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Sunday 17 December 2017

How scourge of obesity is grave problem for funeral directors

Father and son William and Alec Paton
Father and son William and Alec Paton


'SUPER-SIZED' coffins and caskets are being specially made to accommodate corpses too big for standard designs

Nearly 40 per cent of the Irish adult population is now officially overweight, with almost two out of 10 diagnosed as clinically obese.

And as a nation we are also taller than we were just a generation ago. Weight and size issues are now literally following people to the grave.

Funeral directors, pallbearers, gravediggers and those who run the country's crematoria are being forced to deal with the issue of larger people who have died – while being conscious of the sensitivities of the grieving.

In the US and the UK funeral directors have spent millions fitting funeral parlours to include hoists capable of lifting weights of up to 50 stones as well installing larger refrigeration facilities and widening doorways.

JJ Kennedy, managing director of Dublin-based Legacy Funerals, said his staff must now discreetly enquire about a deceased person's weight in order to assess the type of coffin needed and the number of attendants required to transport.

He has recently purchased two "super-sized" reinforced gurneys known as "one-man-band stretchers" that expand to a larger size and can hold weights of up to 45 stone.

"We've never had them up until now," he told the Sunday Independent.

One woman's final request that she rest at her home prior to her burial had to be denied because the coffin needed to accommodate her wouldn't fit through the front door.

"You'd have to stand the coffin up and turn it on its side to get in the door, which would cause the body to move, which we wouldn't do."

Mr Kennedy said there is no question that his clients are getting larger.

"As a base figure, about two or three out of 10 are obese and that figure is growing," he added.

He now has to order specially-made "super-sized" coffins which are considerably larger than the standard coffin which measures 23 inches across.

But for him, the biggest issue is the logistics around transporting larger bodies and determining how many attendants are needed to transport the body or to carry the deceased as pallbearers, without putting their own health and safety at risk, he said.

"If a person passes away at home, we have to handle their removal with professionalism and sensitivity.

"We may have to ask the family discreetly if they are large, which can be very upsetting for a family that is grieving," Mr Kennedy said.

"I've heard of situations where people had to use the fire brigade to get a person out. That may be the way it's going."

John Stafford, owner of the Staffords Funeral Homes chain, said he is also seeing "a higher proportion of bigger people being buried," over the past five years.

His family's business is now in the third generation and he says that plus-size funerals not only pose additional challenges for funeral directors, it also means that gravediggers have to dig larger graves.

"Most graves measure two feet across but with the bigger person it goes up by two or three inches," he said.

Making a larger coffin or casket can add between €150 to €500 to the price, while gravediggers will typically charge an extra €200 to widen a plot, he added.

The nation's growing obesity problem also affects crematoria. One deceased person whose remains were to be cremated at Mount Jerome in Dublin had to be transferred to the UK for cremation because his coffin was too big to fit into the standard facilities.

At the municipal Cambridge City Crematorium in the UK the local city council was forced to spend more than €175,000 (£145,000) in 2010 to install larger incineration facilities capable of handling coffins up to 43 inches wide.

Sunday Independent

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