In New Zealand, the senior set aren’t sitting around waiting to die. Instead, they’re actively preparing for it. Coffin clubs — weekly get-togethers where members build coffins and discuss death — are all the rage on this island down under. Former hospice nurse Katie Williams founded the first club in Rotorua in 2010. Her purpose was to help others get comfortable with and even celebrate their own impending demise. The original Rotorua club enjoyed celebrating so much, in fact, they created a four-minute short film about their club. And it is AWESOME. The stars of the show are the club’s very own 70-plus-years-young members. They donned sequins and learned new dance moves, said Williams, “despite the aches in their hips and knees and things.” The Rotorua coffin club submitted their video to National Geographic and won recognition as an official selection in the publication’s Short Film Showcase.
Funeral directors unnecessary? You may have noticed the funeral director character “shushing” the singers and admonishing the club for “taking business away.” The rising cost of funerals definitely plays into the clubs’ rapidly growing membership. This was the case for Jean McGaffin, the red-clad star of the video, who passed away in December 2017 shortly after completing the film. “Thanks to coffin clubs,” she told National Geographic, “funeral costs are brought down to a bare minimum, and a funeral director is almost unnecessary.”
Coffin kits assembled by the clubs start at about $200 and are made of MDF. However, the average cost of a casket in New Zealand is closer to $5000. The club members are all about frugality. Some are even using their completed coffins in their current homes as coffee tables. One member explained the practice this way to The New York Times: “We like to say it is only a box until you put someone in it.”