Carrying a Child Coffin

    As odd as it sounds to many I have been attending funerals in my spare time.  It is part of my ethnographic work into the funeral industry and the funeral process.  To learn through observation and participation as much as literary research (which there is little of for this industry).

    So recently I was at a child's funeral and the way they carried the coffin was quite surprising, and a little worrying.

    Children's coffins generally come with handels, only four, but they were there.  However unlike with an adult coffin the handles on a child coffin are only there for show.  They are not attached properly, generally only held on by two small nails.  They are also very small, I can get two fingers through the small handel.  The inside of the handle is also quite sharp, so it is both small and sharp making it rather uncomfortable and difficult to hold.

    Knowing all this many conductors do not tell families how to hold a child's coffin properly.  They let the family hold it by the handels which is quite frankly careless and risky.  This is what I saw the other day, four family members trying to carry the coffin by the tiny handles.  But due to the small size they could barely hold the handles.  You could clearly see how uncomfortable the family were physically and emotionally with their grip on the coffin.  They were barely holding anything and what they could hold hurt to hold.  Furthermore as I just explained these handles are only there for show and not held on properly.  They could have popped right off at any moment while the coffin was being carried.

    Instead of carrying by the handles one should carry the coffin itself.  Place both hands underneath it and carry it like it were a long box, not a small coffin.  Children's funerals are more 'intense' than adult funerals (but not necessarily sadder) and there is the feeling or desire to do things respectfully and properly.  Then it is not surprise that people want to carry the coffin by the handles as this is perceived as the 'proper' and 'respectful' way.  Yet it is just plain reckless to do so with a child's coffin.

    Another thing is that child coffins are rather small.  Much smaller than adult coffins.  So having six people trying to carry it is just impractical sometimes.  It not only looks silly but can cause issues as everyone has to squish together to have a hold of the coffin.  In other words just because a lot of people want to carry the coffin does not mean everyone should carry the coffin.

    This is the same for lowering at a grave.  The ropes should never go through the inside of the child's handle.  The handles are sharp and as such can cut through the ropes.  Another issue is that the ropes could pull off the handles as they are not secured to the coffin properly.  I remember a gravedigger telling me how he refused to let people put ropes through the handles as he had seen both of these things happen.

    Carrying a child's coffin is no simple task.  It is emotionally very tricky and tense.  So it does not need to be made more difficult by doing it wrong.


1 comment:

  1. Thankyou for clarifying this. Although many years habe now passed, I still have a vision of our tiny grandson's coffin being respectfully carried to the graveside by the funeral director.


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