The nice young man with the striking green eyes, one of the funeral directors, stops in front of the door and prepares us for what we will see inside—the coffin showroom. I don’t think he used the word ‘coffin’. When everyone is collected and ready, he ushers us in. There are four or five full-sized caskets in the room, and maybe thirty samples of other styles. Once we seem relatively acclimated to our task, the funeral director withdraws.

The coffins are metal and wood; the metal ones have a matte finish and are bronze, all shades of gray, and jet black. There’s one that’s a pinkish-rose color and a white one with silver trim. I like the wooden ones myself—rich, warm hues, like really nice furniture. Carved details. Solid looking.

The sticker shock almost makes us laugh—there are coffins here that cost over eight thousand dollars. The cheapest thing in the room (at $600) is a plain pine box, metal joiners showing at the seams, that is meant to hold the body for the memorial service prior to cremation. Two other ‘cremation’ models (not built for the long run—guaranteed to burn) are polished wood and, oddly enough, quite lovely.

There are also urns and vases here in the showroom, containers for ashes meant to be displayed in the home. One is in the form of a birdbath for the flower garden. There’s a locket here designed to hold the ashes of the deceased. There are also suits and dresses available for sale. The suits start at around a hundred dollars.

There are vaults here too, or at least sheets of metal representing the three styles of vault, with accompanying writeups on the varying degrees of air- and water-tightness available. We don’t need a vault—the deceased had served in the military, and the national cemetery where he’ll be buried takes care of the vault and the headstone—so we move on.

There are flags here for draping over the casket, and panels that say “ beloved grandmother” or have embroidered images on them; praying hands, a fishing pole, flowers, gulls over the ocean, a tractor in a field. These are made to fit into the open lid above the person’s head. Some of the high-end casket models have a drawer that pulls out of the part of the lid that covers the lower body when the top half of the casket is open for viewing. The open drawer is suspended over the person’s waist; display samples contain eyeglasses, a rosary, a pocket watch--prized possessions. I really like this idea until it strikes me that the drawer is inaccessible when both halves of the lid are closed—not that it makes any sense anyway, but it bothers me.

Each of us considers, at least briefly, which casket we would want. They have names like The Monticello, The Rappahannock, The Montague. I can’t remember the name of the one we ultimately choose. It is dark wood, almost black. Poplar, I think, with a very dark stain. The handles and hardware are black metal, and it is the least ornate of our options. It has a simple dignity. We agree that the man who will lie in it would have approved. Relieved to have made a decision, to not have to think about this any more, we leave the showroom and work on wrapping up the rest of the arrangements.

Why pick a fancy coffin?

The deceased doesn't care.

Everybody else sees it for a few minutes before it's buried and (hopefully) never seen again.

So you say "it's respectful to the deceased". No it's not.

Showing respect to the deceased is taking the hundreds or thousands of dollars you would have spent on a coffin and putting it to a good use (s)he would have approved of - maybe making a donation to a charity (s)he supported, or if they died of an illness, to a hospital that researches or a hospice that helps support those with said illness.

Don't waste your money on a fancy box that you're just going to throw away.

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