A loaded funeral: John’s gun cartridge coffin

A gold and red coffin that looks like an ammunition cartridge in the back of a hearse.

There are people who fear death and then there’s John – hilarious, practical, a retired engineer, a clay shooting enthusiast, and a family man.

John Wood died on December 14. And he was ready.

His funeral was in Melbourne yesterday (30/12). He’d planned his own farewell with funeral director Carly Dalton and had designed his own coffin, rolling out the plans at his kitchen table when Carly came to visit.

John presented Carly from Greenhaven Funeral Services with his coffin plans during a funeral planning meeting.
Photo: Greenhaven Funeral Services

The gun cartridge coffin

And oh what a coffin! John was a keen clay target shooter so his coffin is shaped like a gun cartridge and made from cardboard tubing that fits snugly over a hand-made timber tray.

Note the name on the bullet. Winchester is a company that makes rifles and shotguns. ‘Woodchester’ is John’s personal brand, so to speak. 🙂
Also to note, it is not uncommon to have the deceased in your home, enabling mourners personal moments to pay their respects and then have beers with their loved one or a chat in the backyard.
Photo: Greenhaven Funeral Services

John’s two carpenter sons made two coffins – the fun gun cartridge one for the funeral and a quirky, yet practical one for the cremation itself.

His plan was to be brought home after his funeral so family and friends could have a relaxed day and night remembering the good times, sharing memories and saying farewell. And, while tinged with sadness, they would no doubt smile every time they glanced over to John’s very personal and unique coffin. That’s what personalising funerals and memorials can do – provide solace, comfort, peace, and the occassional smile or laugh during the grieving process.

Hitting the target: Planning the farewell

Funeral director Carly has organised the funerals of John’s wife and daughter in recent years.

“John had the presence of mind before recent major surgery to arrange a funeral planning meeting for himself,” said Carly.

“He was going into hospital for a triple bypass and had a complication which saw him stay in hospital. He’d ring me and say that if the heart didn’t kill him, the food would. He was not afraid of death at all!”

Carly Dalton, Greenhaven Funeral Services

John rang the crematorium himself to get the permitted coffin measurements. (Once an engineer, always an engineer). His family was with him every step of the way.
Photo: Carly at Greenhaven Funeral Services

In his sights: the coffin messages

When you’re cremated, you’re put into a furnace called a cremator. There are size restrictions and there are also restrictions on what materials can go into the chamber.

Much like a bride changing into a honeymoon outfit, John will be cremated in a more practical coffin today, New Year’s Eve. This one is made of particle board, and it’s been decorated on the inside as well as outside. Inside is a picture of Uluru, which he loved. There’s also stars and planets. And mourners will write messages on the inside lid “so he can read the messages while he’s lying there”.

John even rang the crematorium himself to get the permitted coffin measurements. (Once an engineer, always an engineer).

John’s cremation casket has been decorated on the outside with indigenous colours. Photo: Greenhaven Funeral Services

Arming the family

All this planning, well before John was even dead, allowed his family to address John’s mortality together. It’s allowed them to mourn and celebrate John just as he wanted. What a wonderful gift John gave his family. They were able to begin their grief journey while he was still alive to hear their words and see their loving actions. Beautiful memories were made while John, his sons and grandsons were working on his coffins. Imagine the laughter and the genuine hugs and conversations that were had.

So what will become of the gun cartridge coffin now that John’s funeral is over? Well, John has organised for it to be transported to his shooting club where his mates there will hold their own memorial aka a celebration of John’s life. He wants the coffin burnt on a pyre.  Hilarious.

Lessons to be learned from John

  1. Talk to your family about what you want for your funeral, even if you think you’re not going to die anytime soon. You can write your plans and your life’s reflections in The Bottom Drawer Book for when the time finally comes. It will help them at a difficult time.
  2. Find a funeral director you trust and can have open, candid discussions with. I urge you to shop around until you find the right funeral director for you or your loved one’s needs, just like Carly from Greenhaven was the right funeral director for John and his family. Many funeral directors remain traditional which is great if you want a traditional funeral. But these days there are also funeral directors who embrace quirky ideas and will do everything they can to accommodate your needs.
  3. Funerals do not have to ‘fit the mould’. John was obviously a practical and good-humoured bloke. His lifestyle became his deathstyle.

“While people will be sad when you die, your funeral needn’t be a gloomy affair. Your funeral can be a celebration of who you are, offering peace, solace, a hangover, and happy memories for those who are grieving …”
“As well as giving your family and friends peace of mind, an outline of how you’d like to be farewelled will help prevent any confusion, additional grief, or family squabbling.”

The Bottom Drawer Book: the after death action plan

Stay tuned for updates

In coming days I’ll add photos of John’s completed cremation coffin and, in a few weeks, his gun club coffin pyre. And follow Greenhaven Funeral’s facebook page for updates too.

“Make me a celebrity”

Good-natured and jovial John Wood gave permission to share his story before he died. “Make me a celebrity” he said. So here we are. Let’s give him what he wanted.

Rest easy, John.

About the author

Author Lisa Herbert

Lisa Herbert is a death awareness advocate, a cemetery wanderer, journalist, and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: the after death action plan – an informative, modern, and quirky workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. The third edition is available in Australia for $29.95.  For international buyers, The Bottom Drawer eBook is AU$11.99 on Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, Booktopia and Google Books. To purchase, click HERE.

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