|The poplar sides roughed out.|
Copyright © Edward Riojas
To be fair, the first one was not little. In a spur of the moment decision, I blurted out that I wanted to make my Dad’s casket. Perhaps it was my way of grieving. Maybe it was one last project of which I thought my Dad would be proud.
At any rate, I tackled a woodworking project with little to go on except the inner dimensions of a vault and the outer dimensions of a casket liner insert. That first box had to be strong enough to hold an adult and, with my heavy-handed building skills in mind, it had to be light enough to be carried by [only] six men. And, pardon the pun, there was a deadline.
Armed with lack of sleep, I shopped for lumber while store employees were hyping it up with their morning pep rally. They had no clue that their first customer was grieving and was about to begin the somber task of building a box for a man.
Fast forward a few years. There was a still-born death in the family of a friend, and the grandparents of the child were distraught over the fate of the body. Would a shoebox suffice? Was that irreverent? Was it even legal? I stepped forward and offered to build a small casket. That casket would serve as a model for successive boxes – I just didn’t expect the next one to be for my own grandchild. And then another.
|The roughed out top and bottom fitted to the sides.|
Creating these little treasure boxes – for that is what caskets and vaults are – is an act of caring of the most intimate kind. While working on them, I run my hand over the unfinished wood, knowing that it will touch the body of a fellow redeemed. I consider the box joints, knowing that the tiny joints of that infant were considered by the Lord while it was still growing in the womb. I look at the finish, and wonder if a thing so destined for hiding displays the love of a grandfather. For hours on end, this is the path my grieving takes for the least of these, my brethren.
What a stark contrast there is between these little boxes in a row and the bodies of children for which no boxes are made; for which no grieving is given; for which convenience is bartered for a life. Lord have mercy.
Here we could simply cry for the mountains to fall on us, but we do not grieve as others do. Being a peculiar man of a peculiar people, I strongly considered removing the quilted casket liner that I also made, folding it, and placing it back in the box. What a confession is made by simply folding a burial cloth and setting it to one side! We mourn here in time, but we will rejoice there, in eternity, where such cloths will have no use, and where boxes, both large and small, will finally be emptied of their treasures – including little Matthias John.
|The finished casket. The poplar box is black-stained poplar. The cross is hand-rubbed ribbon sapele. The five brass, cap nuts|
represent the five wounds of Christ. Four of them cap threaded rods passing through the box sides, holding the lid in place.