Something to look for in a custom baby casket

Kalia Stringer had a smile on her face the day she posed for a photo with a yellow flower in her hand. The child became proud because he showed the flower to his godmother Jatoria Foster before handing it to her.

“He was very happy,” Foster said. “It was one of the best memories I’ve ever had.”

One would think that the same image would end up in the lid of the Calliar casket – until the unimaginable happened. The 3-year-old was killed last September when a stray bullet ripped through his grandmother’s bedroom in East St. Louis, Illinois. For Calliar’s funeral, her family wanted to remember the happiest moments of her life, so the funeral home decorated her casket with three photos of the girl.

The art of wrapping a casket in painting – the way companies wrap logos around cars, trucks and buses – is growing in popularity as mourners look for memorable ways to celebrate the lives of their loved ones. Across the country, casket wrapping companies create custom designs, often for grieving parents who have lost their children to traumatic events, including gun violence. Although diseases sometimes kill very young children, firearm-related injuries were the leading cause of death for children in the United States in 2020, before motor vehicle accidents, according to an analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The packaging for kids looks like something you would see in a baby’s room, not as a baby casket, said Damien Ferrer, casket wraps, a West Virginia company that designed the Calier custom casket. His company has been making these since 2014, when he received a request to wrap a casket while running a marketing business. Kids’ caskets often contain photos of smiling children, along with superheroes and rainbows, unicorns and teddy bears.

Desmond Upton Patton, a professor of social work and sociology at Columbia University who studies grief and violence on social media, says this emerging art form is a response to grieving families. For some parents, he said, the casket wrappers allow them to “take control of an experience over which they had no control at all.”

In recent years, he has seen casket wrappers pop up on Instagram, Facebook and now TikTok as loved ones share the work.

“It allows them to re-imagine the narrative,” Patton said. “It’s a different way of telling a loved one’s story that goes beyond pain and focuses on beauty. That’s the decent thing to do, and it should end there. “

Sukina remembers watching his casket after Gunner vividly killed her 14-year-old son. A rising football star, Jillian Mackenzie, died three years ago after being shot at a house party in Venice, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

“Once they opened the door, I saw my baby lying in that casket, it crippled me,” Gunner recalled. At that moment, Gunner said, he fell to his knees. But a series of pictures embossed outside his casket, including pictures of Jelon in his football uniform, helped Gunner remember not only his death, but the highlights of Jelon’s life.

“He was a kid who ran 40 touchdowns a year, anywhere from four to five games,” Gunner said.

The custom design was the first for the Serenity Memorial Chapel, the funeral home in charge of Zelon’s services. The owner and president of Serenity, Gerald T. Johnson, who has been in the funeral business for more than 25 years, said his funeral home often takes care of gun victims in the St. Louis area, where such violence continues.

He even saw the violence outside of his company’s funeral. Earlier this year, three people were shot dead in a parking lot in Serenity’s St. Louis location. “Police conducted an investigation, took the tape down and left,” Johnson said. “And we still had the funeral.”

Tan Gates, general manager of Serenity, now works with Ferrer’s company to make regular custom casket wrappers. He spent countless hours with the bereaved family. “It’s not just a casket wrap, it’s getting to know a person,” Gates said. “People are looking at death, but we see life in what we are doing.”

That’s why he looks for ways to comfort families who have lost children and young people who have been victims of gun violence. In addition to ordering casket wrappers, Gates often goes shopping for kids’ favorite items, such as stuffed animals and balloons.

Funeral staff and artists invest. In August, Ferrero delivered five custom caskets before the funeral of five children who died in an apartment fire in Belleville, Illinois, from Morgantown, West Virginia, more than 600 miles away. Each casket had the baby’s name and a picture of them.

In Philadelphia, Harry Fash of Eastern Casket adds free cartoon designs for kids. He studied art at Temple University for a year before switching to business. His skills as an artist helped him create unique lid inscriptions for caskets.

Located in the heart of North Philadelphia, the Eastern Casket opened in 1972. But it wasn’t until 2010 that it began creating vinyl casket designs for victims of gun violence. Requests range from musical instruments to popular cartoon characters. In recent years, he said, he has created a casket with a “frozen” theme for a child killed in crossfire and a Spider-Man for a child who died when another child accidentally fired a gun that was not closed.

“We’re in an area called Nestown,” Fash said. “But it’s not really that beautiful.”

Casket wrappers are not just for children. In Los Angeles, Shameka Nicholas helped find an artist to decorate his friend Jermaine Carter’s casket, who was a member of Bloods and visited “OYG Redrum 781”.

Carter has spent years on the streets of Los Angeles and promoting peace across the country. Six weeks before Carter died of cancer at the age of 49, he described the type of casket he wanted to bury in: the right half of which looked like a red bandana and the left half looked like a blue bandana, representing peace in the middle of the blood, and creeps. He wanted a black panther in the middle.

Nicholas questioned whether Carter’s vision could become a reality, but Carter was confident.

“An artist knows how to do this,” Carter whispered to Nicholas in a video. “An artist knows how to make a black panther’s head with open mouth, roaring, green eyes, teeth. They know what they are doing. They are professionals. “

Victoria Lanier of Los Angeles Casket Wraps has brought her vision to life.

Carter’s custom caskets cost about $ 2,000. But Lanier is thinking of turning the business into a nonprofit. In this way the public can donate and serve more families who cannot afford to buy a casket wrapper. Lanier said requests for casket wrappers have quadrupled since it began a few years ago.

“It’s part of the homage to the dead,” Lanier said. “They had footprints on the earth. It’s a beautiful way to honor them. “

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that creates in-depth journalism about health issues. KHN is one of the three major operating programs of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation), including policy analysis and polling. KFF is a non-profit organization that provides health information to the nation.

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