In November of 2010, after a three year battle with cancer, my mother fell asleep in the Lord. As it grew closer to the end of my mother's life, my father and I began making preliminary arrangements with the local funeral home. Funeral directors provide a necessary service in our modern society, and the people that met with us to make the funeral plans were very considerate and we were treated with respect. Nevertheless, I couldn't help but feel the pressure of picking options from a list of highly priced goods and services with no alternative. The caskets that were offered were brash and extravagant, and started around $3,000. Obviously, none of the styles resembled anything found in the Orthodox tradition.
A few weeks later, as the hospice caretakers said that my mother didn't have much time, my father and I went back to the funeral home to make some final decisions and plans. Disheartened with our options on the previous visit, I asked the funeral director if it would be possible for the family to provide the casket. She said that we could, providing it was brought to the funeral home in time. I was really surprised that it was that easy.
Unable to find a simple, more traditional coffin in the limited time that we had, the only option was to build one for her myself. Discussing it with my wife, and with much contemplation, I started construction just days before my mother's repose. With the help of my two brothers, we were able to finish the coffin at the last-minute and deliver it to the funeral preparation facility.
I had no idea what the reaction of people would be, to something so unusual and out of the ordinary, compared to what people expect to see at a funeral. To my surprise, the reaction to the coffin by our church, family and loved ones at the memorial services was overwhelmingly positive. Many people couldn't believe that I had done this, and most didn't know that something like this was even possible; the assumption being that there must be rules or laws in place to prohibit the family from providing its own casket. A number of people placed an order for themselves
One does not grow up thinking that they want to become a coffin maker and I am no different. Building a coffin for my mother was a very difficult endeavor, but the experience was very therapeutic. It is my hope that our burial coffins will provide a simple and less expensive alternative to all that seek it. I have no doubt that my mother would have loved the coffin and that she would be proud to see me endeavor on such a business. In the sermon given at my mother's funeral Liturgy, Fr. Thomas Soroka referred to a small plaque on the front door he so often saw during his home visits to my mother: "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." (Joshua 24:15). That is how my parents raised us. And so it is, through my mothers repose, that God has opened a door for my family to serve you and yours, and in so doing, serve the Lord.
July 2009 - my mother with her first grandchild, Adam
November 2010 - holding her 5 day-old grandaughter, Alexandra, 6 days before her repose
Beginning coffin construction
Last-minute finishes, Kowalcheck brothers at work
and a few told me I should seriously consider offering this to the greater Orthodox community. So, after much thought and prayer, together with my family, we decided to do just that, and Orthodox Coffins was born.
Panikhida with concelebrating clergy, St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, McKees Rocks, PA
Kowalcheck family, April 2015