Health & Well-Being

Choosing a Casket – Have Some Fun!

Whoever said the universal experiences are death and taxes was right.  We don’t have much to say about taxes, and often not much about the way we die.  But more and more people are making decisions about what they or their loved ones will be buried in when they do die.  Some very oddball decisions at that.

Utah residents Rick and Shana O’Brien lost their 21-year-old son in a car accident.  They buried him in a casket with antler handles because he loved hunting.

Linda Wheldon of Oklahoma ordered a camouflage casket with red helmet topping for her late husband, a retired firefighter.

R&B singer Percy Sledge’s final resting place featured music notes all over and a microphone on top, because “He always held on to his microphone,” his wife said.

When a little Texas girl sadly passed away from a brain tumor before her fourth birthday; her mother selected a small box of purpleandpink, covered with cartoons of Peppa Pig.

This is a small but growing market, with big prices.  Average usual casket cost today: $2400.  Custom caskets: up to $16,000!After cremation, one-of-a-kind urns for ashes come relatively cheap by comparison, starting at about $600.  Some recent choices: The body of Superman.  The head of Barak Obama.  And, the pick of a Cuban: a very fancy cigar humidor.

If your religion, personal aesthetic or size of pocketbook may dictate a plain wooden box, you’ll have to decide whether to laugh or cry at all this gussied-up excess.  But some people are going for it, even disregarding the final wishes of the intended occupant.

The Oklahoma firefighter mentioned above had actually left these very specific instructions for his family: “Do not spend a bunch of damn money on a casket!” His daughter had qualms about not following her father’s orders, but her mother went right ahead anyway.

So now, these final words:  In Oregon, a husband-and-wife team of tattoo artists has decided to add caskets to their customization business.  Why?  “Why not,” they answer; “Our art eventually gets buried with its owner anyway.”

And from Southern Illinois University comes this wrap-up from an expert on funeral customs ‘way back in ancient Rome, when marble faces carved in likenesses of the deceased often topped the stone sarcophagi in which the rich and famous were buried: “The impulse is timeless.  It’s all about how you would want to be remembered.”

Something to think about – maybe even out loud!


Harriet P. Gross

A proud native of Pittsburgh, PA, Harriet P. Gross began her journalism career in 1955 at The Jewish Criterion, a weekly paper in her home city. Moving to the Chicago area in 1957, she became a columnist and feature writer for STAR Publications, a leading twice-weekly newspaper serving the city’s southern sector and its suburbs to the south and west. After years of work as a full-time journalist in suburban Chicago, Harriet came to Dallas in 1980 following her marriage to the late attorney Fred Gross. Here she began freelancing. Among many special projects, she wrote the scripts for Jewish Family Service’s first video and Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ 100th anniversary video, and the text for Dallas Section, National Council of Women’s soon-to-be-published history book. Today, Harriet’s “In My Mind’s I” column runs weekly in the Texas Jewish Post. She has won writing awards from the Press Club of Dallas, American Jewish Press Association, National Federation of Press Women, Illinois Woman’s Press Association and Press Women of Texas, and has been listed in five Who’s Who publications. In her community today, Harriet is a book reviewer, discussion leader, and program presenter for clubs, senior living facilities, and Jewish institutions including the JCC’s Senior Program, and after years on its Board, she was named a Life Member of the Dallas Jewish Historical Society. She holds a B.A. in writing and secondary education from the University of Pittsburgh and an M.A. in humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas, plus certification in Jewish education from Spertus College of Judaica, Chicago. Harriet was widowed in 2014. She has two children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandsons.

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