Preparing a service using
an oversize casket will challenge your skills and
perseverance. The problems are many and are hidden. With
some good planning and well-placed questions, you will be
able to give the family a unique celebration of life with
honor and dignity.
THE BIGGER PEOPLE:
There are three types of Funeral
Those who have dealt with a large body
Those who will deal with a large body
Those who wish they hadn’t
According to the Center for
In 1990, ten states had a
prevalence of obesity less than 10%.
In2007, thirty states had a
prevalence of obesity equal to or greater than 25%.
Obesity: having a very high amount of
body fat in relation to lean body mass (BMI) of 30 or
OK! You know people are getting
bigger, but what do you need to know?
WHAT’S AN OVERSIZE CASKET?
Caskets have never been
categorized according to width and depth. Many funeral
directors are familiar with the terms “one x, two x, three
x,” but what does that mean? It seems that there is no
uniform definition of oversize.
Standard caskets are
between 24 and 27 inches wide at the hardware panel, and 80
to 88 inches long. An oversize casket is anything larger
than a standard casket. Most of the major casket
manufacturers carry a line of oversize caskets.
Here are a few questions
you may want to ask your distributor.
1. What sizes do you carry
in stock and in what color?
2. How deep is the casket
box, and how much belly clearance is there when I close the
3. How long will it take
to receive an oversize casket?
4. What is the maximum
weight this casket is rated?
5. Is there a vault
The best thing to do at
this point is to begin a file folder of resources for
oversize caskets and vaults.
THE PAIN – THE PAIN
The easiest way to handle
an obese funeral is to refer the family to your competitor,
but that rarely works, especially if you picked up the body
strapped to two hospital mattresses, (oh – the pain!)
There is nothing standard about an
obese body. Everything you do from here on out will be
Preparation for the oversize funeral
must include everything. Do not assume anything. Here is an
outline of things you will want to consider before
committing to the funeral service.
A. Get an accurate body measurement.
1. Measure the shoulders,
elbows, hips, length
2. Measure body
thickness. Try to do this on the embalming table or a flat,
Do not try to do
this from the hospital bed.
B. Moving the body. Here, you will
need to think “outside the box” (bad pun). Here are a few
1. You may enlist the aid
of the fire department.
2. Some funeral homes have
used a small tractor with a hydraulic front end loader.
3. A standard engine hoist
4. Check the load rating
on your body lift. Many are only rated at a maximum of 400
5. You may need body strap
extensions. I recommend you use extra straps.
6. Check the load limit of
the carts and embalming table.
1. Check the hearse door
opening. Measure the clear area between the wheel wells.
Measure the door opening between the left side of the
opening to the door latch post on the right side. If your
casket is longer than a standard, check the clear length
from the front to the rear casket lock.
2. Here are a few
suggestions for alternative vehicles:
Villager van: up to 40” wide
b. Chevy Astro
van: up to 48” wide
c. Chevy full
size van: up to 52” wide
D. Doorways, Hallways, and Elevators:
1. One of the biggest
problems I hear about is doorways. Check the width of all
doors that will be used. You may need to remove the door,
or finally get around to installing those new double doors
you’ve been wanting.
2. Check the hallway for
enough room to turn the casket 90 degrees. Remember, the
casket actually becomes longer when you turn to go around a
corner or through a doorway. You may need to move that
beautiful antique grandfather clock that contains the ashes
of the original owner. Just make sure you can get past all
D. Doorways, Hallways, and Elevators:
3. Service elevators were
not designed for oversize caskets. You may be able to get
the casket into the elevator, but will it clear the floor
opening as it descends into the abyss. The best
rule-of-thumb is to make sure the casket is not wider than
the elevator floor.
E. Placing the body into the casket.
Ok, I’ve made it to the prep room;
I even have the casket in the room, now, how do I get this
800 pound man/woman into the casket?
1. Using a Standard
a. Check the load
rating of your body lift with the boom fully extended. (You
will need the extra length.)
b. Wrap the
hydraulic cylinder with padding to prevent scratching the
front of the casket.
typical body lift boom is not long enough to reach to the
center of many oversize caskets. When attempting to center
the body, the hydraulic cylinder will make contact with the
front side of the casket and cause damage.
c. Use extra
straps on your body lift if possible. This will help
prevent fluid leakage.
straps will help distribute the weight more evenly, and is
much safer. Oversize bodies tend to be top heavy, so you
may need to do a couple of trial lifts and adjust the strap
placement accordingly. This is the most dangerous part of
the process, so be careful and have plenty of help.
2. Using a Ceiling
A ceiling hoist makes
this job much easier.
a. Check the load
rating of your body hoist. Many of them are rated at 2000
b. Use extra
c. Make sure the
lifting cables do not make contact with the open lids. This
can be dangerous, and cause damage and injury.
