Dubuque County woman finds closure through casket-making
Written by Becca Habegger, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
DUBUQUE COUNTY (KWWL) -
It's a commonly agreed-upon truth that no parent should have to bury his or her child. One eastern Iowa woman has taken a hands-on approach to smoothing the sharp edges of her grief.
The work of sanding is important for any finished wooden product. Bernard woman Connie Manders knows this. She works at Trappist Caskets, sanding the wood of the final resting places for so many people, most of whom she doesn't know.
"I just feel like there's a special touch there that I'm able to do and pray for that person that's going to be in it," Manders said, adding, "Sometimes it does end up that you know the person."
That was the case one day in 2005, when this mother of four laid her hands on a casket no parent should have to handle.
"You know, your parents pass away and they're older, so you expect that, but when it comes to your own children you're never ready," she said.
Manders' son Doug Manders died one day shy of his 47th birthday, after a long and painful battle with Burkitt's lymphoma.
"I was very proud to think I could sand his casket," she said, tearing up. "I think it made it a little easier for me to give him up because he had suffered so much and the fact that I was working here and really able to help with his casket."
Doug Manders left behind a wife, two sons, three brothers and his parents.
Brother Joseph Kronebusch is one of the Catholic monks of New Melleray Abbey, which owns and operates Trappist Caskets as a funding source for the men's vocation of prayer and contemplation.
"Many of us here have had that experience," he said, referring to Manders. "My father was buried in one of our caskets. Any number of employees have lost sons, grandsons, parents."
One year after her son's death, Manders got more devastating news.
"I found out a year later that I had lymphoma cancer," she said.
After undergoing six months of chemotherapy, Manders is in remission, as she has been for several years now.
She said she has many years of sanding ahead of her.
"Til the day I'm in one of these caskets," she said playfully. "When they slam the lid down, that's when I'll be out of here."
As she sands each piece of wood that goes into the making of a Casket, Manders said her mind is on her son.
"You never forget it," she said. "Every day I'm sanding caskets I think about him."
Manders' husband George also works at Trappist Caskets, making urns.
Manders said the monks of New Melleray Abbey donated the casket to their family when her son died.
Every casket and urn at Trappist Caskets gets a blessing from a monk.
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