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
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
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
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."
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
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
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
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
These undertakers sometimes provide embalming and basic services free
"When people come and explain their situation, our boss often helps
them to perform the final rites free of charge," explains the shop
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.