3. Using an Engine
If you do not have a
ceiling hoist, I recommend renting an engine hoist. They
Just use it the same
way you would use your standard body lift.
a. Attach the
body lift bar to the engine hoist.
b. Use extra
straps if possible.
c. Make sure the
base legs of the engine hoist will roll under your prep
table and up to the cart or church truck without
d. Watch that the
body bar does not contact with the open lids. This can
4. The Four Sheet
When all else fails,
you get as many people from the fire department as possible
and lift the body with about four bed sheets. This method
will only work if you can safely remove the lids from the
F. Carts and Biers:
1. Most casket carts (or
church trucks) are of the “accordion” type. They have four
swivel wheels, and are about 20” wide and 5 feet long. This
is fine for a standard casket, but becomes dangerous with an
oversize casket greater than 40” wide.
a. Place two
accordion carts side-by-side with one cart ahead of the
second cart by about eight inches. The reason you offset
the carts is so the swivel wheels will clear each other.
b. Fasten the two
carts together with duct tape or rope. This will insure
that the carts will not separate as you go through a door
threshold, or over a bump when loading the casket. It also
helps reduce pucker factor, and high blood pressure.
2. Casket biers are
designed for standard caskets. If you have a casket greater
than 36” wide, I recommend you leave the casket on the
carts. If you need to use a bier, check the load bearing
capacity. Most biers have very small wheels. It may be
difficult to roll the bier with a loaded casket. The
combination of the casket and biers will be top heavy and
may become unstable.
PLANNING – PLANNING – PLANNING!
Oh-The Pain-The Pain!
I was once told that solid
bronze caskets made chiropractors and hernia doctors rich.
I would like to add oversize caskets to this category. A
40” casket can accommodate a body weight between 600 and 800
pounds. If you want to pick this casket up, you better get
the high school football team.
Planning, Planning, Planning:
Moving the casket to the
cemetery can be a bigger challenge than getting a casket.
The casket and occupant can approach 1,000 pounds. Unless
you have access to the local football team, it would be best
to roll the casket on a stable pneumatic four-wheeled cart.
Many local equipment rental stores have sturdy four-wheel
carts that work well for this situation. Have your
pallbearers walk alongside and stabilize the casket as it is
being moved. Plan how the casket will egress through the
chapel doors to the transportation vehicle. Plan how the
casket will be loaded on to the transportation. Plan how it
is to be off loaded and delivered to the gravesite.
Do you have a headache
yet? Well hang on! You must contact the cemetery and the
burial service company as soon as possible. They are going
to need to know the vault size. They are also going to need
to check the grave plot to see if the casket and vault will
fit. It is not uncommon for the family to buy two or even
three grave plots for burial. Check to see if the gravesite
is immediately off of a service road. The equipment
required at the gravesite will be much larger than normal,
and may not be able to navigate to the desired family burial
site under the big oak tree. Try to get a good estimate for
grave opening and closing costs. These costs will be much
OK – So We Will Cremate:
Well – maybe. Many
cremation units cannot receive an oversize body greater than
Check with your service before making
any commitments. Oversize crematoriums are available in
some of the larger cities. As you might imagine, the cost
does go up.
Remember this one rule:
“If I didn’t check it, it will be a problem.”
DEALING WITH THE FAMILY:
Ok, I have the casket, I
found the vault, and I have the total cost. So how do I
tell the family the casket won’t go through the chapel
doors? How do I tell them that they need to buy two grave
How do I tell them that we will need
heavy equipment to set this 1,000 pound casket into the
Remember, the family does
not have a clue about all the Herculean effort you have gone
through to provide closure and a celebration of life. You
will be dealing with the same emotions, hurts, and
frustrations of any family. There is one big difference
however. Your family will know that their loved one was
big. They probably already understand that this is a
special situation. They will understand why you had to have
the service in the high school gym. They will understand
that you will need a flat bed trailer to transport the
casket. They will understand why there is a backhoe instead
of a vault truck. What they will not understand is a
surprise. They will not understand:
a. Why the casket
lids will not close.
b. Why the body looks
c. Why the casket
will not go through the doors.
Walk through the entire
process with the family. Explain how you are going to
handle each unique situation. Let them know up front that
the service will require special handling and creative
The family may become so
upset that they leave to go to another funeral home. Don’t
worry; they will be back. If you have done all the
pre-planning; if you have ready answers to their concerns,
and present them with dignity, they will think you a hero.
The main thing is not to commit to something you have not
Planning the oversize
funeral will challenge your skills and perseverance. Check
everything, and assume nothing. Remember, everything will
take three to five times longer.
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