“Where did he find the strength to do it?”
This was perhaps the lingering thought in the minds of scores of mourners who turned up at the St. John Parish Church on Tuesday March 22nd, for a Service of Thanksgiving for the Life of the late Coral Eldora Trotman of Haynes Hill, St. John.
A collective gasp took over the church, as Coral’s niece Allison Bend who delivered the Eulogy at the service, revealed that Coral’s firstborn son Dale Trotman, built her the casket in which she lay, a final labour of love for his mom, who succumbed to cancer on March 8th, this year.
Having built his mother her first home after learning carpentry/joinery as a trade on leaving school, her son felt the need to build “her last home”, as he described it, a final gesture on his part, to show his love and appreciation for her. He also had it painted in her favourite colour, turquoise green, and close relatives were also outfitted in matching attire, as a fitting send off.
How does one, days after losing one’s mother, find the strength, courage and the composure to build her casket? Well, this was the question posed to Dale Trotman, as he sat down recently with The Barbados Advocate for an interview.
Firstly, Dale explained that as Managing Director of Exquisite Building, a construction company he established, he was already accustomed to utilising his detailed carpentry skills, to bring smiles to the faces of many customers who wanted to have a residential dwelling constructed from start to finish or kitchen cupboards, his specialty, custom made.
After conducting some research on the Internet and contacting a former workmate and friend – Leroy Thorne of Thorne’s Furniture in Salisbury St. George – for assistance, he then embarked on the venture.
“After the passing of my mom, the first thing that came to mind was, I built her first home, so I have to build her last home. I didn’t have any idea about building a casket, nothing so, but it was making out of wood, so I knew I would have been able to get it done,” Dale Trotman said, as he explained the rationale behind his decision to build the casket.
“A couple days after, I started to enquire about caskets. I started to check it up on the Internet, how to do them and then one day, I remembered a guy that used to work with me before, Leroy Thorne. I remembered he had done one for his mom. So I called him and told him that I wanted to get some ideas in term of building a casket for my mom. When I got there, he showed me the one that he did for his mom and it was a really nice job. [And] it so happened, he actually had a casket there working on at the time as well,” Trotman recalled.
He then decided to build the bottom section of the casket, where he could add his own design and since time was against him, he took up the offer to use the dome shaped top Leroy had already built for the casket he was working on and combine the two.
“That is how it all started,” Dale explained.
“It took me two days to build,” he added, noting that additional woodwork preparations inclusive of mouldings and trims would come later.
“As I am into cupboards and stuff like that, that is my first field, I just wanted it to look like a kitchen type casket, so that is why I did a panel look to the base section, because my mom absolutely loved being in the kitchen,” he said of his design.
Revealing just how smoothly things fell into place, Trotman explained that as he visited the owner of Cheese Auto Glass Finish with his friend Leroy to purchase the paint for the casket, the owner offered his paint booth for the painting.
“Everything during that week was just falling into place,” he stated with a smile.
“So Leroy said, when we bring it here, you are going to paint it for us? He said, no problem,” Trotman recalled with a chuckle.
“We had it prepped in terms of the primer. It was just ready for the finished paint. So we brought it over to Cheese’s paint booth and probably in half an hour time, he had it painted,” Trotman added, noting that he also took the green shirt he had selected to wear to the funeral, to get the exact shade for the casket, since it was his mom’s favourite colour.
Funeral Director Basil Hinds of Basil Hinds Funeral Services in Workmans, St. George then took charge of the interior design of the casket, helping him to choose the best fabric for a finished look. Hinds also assisted in getting the right handles and trimmings, for a silver touch on the casket.
“I must say he (Hinds) is excellent. In that time of such pain and sorrow, working with him and Leroy, they made me feel as if I was preparing my mom for her wedding day,” Trotman said of the help he received.
Again, as testimony to how easy things were falling into place, Dale would find the perfect dress, in just the right shade of green, in which to bury his mom, after visiting a popular dress store in Bridgetown to purchase a dress for his daughter, Daija Trotman.
Speaking about his mom and her battle with cancer in greater detail, Trotman noted that it was about two to three years ago that she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to have her breast removed. After some chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions, she appeared to be getting better, though she suffered the usual side effects of the therapy such as hair loss.
In early 2015, however, she started complaining of shortness of breath and she had to receive treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. After being released from the hospital, Coral, who loved shopping and going to Town, went about her daily duties, but was hospitalised again in February 2016. Coral, whose strong faith in God was at its peak, was in good spirits throughout the ordeal, so much so that she would be the one cheering up her visitors. However, around early March, doctors informed the family that the cancer had spread to her lungs and from there she started to deteriorate. She would eventually pass away in the arms of her son Dale, who stayed by his mom’s bedside reading Bible passages to her and assisting with her feedings.
“That was one of the hardest things I had ever had to go through in my life, witnessing my mom take her last breath in my arms,” Trotman recalled.
He however added that “It was a joy to build the casket for my mom. I wanted her to feel at home, to make her happy anyway I could.”
“It was not even a case of even saving money. I was in the field and I just wanted to do it,” he said.
Today, Sunday May 29th, if Coral Trotman was still with us, she would be celebrating her 60th birthday. The Trotman family, inclusive of Dale, his sister Dionne and brother Damien, will nevertheless be heading to the Better Life Assembly, Upper Hindsbury Road, St. Michael, her home church, to attend a service there, after which they will have a small lunch and a few drinks in honour of Coral, who loved cooking.
They will then spend the time reflecting on the loving, friendly and caring lady they called mom.
May she rest in peace!