A Father, a Son, a Coffin, and a Measure of Life
From the acclaimed author of The Hard Way on Purpose, a vibrant, heartfelt memoir about confronting mortality, surviving loss, finding resilience in one’s Midwest roots and seeking a father’s wisdom through an unusual woodworking project—constructing his own coffin.
DAVID GIFFELS grew up fascinated by his father’s dusty, tool-strewn workshop and the countless creations—some practical, others fantastical—it inspired. So when he enlisted his eighty-one-year-old dad to help him with the unusual project of building his own casket, he thought of it mostly as an opportunity to sharpen his woodworking skills and to spend time together. But life, as it usually does, had other plans.
The unexpected deaths of his mother and, a year later, his best friend, coupled with the dawning realization that his father wouldn’t be around forever for such offbeat adventures—and neither would he—led to a harsh confrontation with mortality and loss.
Over the course of several seasons, Giffels returned to his father’s barn in rural Ohio, a place cluttered with heirloom tools, exotic wood scraps, and long memory, to continue a pursuit that grew into a meditation on grief and optimism, a quest for enlightenment, and a way to cherish time with an aging parent.
With wisdom and humor, Giffels grapples with some of the hardest questions we all face as he and his father saw, hammer, and sand their way through a year bowed by loss. Furnishing Eternity is the story of a family searching for hope in its roots and the unexpected truths we arrive at in the process of creating and constructing. Heartfelt, unvarnished, and piercing with insight, this powerful memoir is Giffels’s most intimate exploration yet of the values and traditions that illuminate the Midwest.
CRITICAL PRAISE FOR FURNISHING ETERNITY
New York Times Book Review “Editor’s Choice”
Amazon “Best Books of the Month” Editors’ Pick, January 2018
Staff Pick, Powell’s Picks of the Month, January 2018
“Tender, witty and, like the woodworking it describes, painstakingly and subtly wrought. Furnishing Eternity continues Giffels’s unlikely literary career as the bard of Akron, Ohio…an emotionally satisfying narrative…Giffels lovingly but never worshipfully traces the craft of coffin-making, and in so doing lets the essence of himself and his father be revealed through action. Only a very skilled engineer of a writer can transform the fits and starts, the fitted corners and sudden gouges of the assembly process into a kind of page-turning drama.”
—Samuel G. Freedman, The New York Times Book Review
“Giffels’s stellar memoir caught my eye due to its rather morbid subject matter (constructing one’s own coffin), but it was the author’s hearty style and spirited drive to create in the face of destruction that won me over. I won’t soon forget this lighthearted book about the heaviest of subjects.”
-- Moses M., Powells.com
“(Furnishing Eternity) shows him reconciling with mortality while offering an affirmative account of a father-son relationship. Giffels does well as a voice of the Midwest, but this is for everyone.”
“Father and son bond over a lugubrious building project in this sweetly mordant saga of death and carpentry…Giffels treats heavy themes with a light touch and deadpan humor, drawing vivid, affectionate portraits of loved ones in the richly textured setting of Akron, Ohio. The result is an entertaining memoir that moves through gentle absurdism to a poignant meditation on death and what comes before it.”
“A memoir about building one’s own coffin while your best friend and your mother die of cancer hardly seems a natural for a light and engaging read, but with Furnishing Eternity David Giffels has given us an endearing book that is full of wit and warmth. … The project of building the coffin allows Giffels to jump off into ruminations about grief, friendships and family, as well as amusing details about the death industry and woodworking. All the characters are lovingly drawn with a sensitivity that informs the grief.”
--Sandor Bodo, Providence Journal
“A lifetime’s worth of workbench philosophy in a heartfelt memoir about the connection between a father and son.”
“Giffels mixes unexpected humor into an exploration of middle age and mortality. … A moving memoir of grief and recovery.”
--Sheehan Hannan, Cleveland Magazine
"Furnishing Eternity chooses to face the hard questions with a spirit of humor and hope, like that Flaming Lips song."
--Jon Foro, Amazon Book Review
“A meditation on life, loss, grief and legacy.”
--Tom Beer, Newsday
“Giffels’ writing is poetic and lingers in descriptions but still has a flowing, yet casual narrative that engages the reader from page to page.”
--Green Bay Press Gazette
“Furnishing Eternity is a graceful and touching book that skillfully interweaves the coffin-building collaboration with an admiring portrait of Giffels’ dad, memories of the author’s mother, a teacher and avid reader, and his best pal John, an artist and avid rock ‘n’ roll fan.”
--Dan Kane, Canton Repository
“Furnishing Eternity doesn’t sentimentalize death nor does it idealize those we’ve lost in order to keep them close at all costs. Rather, it reminds us how a shared act, even the act of building one’s coffin, can reveal the unassuming, even pragmatic ways we choose to show our love.”
--Heather Braun, The Devil Strip
“As father and son embark on the project, Giffels’ longtime best friend, John, an artist, is diagnosed with fatal esophageal cancer; his rapid decline imbues Furnishing Eternity with elegiac power. … The memoir is strongest when it’s focused on Giffels and his father in the workshop, tactile and immediate, as Giffels evokes the lush grains of wood, the tools’ allure, the ‘mealy’ spray of sawdust.”
--Hamilton Cain, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"As you might expect, death and loss are close at hand in this memoir, but so is humor, tenderness, and love."
--Lauren Lampasone, New York Public Library
“Despite its somber subject matter, Furnishing Eternity ultimately becomes a love letter to Giffels’s life – to Life with a capital L, with all its messy, chaotic, incomprehensible beauty that could never fit into such a small box. After all, this is not really a book about a coffin.”
--Sharon Cebula, AkronLife
“Furnishing Eternity bears witness to the second half of the life cycle: Here the adult son ponders the time he has left with his parents before he enters the role of family elder.”
--John Petkovic, Cleveland Plain Dealer
“An observant memoir, with shares of both whimsy and grief.”
--Barbara McIntyre, Akron Beacon Journal
“Is it possible to write about the death of your mother, the death of your best friend, the coming death of your father and the inevitable death of yourself in a context that’s both honest and lighthearted? Only if you are David Giffels, and only if you also include some practical information about woodworking. This book is like a Randy Newman song.”
-- Chuck Klosterman, New York Times bestselling author of But What If We’re Wrong?
“Giffels does the rare emotional work of peering behind the curtain of the father-son relationship, and examining it under the press of mortality. He writes with honesty, humor but above all generosity. We could all learn something from these excellent pages.”
--Alexandra Fuller, author of Quiet Until the Thaw and Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight
“Obituary writers know our job is essentially reassessing life through the lens of death, searching for lessons. Giffels' writing is clever, vivid, hilarious and touching without ever being maudlin. He writes with the humor, expertise, reflection and precision of Steve Martin, Jessica Mitford and Bob Vila sharing a drink at a wake. In the process, he and his family have constructed a story filled with lasting lessons for us all.”
--Jim Sheeler, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author of Final Salute and Obit