Most families choose steel caskets, but there are others to suit personality.
Most families choose steel caskets, but there are others to suit personality.  
Portland funeral directors say a casket is a personal decision. Whether choosing for oneself or for a loved one, it's a chance to reflect values or personality. That's why so many different kinds of caskets are available. Materials, colors and interior designs vary widely, from jubilant to austere and from enduring to biodegradable.   

"We just want people to get what they want," says Steve Moore of River View Cemetery Funeral Home in Southwest Portland. "I have heard people say, 'We want the simplest casket you have. The minute Dad died, he left to be with the Lord.' That's fine."

Moore says others want a wood coffin because, perhaps, the one who died was a woodworker. Some want metal coffins with a gasket to keep water and air out.
He likes to remind people that the origins of the words "coffin" and "casket" have to do with holding something of value.

Moore and other funeral directors say grieving families ought not be confronted with choosing from the many hundreds of available coffins. So directors winnow choices to a cross section of two or three dozen. And to prevent the emotionally difficult moment of walking into a display room, River View now shows its caskets via iPad.

They will still have a casket sent in if families want to see the real article before purchase. If none of the options works, funeral homes do have thick catalogues.

Moore, a member of St. Charles Parish in Northeast Portland, advises that caskets are only one of the three main expenditures for a funeral. The services of the funeral home and cemetery fees also should be considered. He cautions that some homes offer caskets for low prices, but then charge more for their services. Funeral directors, Moore says, are required to show families a list of all prices upfront. "The total price is the key thing," he says.

That said, caskets are the area where families have the most control and choice. Like most funeral homes, River View lists everything from a solid bronze casket that keeps out air and water and won't rust, to wooden coffins meant for bodies to be cremated. There are even biodegradable caskets made of wood or wicker. One line of wicker caskets has a cost range of $1,200 to $1,600.  

Bronze caskets can cost between $5,000 and $50,000. The standard casket — chosen by about 60 percent of families — is made of steel and costs somewhere between $2,000 and $4,000. Price differences have to do with metal thickness. Even a slightly thinner steel can save $1,000 or so.

Wooden caskets tend to cost between $1,200 and $2,000 and come in all kinds of woods and styles from elaborate to stark and simple.

Even Walmart sells caskets, from the $3,000 Copper Deluxe to the $900 version made of "corrugated" material — probably polymer or resin or cardboard. Many groups laud cardboard caskets because they are biodegradable.

Caskets can be found on the internet for lower prices. The site has steel and wooden caskets for around $1,100.

Moore, who has been in funeral work since 1973, has seen a major increase in cremations among Catholics. But often, a less expensive casket of some kind is still needed because Catholics usually have a funeral Mass with the body before cremation.