The Coffin Confessor – Bill Edgar

Everyone has their secrets. Most people are buried with them. 

I ordered this book from the library thinking it would be a bit of a laugh, really. The thought of someone rocking up to funerals and interrupting them with messages from the person inside the coffin struck me as kind of sacrilegious. It’s also a little bit awesome and potentially terrifying. A message from beyond the grave has the power to both comfort loved ones and to publicly call out people who deserve it. 

The service I would provide to the dying was granting them one last wish, a way for the powerless to leave the world with their conscience clear and the slate wiped clean. A confession before the coffin. The Coffin Confessor. 

The reasons the dying employed the Coffin Confessor were more varied than I’d expected. There were some that felt like cop outs, when I thought someone would have benefited greatly from saying what they needed to say to the other person face to face. Others were payback, pure and simple. But then there were the really touching and absolutely heartbreaking ones. 

A last request – the thing someone can’t let go of when they’re out of time – is as unique as a fingerprint. Sometimes people seem genuinely surprised by what is most important to them, once it comes down to the wire. I know they surprise me. 

The chapters focused on the individual stories of some of the people who have paid Bill to crash their funerals made me think a lot about regrets and what I need to do to make sure I have as few as possible when my expiry date arrives. I thought about the things I don’t want to leave unsaid and how I want to be remembered. 

Maybe this was something people needed – a way to reclaim some agency over how our deaths are marked, the way we’re remembered. 

What struck me most about Bill Edgar is his resilience. He was abused both at home and school, places that should have be safe, and then experienced homelessness, all before he was old enough to vote. He’s gone on to marry, have children, earn a living and is functional, a big ask for anyone, let alone someone who’s experienced the level of trauma he has.

The writing style had a real Aussie bloke feel to it and I liked that about Bill’s story. He’s not pretentious and neither is the way he tells his story. He’s a down to earth guy who’s survived almost unimaginable trauma and gone on to make a name for himself doing a job I’d never even heard of prior to reading this book. Not only that but Bill has also become an advocate for others who were abused at the elite school he attended.

I’d call Bill an inspiration but I suspect he wouldn’t like that word very much and I don’t want to get decked by him. 😃 So instead I’ll just say that this book surprised me in the best possible way. I can’t imagine our paths ever crossing but if they did I’d be honoured to have the opportunity to sit down with Bill and have a chat with him. 

Death comes for us all, but not all of us remember to make the most of the time we have. Out of everything I’ve learned along the way, that’s the only hard and fast rule. 

Content warnings include death by suicide (including methods used), emotional abuse, mental health, physical abuse, sexual assault and suicidal ideation.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

‘That’s when I stood up, told the best mate to sit down, shut up or f**k off. That the man in the coffin had a few things to say.’

Imagine you are dying with a secret. Something you’ve never had the courage to tell your friends and family. Or a last wish – a task you need carried out before you can rest in peace. Now imagine there’s a man who can take care of all that, who has no respect for the living, who will do anything for the dead.

Bill Edgar is the Coffin Confessor – a one-of-a-kind professional, a man on a mission to make good on these last requests on behalf of his soon-to-be-deceased clients. And this is the extraordinary story of how he became that man.

Bill has been many things in this life: son of one of Australia’s most notorious gangsters, homeless street-kid, maximum-security prisoner, hard man, family man, car thief, professional punching bag, philosopher, inventor, private investigator, victim of horrific childhood sexual abuse and an activist fighting to bring down the institutions that let it happen. A survivor.

As a little boy, he learned the hard way that society is full of people who fall through the cracks – who die without their stories being told. Now his life’s work is to make sure his clients’ voices are heard, and their last wishes delivered: the small-town grandfather who needs his tastefully decorated sex dungeon destroyed before the kids find it. The woman who endured an abusive marriage for decades before finding freedom. The outlaw biker who is afraid of nothing … except telling the world he is in love with another man. The dad who desperately needs to track down his estranged daughter so he can find a way to say he’s sorry, with one final gift.

Confronting and confounding, heartwarming and heartbreaking, The Coffin Confessor is a compelling story of survival and redemption, of a life lived on the fringes of society, on both sides of the law – and what that can teach you about living your best life … and death.

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