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Grieving B.C. father finds healing by building coffins to help others through loss

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SIDNEY, B.C. -

Philip Thompson is in the midst of an unexpected journey, powered by his perspective on one’s purpose.

“I think that problem-solving is what our whole life is about,” Philip says.

It’s why he inspired high school students to seek solutions as a design and technology teacher, and encouraged his four children to be practical and self-reliant.

“My natural way is to solve my own problems,” Philip says.

But then Philip’s life took a sudden turn after getting a call from one son about another.

“Dad, there’s no easy way to say this,” Philip recalls his son saying over the phone. “But Nathan’s died.”

Philip’s 20-year old son had died unexpectedly while living abroad.

“It shook my whole world,” Philip says.

By the time he could make it from Canada to Nathan’s funeral in England, everything had been arranged. Philip felt he had no part in planning it.

“I wish I had done more,” Philip recalls thinking. “How can I make this up to you?”

Philip struggled to find a solution for years until he found the courage to start having vulnerable conversations about grief with others, and found more than a couple members of his community had wished they’d been able to participate more fully in a funeral too.

“And I thought, ‘Yeah, I could solve that.’” Philip recalls. “I could make coffins.”

Although Philip had never built anything like a coffin before, he was a life-long woodworker.

So he consulted experts along the way and constructed his first coffin with an oak exterior and a plush interior.

“I did it with my head and my heart and my hands,” Philip says. “As fully as I would have done for my own son.”

Philip designed it with easy-to-turn screws on each corner of the lid so family members can be part of the process in a practical way, like he wished he would have with Nathan.

“I will never stop loving Nathan,” Philip says. “I will never get over a sense of loss.”

But after making three custom coffins for people he knew, and now selling this fourth with the hope of helping another family, Philip’s grief has diminished.

“I realized Nathan — you’d be really proud of this,” Philip smiles. “And son, I’d be really proud if you were really proud as well.”

Proud to know that his dad is learning to live through loss, and find healing through helping others.

“We are here to solve problems for people,” Philip says of his life’s purpose. “For the whole world.”

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