John Colson: Hit and Run
July 16, 2010
I was talking with a friend the other day and, as our conversations often do, the talk turned to serious social issues, such as the consequences that arise from the death of an immense person.
Immense, in this context, means obese, hugely fat, overpoweringly rotund, that sort of thing.
This is related to a national topic of conversation, the fact that a third of the U.S. population, at least, is so far beyond fit and trim as to be comical, were the circumstances not so tragic. There are said to be more than 1 billion obese persons living, and dying, on Earth today.
Anyway, my friend asked if I had ever given thought to the effects of this obesity epidemic on one segment of the economy that is ever present, ever increasing and ever misunderstood and lampooned – the business of dealing with death – and dared me to explore the matter. I hereby take that dare.
Many economic sectors have had to make allowances for our increasingly heavy population. The transportation industry, clothing manufacturers, you name it. Even carpenters, who in some cases have had to resize doors so the occupants of a new house can actually walk from one room to another, if walking is something they still are willing to do.
Well, the same is true of the death industry. Mortuaries, cemeteries, coffin manufacturers, crematoria – they’ve all had to cope.
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Take a gravedigger’s job, for one example. Instead of the historic standard size of about eight feet in length and three feet wide, diggers now must contend with graves that are more than four feet in width. That’s a lot of extra dirt to throw around.
Of course, many cemeteries now employ machines to dig the graves, but here again, accommodations have been made. One website referred to a need to retrofit the backhoes with wider buckets in cases where the deceased is of, shall we say, a greater-than-typical girth.
Then there are the coffins. The website funeralcaskets.com reports that for a long time the standard size has been around 84 inches long, 28 inches wide, and 23 inches tall, designed to fit the average person’s body size of about 60 inches long (6 feet), 18 inches wide and 6 inches high. That’s been true since the 1800s, according to the website.
But these days there are “oversize” caskets that are about 52 inches wide. That’s more than four feet wide. There is even a company dedicated to the outsized casket market – Goliath Caskets of Lynne, Ind., which boasts that its steel caskets can hold up to 1,000 pounds.
Even an outsized casket isn’t always big enough. Funeralcaskets.com relates a story about a Cincinnati family that reacted in horror when they realized their 500-pound mom had to be literally stuffed into her oversized casket. And even after the stuffing, the lid wouldn’t close and she was buried with the casket partially open.
Before the outsized-casket market took hold, people were reportedly using piano crates to bury their oversized loved ones. A highly specialized kind of recycling, that.
As for the need to find a crematorium to deal with an oversized corpse, well, let’s just say that this particular sector seems to be a little late in catching up, but they’re working on it.
Then there are the added costs associated with burying the obese. In England recently, there was a national uproar when the funereal industry started charging extra for burying the deceased obese. Another website, thefamilyplot.wordpress.com, doesn’t give specifics but assures us that, in every way, dying obese costs more than dying skinny.
I won’t get into the societal underpinnings of this issue. That’s a topic for another day, or perhaps another lifetime.
I offer this merely as, if you’ll pardon the expression, food for thought as you go about your daily activities.