary, when you can spend $500 and go out fabulous?” Aitken told a reporter visiting the club she joined in Hastings.
She does have a point. Coffins can be expensive, and, while the clubs do usually charge a fee to become a member, the undecorated coffins they offer are substantially cheaper than what you might find at a funeral parlor. The Washington Post article reports that members can purchase coffins that range in various styles and sizes and can cost somewhere between $250 and $500.
The first of these clubs was launched in 2010 in Rotorua, and since has spawned other clubs all over New Zealand. The movement has even inspired similar clubs to open in Australia and the United States. However, the clubs haven’t reached the same type of mainstream appeal in other countries.
For those short on ideas, many of the clubs offer templates and design inspiration. According to the Washing Post’s article, Aitken’s club had a poster that showed the club’s most popular designs: “A popcorn-box-shaped coffin. A coffin transformed into a bright red London phone box. And in an option unlikely to find many takers in New Zealand, a coffin painted as a giant U.S. flag.”
While it is uncertain whether the trend will take root in the United States, the two countries do share some similarities. They are both dealing with a rapidly aging population and the social problems that come along with it.
According to a study performed by the Univerity of Otago, “More than 15,000 frail elderly identified as being lonely according to a world-first study of 72,000 older New Zealanders. That equates to one in five older people.”
The coffin clubs may not be able to stave off the inevitable, but they might offer a solution to the loneliness some seniors experience as they age.
Of course, elaborate funeral decorations are nothing new. Many anthropologists site burial rites by early man as some of the earliest developments in human culture. From the monumental pyramids of Egypt to the vast catacombs beneath Paris, we have always celebrated and venerated our dead. The coffin clubs of New Zealand are simply an extension of this long and varied custom. In fact, the clubs have a lot in common with the fantasy coffins, a tradition of elaborately decorated coffins originated in Ghana.