Furnishing Eternity begins with a rosy, bucolic image of David Giffels’ father resting on a porch, awaiting his son’s arrival to begin building a coffin. “He inhaled. He exhaled,” Giffels writes. “The old straw hat with a hole in the crown rose, then sank.”
But then, like so much of his new book, Giffels mixes unexpected humor into an exploration of middle age and mortality: “Our sleeping fathers are farty, and there’s just no way around that.”
It’s not a stretch to call the former Akron Beacon Journal reporter and columnist the Bard of the Rubber City. Among his titles are The Hard Way on Purpose, a collection of essays on living in the Rust Belt, and his previous memoir, All the Way Home, which won an Ohioana Book Award.
Giffels’ latest page-turner began as a quest to construct his final resting place by hand while pondering death and dying along the way.
“[The concept] was kind of theoretical at first,” says Giffels. But a year of tragedy complicated the process. As Giffels wrote, both his mother and longtime friend John Puglia passed away, and his father was diagnosed with cancer.
For most of a year, the coffin sat largely forgotten.
“It was kind of like the writing gods were saying, ‘Oh you want to dabble with the theme of mortality, mister writer? Well, we’re going to give you some real shit to deal with — the death of people you love,’ ” says Giffels.
He worked through the pain at his desk, turning what happened into raw, emotional journals and then similarly revealing drafts. “It was like a waterboarding of grief,” Giffels says.
Eventually, Giffels and his father returned to building. Slowly, over piecemeal sessions with months stretching between, they sawed and sanded in his dad’s workshop. The coffin ended up like it began, as nothing more than a conversation piece, a reason to spend time with the most important people in his life.
“[Making the coffin] didn’t resolve anything. If it had, it would be a false truth,” says Giffels. “Anyone who thinks they’ve figured out mortality is either God, or thinks they’re God. And I’m neither of those.”
Interesting Fact: Giffels recently bought his first cellphone, but is avoiding getting a smartphone.