A beautiful pine box

I read the most interesting article in last Sunday's New York Times. It was titled, "Ashes to Ashes" and was written by Jeffrey M. Piehler, a retired thoracic surgeon. He has been living with Stage 4 incurable prostate cancer for 11 years. His journey is coming to an end.

The suggested remaining treatments for him are "minor modifications of previous failures." His bones are riddled with cancer, and he now needs pain medication to get through the day.

What is fascinating – and the reason I like this guy so much – is that he has decided to make his own coffin.  He decided this after attending a service where the person was laid out in a lavish mahogany casket with the intention of being cremated the next day. That didn't make any sense, and I agree.

Jeffrey's idea was to make something practical and meaningful. He called a an artist who works in wood. The artist was hesitant at first, but he could see how this project could be wonderful therapy for a person getting ready to make a transition from this life.

They found the pine, and they sanded, shaped and constructed a beautiful pine box.  It was plain, but beautiful and practical.  What ensued was a deepening friendship born out of conversation about what happens when we leave this earth.  They talked about what each of them wished to accomplish in their last days.  They talked about regrets and the sadness of leaving their loved ones.  They joked about whether the pine box had a lifetime guarantee.

Wow. To me, this was as good as it gets. A beautiful partnership between two men who really didn't know each other.

I have wondered myself why people spend so much money on these lavish coffins? To me, it makes no sense.

When the time is right, I will enlist the services of a craftsman who can build a pine coffin with me.   I can then attend a celebration of my life, which I will watch from above.  I will feel proud about my closed pine box.  Making the box will be a labor of love, as well as a time to make that mental transition.  What a beautiful thought.

Jeffrey Piehler, you are one amazing guy!  Thanks for sharing this experience with all of us.  Safe travels, my friend.

Engraved on the underside of his coffin's lid is a line from Jeffrey's favorite poem: "I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night."