Funeral Consumers Alliance ‘paying it forward’ by crafting, donating infant coffins

  • Kate Mason of Greenfield puts a finish on an infant coffin she and others are making for Empty Arms, a bereavement support group based in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Elisabeth Bristow of Northampton, Joan Pillsbury of Gill and Kate Mason of Greenfield discuss the design of coffins for infants in Jonathan LaGreze’s workshop in Colrain. The coffins are being donated to Empty Arms, a bereavement support group based in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Elisabeth Bristow of Northampton and Joan Pillsbury of Gill make coffins for infants in Jonathan LaGreze’s workshop in Colrain. The coffins are being donated to Empty Arms, a bereavement support group based in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Jonathan LaGreze of Colrain and Carol Coan of Greenfield make coffins for infants in LaGreze’s home workshop. The coffins are being donated to Empty Arms, a bereavement support group based in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 6/8/2021 4:38:12 PM

COLRAIN — Everything about Jonathan LaGreze’s home workshop appeared typical during a recent woodworking session — the sound of saws whirring, the scent of sawdust. Except, the product crafted wasn’t so ordinary.

Six handcrafted coffins for babies constructed at the Colrain workshop are being donated to Empty Arms, a bereavement support group based in Florence.

The Funeral Consumers Alliance of Western Massachusetts organized the event as a way to provide a coffin for grieving families who may not be able to afford one.

Joan Pillsbury, a member of the board of trustees, said the workshop was one way they could help people overcome a tragic loss.

“When an infant dies, it’s a time of sadness and overwhelming, and sometimes people don’t have money to buy a coffin,” Pillsbury said. “We’re donating them to Empty Arms and also putting together a plan, so if somebody wanted to build one themselves.”

The idea for building infant coffins came from an adult coffin workshop the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Western Massachusetts held a few years ago. After reaching out to Empty Arms, the group decided to set a date.

Pillsbury said building the coffins is an “emotional” experience and that each one is built with “some love.”

“I did work in the maternity unit at Baystate Franklin in Greenfield, so I have been with families that have lost an infant and it’s overwhelming,” Pillsbury explained. “The really wonderful part of it is to be able to give to these folks in need, and to make it something beautiful and something handmade.”

Kate Mason, another board of trustees member, said the workshop provided perspective on the tragedies that necessitate the coffins.

“If you think about the tiny, little babies that will be going in there, and the impact on the parents who, of course, had not considered needing a coffin,” Mason said, “it felt very important and valuable, and heartfelt.”

Mason said this act of kindness through the coffin-building workshop was a way of helping those in the community who need it.

“It’s this kind of paying it forward,” Mason said. “It’s just one way of being a good community person and activist, and caring.”

Carol McMurrich, founder and director of Empty Arms, said providing grieving families with a coffin is a helpful act because the funeral industry is “very generous” with infants, but will not always cover coffin expenses.

“We can typically cover the cost of people’s cremation because they’re less expensive,” McMurrich explained. “But we can’t completely cover the cost of burial and this will tap into that.”

McMurrich said covering burial expenses alleviates some of the grief these families are going through.

“They’re so relieved because it’s just a terrible decision to make,” McMurrich said. “You’re a person who is expected to have a joyful new baby and suddenly you’re now told, ‘OK, now you have to decide, do you want to cremate your baby or bury your baby?’”

Empty Arms provides various forms of bereavement counseling and community-building, but McMurrich said providing baby coffins is a new opportunity to reach out.

“It’s really just about connecting people to each other and giving people a place where they can be who they are,” McMurrich said. “This example of being able to say, ‘Hey, not only are we able to chip in $500 for your burial, we can also provide a coffin — a beautiful, handmade coffin.’”

McMurrich emphasized the personal aspect of the work that Empty Arms does, and said the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Western Massachusetts’ work is very thoughtful.

“One of the things that’s really important in the work that we do is, everything that we give people we like to personalize it,” McMurrich said. “The fact that these coffins were handmade by people who had this idea and want to support the community is incredibly meaningful.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or at 413-930-4081.




Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

Copyright © 2020 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy