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Watch How New Zealanders Add Life to Death with 'Coffin Clubs'

Building their own coffins sparks creativity, saves money and offers agency

By Grace Birnstengel

After attending so many funerals that rarely reflected the vibrant lives of friends and family they were meant to honor, a group of fed-up older people in Rotorua, New Zealand created what they call a Coffin Club.

In a short documentary video (with a whimsical musical number) from Loading Docs, members of the Kiwi Coffin Club gather to construct and decorate their own future coffins. They also have tea and support each other through the process of aging, proving that preparing for death doesn’t have to be grim and dark.

“Once you get past 73, funerals come too frequently — so pricey and no personality,” sings the star of the video, Jean McGaffin, a club founder. “What’s the point of living a life that’s colorful and bold, and then you’re told, ‘This is how your exit’s going to be: boring!’”

Coffin Clubs Catching On

The Kiwi Coffin Club in Rotorua, founded in 2010, now has more than 60 active members rebelling against boring funerals, according to the filmmakers, and many clubs have sprouted up in other cities in New Zealand as well.

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In the video, Coffin Club members dance and sing about forgetting traditional gold and mahogany for coffins and instead building lovely, affordable and unique coffins with nods to their individual interests and personalities. One coffin is decked out with Elvis imagery; another is covered in painted flowers and a poem called “Wild Daisies.”

“We’ve removed the mystique. We’ve got the control. ‘Cause face it, a funeral’s got to have soul,” the group sings.

While talking about end-of-life choices is sometimes taboo or avoided, these New Zealanders are boldly and bravely taking decisions into their own hands before someone else does for them. And in their words, “It’s more than a club. It’s a community.”

Grace Birnstengel
Grace Birnstengel is an editor, reporter and writer for Next Avenue where she focuses on in-depth storytelling and the intersections of identity and aging. Prior to Next Avenue she spent years covering music, arts and culture both locally and nationally. Read More
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