The Coffin Club


I can recall several occasions when spiritual master Sri Chinmoy spoke of the soul’s world, that mystic place beyond our everyday comprehension where souls depart to at the time of death – and again arrive from when returning to the earth arena. He spoke familiarly of the souls that visited Him in the inner worlds, not only the souls of His disciples – both living or passed away – but the souls of others inwardly close to Him but outwardly unknown to us; souls connected to Him from other lives; family members; devoted souls not outwardly following His spiritual path but uniquely connected in some way.  My sister Jill was probably one of these, meeting Sri Chinmoy only twice in person but inwardly retaining a lifelong faith and devotion, a touching, unswerving loyalty that He would have cherished.

Jill passed away in December, 2016 after a three-month decline through cancer.  She had decided against chemotherapy and conventional treatment, and was equally uninterested in other possible cures.  She was tired and wanted to leave, surrendered to whatever might happen.

When Jill learned of her condition and of her little time left, she began tidying up her life before the final departure, the journey from which she would not return. She discovered an elderly handyman who made cheap plywood coffins in his garage, an initiative popular with those happy to bypass the usually expensive conventions of the death industry. The garage was called ‘the coffin club’ – when she visited her physical measurements were taken, preferences and budget chosen, then once completed, Jill’s plywood coffin was collected by a friend and taken away for safe keeping in the back of an old panel van.

At the coffin club Jill met a number of interesting people whose lives like her own would soon be over. The coffin club encouraged its clients to express their individuality, to paint the themes of their lives on their caskets. A local hunter painted his coffin in camouflage greens and browns, with deer antler coffin handles; a bike enthusiast had Harley Davidson motorcycle insignia pasted over his box; and a young ballet dancer with an incurable condition had Swan Lake dance scenes painted around her coffin and pink ballet shoes affixed to the top. She wanted to be dressed in her Swan Lake attire when lowered into her tiny plywood box, her last resting place – she said that when she met God she wanted to dance for Him, dance her part from the ballet Swan Lake.

Jill painted her coffin a lovely sky blue and I was asked to provide some of Sri Chinmoy’s avian drawings – those lovely bird sketches representing the beauty and simplicity of the human soul – to place around the coffin. These she cut out and glued all over it. She was so happy, feeling these would fly away with her at the time of her passing, like accompanying friends or guardians, bringing her back home.