The Coffin Club

members of the U3A Coffin Club in Rotorua, New Zealand. Picture by Katie Williams.
members of the U3A Coffin Club in Rotorua, New Zealand. Picture by Katie Williams.

I sometimes struggle to find a theme about the U3A, around which I can construct my monthly article and this month was no different, until three events, not all happy, coincided to give me exactly what I was looking for, writes Caroline Green.

This month’s theme may catch a few people unawares but given the ethos of the U3A, and the demographic of its membership, it is entirely appropriate.

This month I had a birthday and have now entered my 75th year. The day before my birthday I spotted a programme due to be transmitted on the BBC World Service, about the Coffin Club in Rotorua, New Zealand. What delighted me was that it was a member of the U3A in Rotorua who had started it.

The programme had been produced by Cathy FitzGerald, a writer and radio producer, who had heard about the success of this very individual and thriving group. For once it wasn’t being transmitted in the middle of the night so I knew I wouldn’t be alone listening to it in the wee small hours.

The half hour programme was a delight to listen to. The members of the group talked about how celebrating events and milestones in our lives; births, marriages, divorces, significant achievements and birthdays is perfectly normal and acceptable.

We hold parties and give gifts in celebration, however, the one thing we never prepare for, is our own death. The idea is somehow taboo in many societies including our own. If we are fortunate enough to live a full life and live to a ripe old age, death is something we must be expect, as none of us are immortal, even though we may think we are.

The idea behind the U3A Coffin Club is to design and prepare our own coffin for use at the end of our lives. People are as individual in death as they are in life and a personalised coffin can pay tribute to the person who has died. The Coffin Club is all about learning about all the choices that are available for your end of life celebration. I looked up the movement in the UK and find that the Coffin Club has a Facebook page and a Patron in Miriam Margolyes. Her refreshing approach to dying is exactly that…. refreshing.

She says: “Preparing my funeral with Coffin Club was not only a meaningful and practical experience: it was hilarious. I enjoyed every moment and I am hoping to return for a refresher – if one can have a ‘refresher’ funeral. My coffin is ready, it fits me, better than most of my dresses and when I die, I know everything is taken care of at a fraction of the cost of most undertakers. Everyone who’s going to die should come to Coffin Club.”

I said at the start of this report that several events came together to provide me with a theme this month. One was my birthday, the second one was the BBC programme and the third and most important was the news that three friends had died this month, two of whom were regular U3A group members. They were all delightful people and much loved and will be greatly missed by family and friends. In two cases the deaths were expected after a diagnosis of terminal illness, and one was totally unexpected. These three friends have made me think very carefully about how I would like to prepare for my own death so that I can get on with living the rest of my life. I now know that if I am prepared for my own death this will reassure my family that they have as little to do as possible and that while I am preparing for my own funeral I will be having fun with a couple of friends who have already told me they are wanting to do the same. We will meet and plan and eat cake and learn, laugh and live as the new U3A logo suggest we do.

Maybe the U3A in Wetherby can be a leader in the field and care for its members in a way that many of us hadn’t foreseen when we were younger. Keep an eye on the website and we’ll see what transpires! www.wetherbyu3a.org.uk

Pictured are members of the U3A Coffin Club in Rotorua, New Zealand. Picture by Katie Williams.