Making the Final Journey Home

Making the Final Journey Home

My friend Larry Marten’s father passed away last week and Larry set out to build his coffin. But figuring how to build a coffin was the easy part of this DIY story.

The Coffin Larry Built

Larry wanted to bring his father’s body from the hospital in Sacramento to the mortuary in his hometown about 60 miles north. He was told by the hospital and its doctors that there was no way he could do it. Yet he wouldn’t take no for an answer and his persistence is the real DIY story here.

He was required to get a permit from the county to transport his father. The woman at the county office said that they don’t issue permits to individuals but to businesses licensed to do this work. She refused to issue the permit but Larry refused to leave without one. He thinks that he just finally wore her down and he got the permit.

At every point, he met resistance as though it was the craziest thing they’d ever heard of. Only professionals are allowed to do it, he was told, and there are all kinds of regulations. He was determined, however, and in the end, everyone at the hospital and county turned around and became helpful and came to respect his decision.

Larry said they brought his father’s body out on the stretcher to the loading dock, which was strangely situated next to the cafeteria. He picked up his father, and by himself, placed the body in the coffin in the back of his truck. Larry told me that he felt his father was with him, driving up I-5 to the small town of Orland.

When he got the body to the mortuary, the mortician couldn’t believe it. Earlier in the day, the mortician had said that there was no way Larry would be allowed to move the body himself.

After a day, the mortician called Larry to say that the coffin he built was too large, despite the fact that the same mortician had given him the dimensions. He said it wouldn’t fit inside the vinyl vault that goes in the ground before the coffin. Larry asked if it was necessary and they said the vault was required. (You’d think they could dig a bigger hole if needed.) The mortician called back and said that maybe they could pour a vault out of concrete, but they’d have to remove the handles from the coffin. Larry had saved hinges and pulls from his father’s family farmhouse in Nebraska and had put them on the coffin.

Larry is a retired UPS driver and he loves woodworking, which he does in his garage. This is where he made his father’s coffin, and where he kept collected pieces of lumber and things like the pulls he had recovered from a visit to Nebraska.

The mortuary had insisted on the vault, and they would charge several thousand dollars for it. Finally, even they relented The mortician called back mid-week to say that the vault wasn’t really required, after all.

Larry’s father was 92 years old when he died, and last Friday, he was buried in a finely crafted coffin of his son’s own making. It was the end of a long journey back home.

DIY Coffin-Making

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DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

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