David Giffels has written about his hometown of Akron. He’s written about the joy and pain of restoring a falling-down mansion in the city. In his new book, he writes about building a coffin.
Furnishing Eternity is the story of what lead Giffels to think he needed to build himself a coffin, the time he spent with his father building it and the loss he had to come to terms with during that time.
Selling the idea to his editor
Giffels says the first person he started having a conversation with about the book was his editor. He liked the idea but told Giffels, “I don’t want this to be a book about a coffin.”
He wanted it to be more about being middle-aged, being the child of aging parents and to include some of the other things that were going on Giffels’ life at the time.
Early in the formation of the book, his mom passed away, and he says that changed the whole direction of the project.
A Father-Son Project
Building the coffin was very much a father-son project. Giffels calls his dad “an enabler.” He says he’s extremely mischievous. “He was all-in, which is how I’ve gotten into half the trouble in my life.”
All the way home
Giffels is handy. One of his previous books, All The Way Home, is about restoring a falling-down mansion in Akron. Having successfully tackled a project of that scope, it would seem like a coffin would be much easier, something he could have handled himself, but he says it was important for him to work on the coffin with his dad.
“It couldn’t have happened without it being something that we did together.”
He says in tackling the restoration of the house, he knew that his dad could be a helper and guide on that project.
“It also helps that he’s a structural engineer.”
When Giffels came up with this project, he says it was the same thing.
“The reason I knew it would be a good idea because I knew my dad would be into it.” Also, when the project began, Giffel’s dad was just entering his 80’s. He’s always loved the time he’s spent with his dad building things and watching him build things.
“This was definitely a scheme to get some time with him in his workshop, knowing that time was becoming more precious.”
A coffin for Dad?
When Giffels approached his dad about the project, did he say, “Why not build one for me first?” Giffels calls his dad “a very smart man" and says this was a learning process. Late in the game, his dad told him, “Well, we’ve made all the mistakes on yours; now, I’ve been thinking of my own.”
His father is just in the finishing stages of his own coffin, which Giffels calls more interesting and better thought out than the first one, “definitely cooler than mine.”
Dealing with death
The book is at times, funny, at others, heart-wrenching.
Giffels deals with mortality including his dad’s ongoing health issues with cancer and the death of his mother. And then there’s the loss of a long-time friend, and an artist known to many in Akron, John Puglia.
Giffels says writing about all this provide a measure of catharsis, “completely, and in a completely unexpected way.” He says it was almost like the “writing gods said, ‘Oh, you want to dabble with the topic of mortality; well, we’re going to really test you!’”
First his mother died. Then a year and three days later, John died. The project became something much different.
“To write through the process of loss and grief as it’s happening was a real test of how to understand things and also make writing that makes sense out of it.”
Read an excerpt of "Furnishing Eternity"