When Mom goes, she’ll go in her own box!

My Mom, who is quite a character (for those of you who don’t know her). She loves wood. She loves birds eye maple. She adores butternut. She can do wonders with red cedar. She has a well supplied woodworking shop and last summer she presented us with a picnic table for the rock outcrop at our cottage. She built it herself. It is so well bolted that it will never fall apart. Constructed of cedar, it even has hinged feet in the middle of each seat to drop down if a heavy person sits in the middle.

It’s a nice touch.

My Mom is 76. Nearly 77.

So, it came as no surprise to me recently when we were looking at some wood and Mom announced that she thought she’d build her own coffin.

It made perfect sense to me. She said she loves wood, she loves working with wood. And she’d like something simple, not too elaborate, maybe lined with a red plaid wool blanket or a Hudson’s Bay blanket. I told her there are lots of coffin patterns on the internet if she wanted me to download a few.

She thought she’d like to design her own. But not just yet.

And then we joked about the potential problem of building her coffin in her basement workshop and not being able to get the thing out of the basement when the time came. You can imagine where this led us.

Anyway, I digress. All this left me thinking about the value of doing things in a personal, different way when we’re saying goodbye to people we love. And that’s where Cheryl Belshaw comes in. Cheryl runs a transfer service, an alternative to traditional funeral home services where the body of the deceased is present for the service.

Through her company, Peaceful Transition, Cheryl offers dignity, simplicity in memorialization, with cost options that many families find attractive. Cheryl points out that having a simple service… a memorial in a park, an at-home service for friends… is an increasingly popular alternative as people re-think the expense of going the traditional route.

While a transfer service like Cheryl’s is licenced by the Board of Funeral Services in Toronto, it is set up to provide the public with inexpensive, dignified alternatives, coordinated memorials or masses where cremated remains may be present, but no body available for viewing.

Cheryl has been entrusted with many interesting memorials. She recalls one man whose family gathered at his cottage where his jazz band assembled to play for his loved ones in his memory.

She says that often executors will ask her to handle an entire arrangement if they have re-located and are unable to return until it’s time for the service. That kind of trust gives her real satisfaction when she has the opportunity to meet people’s needs.

Cheryl commented on the simplicity of the recent memorial service of John and Caroline Kennedy. She notes a growing interest in simple memorials which allow people to retain memories and add personal elements to their choice of official farewells.

She says she feels it’s important to give people literature which clearly costs out their options so they can move forward without wondering about what the financial impact. She says her last three years in Barrie have proven to her the need for economical options, memorial services or masses, graveside services with cremation or burial.

Now, I don’t expect that we’ll be dealing with my Mom’s plans in the near future, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the saw start up, and watch Mom countersink the screws as she plans her own final transportation system, prior to getting her wings. Her biggest challenge will be selecting which of her favourite woods to use! I can’t help think that this process somehow brings us in touch with the reality of life and death. You certainly can’t beat Mom’s attitude!