i thought you guys would get a kick out of this article from the NY Times…
Perhaps nowhere is the issue of obesity in America more vividly illustrated than at Goliath Casket of Lynn, Ind., specialty manufacturers of oversize coffins.
There one can see a triple-wide coffin ? 44 inches across, compared with 24 inches for a standard model. With extra bracing, reinforced hinges and handles, the triple-wide is designed to handle 700 pounds without losing what the euphemism-happy funeral industry calls its “integrity.”
When Keith and Julane Davis started Goliath Casket in the late 1980’s, they sold just one triple-wide each year. But times, along with waistlines, have changed; the Davises now ship four or five triple-wide models a month, and sales at the company have been increasing around 20 percent annually. The Davises say they base their design specifications not on demographic studies so much as on simple observations of the world around them.
“It’s just going to local restaurants or walking in a normal Wal-Mart,” Mrs. Davis said. “People are getting wider and they’re getting thicker.”
Like the airline industry, which was warned in May that passengers were heavier than they used to be, and was asked to adjust weight estimates accordingly, the funeral industry is retooling to make room for ever-larger Americans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 20 percent of American adults are obese, up from 12.5 percent in 1991. Of those 70 and older ? the demographic that most interests the funeral industry ? 17 percent are obese. Despite the numbers, nearly every aspect of the funeral industry, from the size of coffins to vaults, graves, hearses and even the standardized scoop on the front-end loaders that cemeteries use for grave-digging (it is called a “grave bucket”) is based on outdated estimates about individual size.
“Many people in this country no longer fit in the standard-size casket,” said David A. Hazelett, the president of Astral Industries, a coffin builder in Indiana. “The standard-size casket is meant to go in the standard-size vault, and the standard-size vault is meant to go into the standard-size cemetery plot. Everyone in the industry is aware of the problem.”
The Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx recently increased its standard burial plot size to four feet wide from three feet to accommodate wider burial vaults, and the cemetery’s newest mausoleum has four crypts designed especially to hold oversize coffins. The Cremation Association of North America has begun providing special training to its members in the handling of obese bodies.
And hearse manufacturers are pushing the limits of design to make their vehicles ever wider and with bigger rear doors.
"If a funeral home calls looking to buy a hearse, that’s one of the first things they ask: `How wide is it?’ " said Terry Logan, the head of marketing at Federal Coach in Fort Smith, Ark., which sells 250 hearses a year. “That’s the biggest selling point in our industry.”
Despite these changes, critics say the funeral industry has not done enough. Families of obese decedents often have to wait several days for coffins, and the cost of burial for the obese ? which can include surcharges for embalming and transportation ? typically exceed standard burials by $800 to $3,000.
“It’s not exactly rocket science that people have been getting larger; that’s been well known for 30 years,” said Allen Steadham, the executive director of the International Size-Acceptance Association, an advocacy group for the obese. “People are living larger and they’re dying larger, and industries have to adapt to that situation.”
George Lemke, the executive director of the Casket and Funeral Supply Association, said that shape more than weight determined whether someone would require an oversize coffin. But for people of average height, he said, those above 300 pounds are likely candidates.
Many families are unaware their relatives will need a special coffin until a funeral director measures the body and informs them. Some then face difficult choices. Grace Moredock of Evanston, Ill., said that in 1999, when her mother died weighing 340 pounds, the family could not afford an oversize coffin and opted for cremation. “Because of our faith and our religious belief we would have preferred to have buried her,” she said. Ms. Moredock herself weighs 400 pounds and she said the experience had affected her own funeral plans. “I’d prefer to be buried,” she said. “But I wouldn’t say to my family, `You have to bury me,’ because I wouldn’t want them to be in a bind if they couldn’t afford it.”