Lesson In Life And Death: Pupils Build Dying Teacher'S Coffin

A DUTCH primary school teacher dying of cancer is overseeing one last class project: her pupils are making her coffin.

Eri van den Biggelaar, 40, has just a few weeks to live after being diagnosed last year with an aggressive form of cervical cancer.

She asked the woodwork teacher, a friend, to build a coffin for her. "Why don't you let the children make it?" replied Erik van Dijk.

Now pupils of the school in Someren, who normally plane wood for baskets and placemats, have been helping with the finishing touches. They have already sawed more than 100 narrow boards and glued them together. Only the lid needs to be completed.

The coffin now stands in the middle of one of the classrooms.

Although Miss van den Biggelaar can no longer teach, she has looked at sketches of the coffin and is being kept up to date about it by pupils, aged between four and 11, who visit her at home.

"Life and death belong together," she said. "The children realised that when I explained it to them. I didn't want to be morbid about it, I wanted them to help me. I told them: 'Where I will go is much nicer than this world.' "

None of the children considered it creepy or was afraid and nobody felt traumatised, she said. Parents of the children involved all gave their consent.

But in neighbouring Belgium the project has caused uproar.

Belgian therapists specialising in bereavement have complained that young children are not able to fully appreciate the consequences of the death of a friend, grandparent or parent.

Miss van den Biggelaar, however, thinks that the uproar shows how necessary it is to tell children about death, mourning and pain.

When her grandfather died, she felt lonely and nobody spoke to her, she said.

"As a little child, I stood with flowers at his grave and did not know why people were crying."
Special project: These primary school children have nearly finished their woodwork assignment - they only have the coffin's lid left to craft.


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