A Grave New Trend: Caskets Get Bigger to Fit the Obese

Jun 18, 2010
Megan Bedard is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.
No, that&39;s not a bed; it&39;s an extra large casket. A normal sized casket lies open in the background. 

As the obesity epidemic spreads from table to table across America, shirt sizes and airplane seats have had to adjust. Size XL kids' clothes at Old Navy, for example, are big enough to fit a smallish 20-something female.

But there's another trend that you might not have considered: extra large in the after life. 

Twenty years ago, people who buried overweight loved ones usually had to pay for a custom-made coffin to accommodate the bigger-than-average body. But as Americans go to their final resting places much larger than the generations that came before them, standard casket sizes, too, are increasing.

The average casket is 28 inches wide. At 52 inches wide, the caskets at Goliath Casket are nearly double in size. Keith Davis, who owns the company, says the need for larger units is a matter of dignity. Families want to put [obese] loved ones to rest with "the same integrity, the same closure and celebration of life as you or I would want."

Dignity is no easy accomplishment for the family of an obese person who has passed away. Many cremation facilities cannot accommodate an extra large body, and even if they could, the amount of fat on an obese person's body makes cremation very difficult.

Even oversized coffins alter the way the funeral process plays out. Caskets often have to be turned sideways to fit through doors, meaning the body inside bounces around, and they do not fit in hearses, so instead are carried by way of a cargo van or flatbed truck.

Jamie Oliver visited a funeral home in Huntingon, West Virginia, that makes oversize coffins. He went to make a point about obesity as a life and death matter. The owner of the home, David, told him it has introduced a whole new layer of difficulty to the grieving process: 

"More and more a part of our job [is] to prepare a family to understand that their loved one is so large that you're not going to be able to have a traditional viewing," he says. "[The casket] has to be transported in the back of a cargo van. It will not fit in a hearse. ...The cemetery's going to require you to have two grave spaces."

Davis says the same of his own experience. Goliath caskets, built by five people and designed to hold up over 1,000 pounds, are reminiscent of a compact car. Gone are the days of six pallbearers transporting a casket to the burial site; these oversized boxes have to be moved with "some kind of machinery," Davis says. 

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