WATERVILLE – Americans are afraid of death.
That’s probably why nobody signed up for Saturday’s scheduled make-your-own-coffin workshop at Barrels, in downtown Waterville.
Natural-burial and home-funeral advocate Chuck Lakin, a woodworker from Waterville who had organized the 9 a.m. workshop, said he was disappointed that his planned event did not materialize, but he added that he understands.
“Americans are really good at ignoring the fact that they’re going to die,” Lakin said from his home workshop on Barnet Street. “They don’t want to talk about it because most people have never been in a room with a dead person that wasn’t embalmed and sitting in a funeral home.
“One hundred years ago, death was a part of life. The bodies were usually taken care of at home, so you saw death. It was a personal thing.”
Lakin, 67, said he had planned to walk people through the process of building a coffin Saturday morning. He was going to hold the workshop with fellow natural-burial enthusiast Cam Weaver of Mount Vernon.
Lakin said Barrels owner David Gulak told him there had been a lot of interest in the workshop.
Nobody signed up, however, and the event was canceled.
“They’re afraid of it. People will laugh about it nervously, but the people weren’t willing to recognize that it’s going to happen and say this is a natural part of life,” he said. “I see this all the time.”
Lakin is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis who later earned a master’s degree in library science and served as the Colby College reference librarian for 22 years. He said he got started building wooden coffins when his woodworking interests merged with his belief in natural burials and his work as a Hospice volunteer.
Lakin makes four different models of pine coffins, all constructed with wooden pegs and wooden or rope handles, making the entire box biodegradable. He said a pine coffin buried three feet in the earth will degrade within a year.
He said he can teach someone to assemble a pine coffin in four or five hours.
“Death is a part of life. The opposite of death isn’t life; the opposite of death is birth, transition. It’s going to happen to everybody, and you can make it into a spiritual experience if you are aware that it can be,” he said. “I think the idea is to put your body back into the system; embalming is a tragedy. If you’re buried three feet deep, you’re composting yourself.”
Lakin said he emphasizes funeral planning in adult education classes he teaches. He said it is important to understand funeral choices and to plan ahead with legal papers all in order, writing down and discussing what you want to have happen to your body after your death.
The discussion encompasses home funerals, green cemeteries and natural burial. He said he intends to try again to hold a coffin-making workshop in the coming months.
Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at: