There are times when I happen across a story so touching that learning of it leaves me feeling wrenched. What I’m about to share hit me like that.
One of my friends, Aimee Figgatt, who serves as the Conservation Supervisor for the Capital Conservation District (and “farmerette” of Tyler Creek Farms), lost her nephew Tyler recently from an ATV accident. Just 19 years old, Tyler was her brother, Henry’s, only child. Though I’d never met Tyler, I had seen many pictures. He had a charming, bright smile. A mischievous gleam in his eye. Wooly beard. Kind eyes. The stories Aimee shared about Tyler made me feel as if I’d known him, and it hurt to watch she and her family try to manage their grief.
“In the hours following my nephew’s death, my brother had to make decisions no parent ever wants to make regarding arrangements,” wrote Aimee. She said Henry was in so much pain from hearing he’d lost his only child he could barely stop shaking his head, but it was while in that state that he made the most amazing decision. Tyler had recently become Henry’s apprentice in Carpenter’s Local 1207, and Henry said he wanted to build his son’s casket.
There could be no greater honor for a young man who planned on becoming a carpenter than for the carpenters in his family to build the place where he’d rest. Their Uncle Gene, a master carpenter, and cousin Chris, also with Local 1207, joined the effort. Relatives, Betty and Bill, donated rough cut walnut that they’d cut and stored decades earlier.
After getting the walnut back to their workshop, the men tried to run it through their planer, but their equipment couldn’t handle the wood. They had such limited time to build the casket that what might’ve normally been a fairly simple problem to solve was instead making their project seem impossible to complete. Even a short delay would likely put them too far behind.
Determined to find a work-around, Henry called the owner of Quality Woods, where his sister had recently made a custom wood purchase, to see if they could help. Although the company doesn’t plane wood for others and said they’ve always turned down those who ask, they understood that this was different.
“Within two hours, our wood was planed, edged, sanded, and loaded back in our truck,” Aimee said. “And Sal would not accept a dime from us. All he would accept was a German Chocolate cake.”
As soon as the wood was delivered, the family went to work—and kept working, non-stop, for the next 49 hours. Their Aunt Janis even stitched the coffin’s liner, customizing it to showcase Tyler’s passion for fishing.
“All those hours, we all worked together, some cutting, others sanding, running to the hardware store, bringing food, drinks,” Aimee said. “Friends came to help. Gene never slept. I think he only stopped once or twice to grab a snack, and our cousins Elizabeth and James, too. Everyone worked until they were delirious.”
As the group stood in the same driveway that, over the years, had been used by generations of their family before them, Aimee said they wondered over how many times their grands, greats, and great-greats had the job of building caskets for their loved ones.
“No, we didn’t have to do what we did,” said Aimee, “but we wanted to. It was the most emotional, gut-wrenching and horrific—yet proud—moments I’ve ever seen from my family. We loved each other more than we’d ever realized, and shared enough tears to fill a river. I got hugs so tight I can close my eyes and still feel them.”
There are no pictures to share of the casket, as the family feels it’s too private, but Aimee swears it was the most beautiful she’d ever seen. I didn’t need to see it to agree. I’d never heard of a more moving and respectful and loving tribute to a lost loved one than this.
In this world of so many fresh and senseless sadnesses, it’s reassuring to know people like these still exist.