VASHON, Wash. — On the way to Marcus Daly's coffin workshop, you might spot a flying machine! Marcus' son cobbled the craft together out of discarded coffin parts.
"There's nothing creepy about this to me because I'm working in a woodshop. And I'm doing something out of love for people whom I want to honor. And my kids are regularly barging in here. They're helping me. There's laughter," Marcus says.
Death is everyday life for the Daly's here on Vashon Island.
"I wanna use death to amplify life," Marcus says.
He creates biodegradable, wooden caskets out of pine or oak. Each takes about 20 hours.
"It's kind of an older, European old world way of doing it."
This boat builder slowly, almost involuntarily, became a coffin builder. He and his wife moved to Vashon from the big city with a dream.
"Not everybody wants to pay 10 or 20-thousand dollars for a 12-foot boat. In fact nobody I knew wanted to pay that for a twelve foot boat," he laughs.
So the boat business was NOT booming. Then, after having two beautiful kids, they lost their third to a miscarriage.
"We had been preparing for this baby...talking to her belly. So when we lost the baby, we had a strong desire to respond in some way."
The first coffin this carpenter built was for his own child.
"That felt like good work, doing that for our baby."
Then he watched Pope John Paul II's funeral on television.
"He had a simple, wooden coffin. And it was just sitting there in the square, in St. Peter's Square with all the art and achitecture from hundreds and hundreds of years behind him. And it was just such a profound and honest statement about naked we come into this world and naked we go out of it."
After about five or six years of further contemplation...and six more kids (they have eight!), he changed the course of his life.
"Moved out here to build simple, wooden boats for people. What if we built a different kind of wooden vessel for a different journey?"
He now makes about two coffins a week for his company, Marian Caskets. And HIS journey got a jolt in February.
"Didn't think I was anywhere near the blade. But I was running one of these boards through and something must've caught. And just all of a sudden, I kind of looked down stunned."
He'd severed two fingers and half his thumb with a table saw.
"I work with my hands. How am I going to provide for my family?"
After three days in the hospital and a seven-hour surgery, doctors reattached his middle finger.
"I don't recommend it. But there's been more good in it than bad. There's been blessings of friends have stepped up. A person I didn't know gave me 45-hundred dollars for a safer table saw."
He says his accident nudged him to think even more about what he does, who he is...and who WE are.
"Death and our mortality is the ultimate mystery. So doing this work has allowed me to contemplate that? My eyes have adjusted to the darkness so I see more light."