Solutions: One way to memorialize young lives lost to violence

Victoria Lanier of Los Angeles Casket Wraps designed a casket for Jermaine Carter, who had been a member of the Bloods and went by "O.Y.G. Redrum 781." Carter requested this unique design six weeks before he died of cancer at 49. (Victoria Lanier/Kaiser Health News/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Victoria Lanier of Los Angeles Casket Wraps designed a casket for Jermaine Carter, who had been a member of the Bloods and went by "O.Y.G. Redrum 781." Carter requested this unique design six weeks before he died of cancer at 49. (Victoria Lanier/Kaiser Health News/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Coping with grief

The art of wrapping a casket in imagery — similar to the way companies wrap logos around cars, trucks, and buses — is increasing in popularity as mourners look for memorable ways to celebrate their loved ones’ lives.

Across the country, casket wrap companies create custom designs, often for grieving parents who have lost their children to trauma, including from gun violence.

The wraps for children look like something one “would see in a child’s room, not as a child’s casket,” said Damian Ferek, president of CasketWraps, a company in West Virginia.

Desmond Upton Patton, a professor of social work and sociology at Columbia University who researches grief and violence on social media, said this emerging art form is a coping mechanism for grieving families.

For some parents, he said, casket wraps allow them to “take control of an experience that they essentially had no control over.”

Sukeena Gunner vividly remembers seeing her 14-year-old son’s casket after he was killed. A rising football star, Jaylon McKenzie died three years ago after shots rang out at a house party in Venice, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

“Once they opened the door, I saw my baby laying in that casket, it paralyzed me,” Gunner recalled. At that moment, Gunner said, she fell to her knees. But a series of photos, including images of Jaylon in his football uniform, embossed on the outside of his casket helped Gunner remember the highlights of Jaylon’s life, not just his death.

The custom design was a first for Serenity Memorial Chapel, the funeral home in charge of Jaylon’s service.

Tan Gates, Serenity’s general manager, now regularly works with Ferek’s company to create custom casket wraps.

She spends countless hours with grieving families. “It’s not just wrapping a casket, it’s getting to know a person,” Gates said.

In Philadelphia, Harry Fash of Eastern Casket adds cartoon designs to caskets for children for free. Located in the heart of North Philadelphia, Eastern Casket opened in 1972. But it wasn’t until 2010 that it started creating vinyl casket designs, too often for gun violence victims.

And in Los Angeles, Victoria Lanier of Los Angeles Casket Wraps is thinking about turning the business into a nonprofit.

That way the public can make donations and she can serve more families who can’t afford to purchase a casket wrap.

Lanier said requests for casket wraps have quadrupled since she started a few years ago.

“That’s part of respect for the dead,” Lanier said. “They had a footprint on the Earth. It’s just a very lovely way of honoring them.”

This story is distributed through Tribune News Service.