A casket is a vital component of every funeral service. It expresses dignity, respect and integrity, yet serves a more practical purpose as well. A casket is, “a rigid container which is designed for the encasement of human remains and which is usually constructed of wood, metal, or like material, and ornamented and lined with fabric.” (Federal Trade Commission, FTC)
The FTC, as a definition for a casket, publishes the previous statement. There are often misconceptions regarding caskets. In an attempt to clarify these misconceptions, this article will address the outer or main construction materials that make up a casket, and the purposes thereof.
Caskets are simply boxes that hold human remains. While it is true that different caskets have varying options and levels of functionality, they all share the same basic purpose, encasing human remains.
Caskets are constructed of rigid materials. Rigidity is a vital component of a casket. If the bottom and sides of caskets were not rigid, one would be unable to move the decedent from one place to another proficiently and with dignity. The rigidness of the casket allows the funeral personnel and pallbearers to transport the decedent to where it needs to be, in an adequate fashion.
The types of rigid materials used in the construction of caskets vary and each has unique qualities of usefulness. Caskets made of steel, stainless steel, copper or bronze, are very strong. There are various thicknesses of these metals used in casket manufacturing. An important fact to remember is that the smaller the gauge, the thicker the metal. One might ask, “Why does the thickness of metal matter?” I would answer, “In most cases, it does not." The cases in which it will matter depend on the weight of the decedent and the absence of a vault. If a vault is not used and the thickness of the casket is on the thin side, the casket may crush onto the deceased, under the weight of the earth as it is returned and packed into the ground or possibly at a later date as the metal decays.
Another building material used in the manufacturing of caskets is wood. Wood is beautiful, dignified and warm. Caskets made from wood are the most beautiful of all caskets. They can be carved and stained to any request. A wood casket, however, is almost certain to collapse onto the decedent as the earth is returned into the grave. If it does not, wood will be one of the quickest caskets to decay. Once decay begins, the casket will collapse onto the deceased.
A third building material commonly used in casket manufacturing is cardboard. Some companies may call this material pasteboard or corrugated fiberboard or any other combination of those words, but in reality, these caskets are made of cardboard. The same type of cardboard out of which moving boxes are constructed. It goes without saying, without a vault, this type of casket is going collapsing onto the deceased as the earth is returned to the grave.
A newer composition material used in casket manufacturing is fiberglass. This material can be strong and can last for quite some time. In some cases, fiberglass caskets may resemble steel caskets. In choosing this type of casket, one must use one’s best judgment and thoroughly inspect the craftsmanship of the fabricator.
In certain areas of the country, green caskets are gaining in popularity. Green caskets are made from a reed type of material, rather like a willow basket. Of course, one knows that baskets crumple easily; therefore, one may deduce that these caskets will readily collapse onto the deceased as the earth is returned to the grave. Green caskets are often more expensive than cardboard caskets, yet function within the same parameters. If you are green minded and want to save funds, the cardboard casket, although not nearly as pleasing to the eye, might be your casket of choice.
Perhaps you have walked through a cemetery and noticed certain graves seem to have fallen or sunken by eight or nine inches. The reason a grave collapses is that having given way under the pressure of the earth’s weight, the casket has collapsed onto the deceased. These sunken graves most likely did not utilize the stabilizing features of a grave liner or vault. Some caskets may remain intact for several days, some for several months. Copper or bronze caskets, may stay intact beyond several months. These caskets are rather expensive though, and if one is investing a great amount of money into a casket, one should probably consider protecting that investment with a vault. The fact remains, regardless of the amount of money paid for a casket, without the stabilizing strength of a vault to fortify the grave; your casket will eventually collapse onto the deceased.
Vaults are not required by law; however, some cemeteries may mandate their use. If you have forgone a vault, be aware and mentally prepare for your loved one's grave to collapse in on them, at some point in time. Although optional, a vault is a good investment if you want to preserve the integrity of your loved one’s casket.
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am a funeral director, author and freelance writer. I write books, weekly articles and brief tips on understanding and coping with grief. It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.
Please follow my blog at http://pushin-up-daisies.blogspot.com/, follow me on Twitter @PushnUpDaisies and visit my website for additional encouragement and information at www.QueenCityFuneralHome.com.