Darius left his ‘dream job’ when coffins called
In 2015 Darius Richardson was happy working at what he thought was his “dream job” until Jerry-Dee Dears put an old set of drums up for sale.
Their purchase and repair sparked a chain of events: the pair began dating and are now husband and wife and Darius realised he was skilled in carpentry.
The former emergency medical technician recently took over Jeremy Johnson’s Village Carpentry Ltd. The “experts” that were there previously remain; old-fashioned coffins are Darius’s speciality. Since September he has been making them with the help of his “good friend”, the artist Antoine Hunt.
“People want the coffins because the old graves from years ago are smaller than the newer graves and the big caskets are too wide to fit down in the hole,” Darius said, explaining that older Bermudians, especially, want to be buried in a coffin.
It takes about four days to complete each one. Every bit, “from the bottom to the top, is all made by hand”.
As he has not had any formal training, Darius describes himself as “an artist” rather than a craftsman. He says his best work to date is a Virginia cedar coffin for a master carpenter. A saw and “an old-fashioned measuring tape” were part of its decoration.
“His family wanted some of his tools to be placed on the top. So I had to figure out what was the best look without a high cost,” he said.
“The thing about a coffin, you can’t make any mistakes. You have to get it right from the beginning to the end. The varnish, the handles, the lining on the sides, everything has to be absolutely perfect. So the pressure to get it done is tremendous.”
Darius takes pictures at every step of production and forwards them to the family only after they have seen the coffin at the viewing.
“It’s a lot of pressure; serious pressure,” he said of being responsible for someone’s final resting place. “But I can do it after dealing with death at a young age – my daddy drowned in front of me – and then the stress from being a prison officer and then stepping into EMT life [where we always had] to be compassionate and professional.”
He started on the path in 2017 when Jerry-Dee asked him to create a “rustic look” for the area around her television.
“I went up to SAL, broke up all these pallets, built it and it turned out fantastic. It was mind-blowing,” Darius said.
He then started making things for himself and posting them on Facebook. People started calling for custom builds such as the bench that decorated his backyard.
“It started growing and growing,” he said.
The demand was still there in 2019 when he and Jerry-Dee got married. By then Darius had created a workshop in his garage, which so impressed his father-in-law that Jeremy Johnson insisted he take over the family business.
Darius assumed it was a joke as the team at Village Carpentry were “experts in Bermuda cedar” and recognised for their craftsmanship.
Still, he gave it some thought.
When the North Shore Pembroke company went up for sale in 2021, Darius made a proposal, which was accepted.
He took a leave of absence from his job as an EMT and then resigned two weeks later.
“I know God was telling me that my service was over. It was time. Emotionally, my mind was everywhere else and I didn't want to start to mess up because I was loving my work so much. I was still playing drums, I was still doing the men’s support group for domestic violence; I was getting pulled away from EMT.”
Once he had settled in at Village Carpentry, his wife’s uncle unexpectedly appeared with a coffin and told him he needed to learn how to make them.
“It spooked me out,” he said. “I'm watching him and I'm thinking I'm not going to do it – the Addams Family, that’s what I was calling them.”
In April, only a month later, his aunt died. Darius went straight to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, where he found her son, Mark Simons.
As children they had “watched Sesame Street together; played football together” and, when Darius was an EMT, they would often run into each other at KEMH, where Mark worked as a security guard.
Darius started joking about his wife having him make coffins.
To his surprise his cousin asked him to make one for his mother.
When Darius dropped off his aunt’s coffin at Augustus Funeral Home, the undertaker insisted he make more.
“My aunt used to play the organ and piano in church. I put piano keys around the whole coffin and I put pallet wood on the top. Everybody was blown away. It was a first for Bermuda, pallet wood incorporated into a coffin.”
He started on another and got it halfway done before he became too emotional to finish. It was not until September 22 that he was able to pick it up again. That same day he learnt that his mother, who was living in the Bahamas, had passed.
The coffin became hers. Darius then had an artist, Sara Simons, “paint these big roses on the side with a vine”.
Seeing the completed project helped him understand the gift he was giving to others.
“I'm just happy to be in a position to help the grieving process be a lot more meaningful, as hard as it may be,” he said.
Contact Darius Richardson on 333-1367. Follow dariusrich on Instagram and Darius Richardson on Facebook
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