Caskets, Coffins, and Shrouds

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, a casket is shaped like a box, while a coffin is tapered and has six sides rather than four. To shroud a body simply means to wrap it in cloth.

Although caskets are often purchased from a funeral home, they can be built by friends or family, custom made on the island, ordered on-line, or purchased locally. In days past, it was the furniture makers in a community who would often build caskets. Evergreen Coffin Company in Royston supplies simple, attractive, economical boxes built from local wood. Funeral homes are obligated to use the casket you provide, given it meets the legal requirements for safety.

Building a casket with friends and family can be a meaningful way to connect and contribute. There are plans on the internet and, although some are quite elaborate, even the simplest homemade box using local wood is lovely. The size can be customized for the body it will contain; the common size is 78” long, 24” wide and 12” deep. Keep in mind that seasoned wood is significantly lighter than green wood.

For a natural burial, the casket must be mostly biodegradable. In most green cemeteries, including those on Cortes, nails, screws, and glue can be used. Rather than metal handles, a wooden running board or biodegradable rope is often attached to the sides. Anything placed inside the casket must also be biodegradable.

A body can be shrouded rather than clothed. For a natural burial it is common to wrap the body in cotton, linen, bamboo, silk, or wool. Shrouds can be sewn or purchased. Large pieces of cloth, such as flat bed sheets, work well. The CINDEA website shows how sheets can be used to wrap a body, and the video FUNERALS (How to Shroud The Deceased) Ustadh Baajour shows an elegant method of shrouding using three sheets, which can be prepared ahead of time. Family and friends stitching a shroud closed is an intimate way to be with the body.

The shrouded body can then be placed in a biodegradable casket, or the body could be buried without a casket. When no casket is used, the body is tied to a shrouding board, or 10 to 12” wide plank the length of the body. This provides the rigidity needed to carry the body, and to lower it into the grave. In some designs, the shroud contains a slot for the board to be slipped into. During transport, the body must be inside a box.

For cremation, the box, and everything inside it, must be combustible. Pacemakers need to be removed from the body. A cardboard cremation casket is an affordable choice and more ecological than plywood, which is often used but sends additional toxins into the atmosphere. The DeathCaring Collective has cardboard boxes on the island, which can be used for cremation or burial.

Thinking about a casket and/or shroud before it is needed can give you the time to make a more creative, affordable, and ecological choice.