Radio review: An unusual approach to death in the Coffin Club

Nuala McCann

The Coffin Club BBC Sounds

“I would like to make my own coffin,” said Katie Williams.

“There was dead silence, dead silence,” she said... you couldn't have made it up.

But after the meeting of the University of the Third Age on that night in Rotorua, New Zealand, a new club was set up: The Rotorua Coffin Club.

The inspiration, Katie, is a former palliative care nurse and a former midwife – she's seen life at both ends - cradle to the grave.

Death certainly didn't used to be personal, said Katie. Coffin club was set up to challenge that.

This is no glum affair. Coffin club is a group of 30 or 40 older people who get together for a bit of a laugh.

They're a chatty crowd – they assemble, sand and decorate their own coffins.

Producer/presenter Cathy FitzGerald says they're wonderful people - “like a series of novels on a shelf, they belong together but they each have their own story”.

And it's the way she tells these stories or lets the women tell their own.

Katie, she says, has a huge heart, a very naughty sense of humour and is a giver of great hugs: “The kind of woman I'd follow into battle,” says Cathy.

Joyce has an Irish coffin. It's lined with a bedspread her husband was very fond of and she has his ashes inside three leprechauns which are going to sit on top of the coffin when she's inside.

She has decorated it with shamrocks and fiddlers and leprechauns.

She talks very fondly of her husband. He bought her sexy underwear every Easter and he used to sing to her: “When your hair has turned to silver, I will love you just the same.”

One of the women has a full-length picture of Elvis looking down on her from her coffin.

There's a practical side too, funerals are expensive.

“I don't want my children to pay,” says one woman. She has made her own coffin to save them.

She talks about a much loved son who died through suicide.

In coffin club she met another woman who suffered a similar loss.

They have become good friends.

She thinks differently towards death too.

“I used to be very frightened.. but I know he's going to be waiting for me,” she says.

These are women who have lived and loved and lost.

The message is simple... You plan your wedding, so why not your funeral?

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