Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 12 June 2016





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Wealth speaks loud even in death:

The cost of dying

Since we're all going to die, it's obvious that when and how don't matter." - The Stranger - by Albert Camus

People may not have control over how they die, however, there is much to be decided on how their final journey would be. Although death is considered a great equalizer, the wealth of one's living days can certainly get all the frills for the final ride.

The modern day undertakers, known as Funeral Directors, provide these services as packages, making it easy for the relatives of the deceased to decide.

The front office of the VIP undertakers is like any other sales office. Men, neatly dressed complete with tie, greet their would-be customers. A trip to the undertakers is never a pleasant one, these salesmen know it only too well. They know that they step in to provide a very necessary service, at a very difficult time, in the lives of their customers.

So, there is no smile when they greet the customer. But it is welcoming and pleasant.

"Yes ma'ám please sit down," one salesman directs his customer to a chair, and looks expectantly at her. There is no follow up question; he waits for her to start the conversation.

"We came to find out the cost for funeral services," she says.


This triggers a meticulously structured sales pitch. "Our packages start from Rs. 125,000. The basic package costs between Rs. 125,000 to Rs. 200,000," he explains. "The VIP packages start from Rs. 275,000 and depending on the requirement, the cost differs."

"Where are the remains", the salesman wants to know. "When is the funeral going to be? Is it to be a Parlor Funeral? Is the deceased male or female? What will she be dressed in? Will you bring the sari, or would you like to choose one from here?" All these questions determine the final price of the service they provide.

Then he comes to the part of selecting a coffin. Here too there is variety, in the colour, the polish, the interior of the coffin, and the timber with which it is made.

In the Funeral Director's office, the coffins are displayed in a spacious hall, with price tags. The coffin for the basic package is the standard one. The others differ in the polish, the decoration fitted, and the timber. The most highly priced coffin on display is made of expensive timber, and the package costs Rs. 600,000 or more.

"With this we give a hearse, either a Benz or a Volvo and a flower van as well," the salesman continues the pitch, pointing to the pictures of different vehicles hung on the wall for the customers to see.

The VIP packages of Jayaratne Florists start from Rs. 275,000 and goes up to Rs. 650,000. All the packages include the essentials of any funeral, as determined by the religion under which the last rites are performed. Depending on the package, the flower arrangements, carpets, and hearse vary. Their website also offers many details on the packages offered.

Their standard package costs Rs. 125,000, and includes embalming services, casket, stand for the casket, flower arrangement and oil lamp for Buddhist funerals.

They also have more elaborate funeral packages for the 'privileged customers'. Starting with the bronze they offer four different packages, with the most elaborate being the platinum package, which includes, a teak casket with heavy import fittings. "Embalming with the best English preservatives, four floral arrangements and special vehicle to carry floral tributes and a brand new Mercedes Benz Hearse with Personal Attendance on the day of the funeral,"is a quote from their website. These VIP packages also get video and photography of the last day, free of charge.

Packages of A. F. Raymond funeral directors are higher. Their basic VIP package starts from Rs.265,000 + 2% Tax which includes, transportation costs from the hospital, embalming for two days, booking of funeral parlor services for two days and hiring of a Volvo hearse. The customer can select the casket to his or her liking and the price varies depending on the casket and other features included, such as, the choice of vehicle.

The lowest priced package at Barney Raymond is Rs. 100,000 and the highest costs over Rs. 500,000. A Volvo hearse is given for basic packages, with a Benz S 80 for the high end packages. They too include all standard items needed for traditional Sri Lankan funerals.

Not all funeral services are as expensive, other less popular undertakers offer the services at a more affordable cost for the ordinary man.

They too offer 'packages' starting from Rs 15,000 and sometimes running up to Rs 100,000. The difference is in the details. The low cost packages have basic coffins, artificial flowers, the lining done in low cost material, taffeta, whereas more expensive ones are lined in different quality satin. Some coffins do not open on both sides, but has one lid which can be removed. These fit in the smallest of spaces. If it's a low cost package, they charge only Rs 2,000 for delivery. However, the customer gets only an old model hearse. The more modern Toyota or Volvo would cost around Rs. 25,000.

Unlike the VIP packages these prices are negotiable.

"If the relatives cannot afford much and discuss it with us, we try and reduce the price," explains an assistant in an undertaker's shop in Punchi Borella.

These undertakers sometimes provide embalming and basic services free of charge.

"When people come and explain their situation, our boss often helps them to perform the final rites free of charge," explains the shop assistant.

Because the general hospital is close by, these undertakers always have business, and there are some brokers who have linked up with different undertakers to bring in business, for a commission. The network operates well, many say. Perhaps it always will.

The undertaker business is one that will not die out.


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