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            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. 


    There are three types of Funeral Directors:

1.      Those who have dealt with a large body

2.      Those who will deal with a large body

3.      Those who wish they hadn’t

     According to the Center for Disease Control:

            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 higher.

 OK!  You know people are getting bigger, but what do you need to know? 


            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 lid?

            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 available?

             The best thing to do at this point is to begin a file folder of resources for oversize caskets and vaults.


            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 different. 

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, hard surface.

                     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             suggestions.

            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 works well.

            4.  Check the load rating on your body lift.  Many are only rated at a maximum of 400 pounds.

            5.  You may need body strap extensions.  I recommend you use extra straps.

            6.  Check the load limit of the carts and embalming table.   

C. Hearse:

            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:

                        a.  Dodge 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 the furniture. 

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 Body Lift:

                     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.

                             The 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. 

                             The extra 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 Hoist:

                 A ceiling hoist makes this job much easier.

                     a.  Check the load rating of your body hoist.  Many of them are rated at 2000 pounds.

                     b.  Use extra straps

                     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 Hoist:

                 If you do not have a ceiling hoist, I recommend renting an engine hoist.  They work great!

                 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 obstruction.

                     d.  Watch that the body bar does not contact with the open lids.  This can easily happen.

            4.  The Four Sheet Method:

                 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 casket.

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.



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.

The Cemetery:

            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 higher.

OK – So We Will Cremate:

            Well – maybe.  Many cremation units cannot receive an oversize body greater than 36” wide.

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.”


            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 plots?

How do I tell them that we will need heavy equipment to set this 1,000 pound casket into the grave?

            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 stuffed.

                 c.  Why the casket will not go through the doors.

                 d.  etc.

            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 problem solving.

            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 verified.

            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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