When the pallbearers brought Phil McLean’s coffin into the chapel, there were gasps before a wave of laughter rippled through the hundreds of mourners.
The coffin was a giant cream doughnut.
“It overshadowed the sadness and the hard times in the last few weeks,” said his widow, Debra.
The doughnut was the latest creation by Phil’s cousin Ross Hall, who runs a business in Auckland called Dying Art, which custom builds colourful coffins.
Other creations by Mr Hall include a yacht, a fire truck, a chocolate bar and Lego blocks. There have been glittering coffins covered in fake jewels, a casket inspired by the movie The Matrix, and plenty of coffins depicting people’s favourite beaches and holiday spots.
“There are people who are happy with a brown mahogany box and that’s great, but if they want to shout it out, I’m here to do it for them,” Mr Hall said.
The idea first came to him about 15 years ago when he was writing a will and contemplating his own death.
“How do I want to go out?” he thought to himself, deciding it wouldn’t be like everyone else.
Six months later, Mr Hall decided to get serious. He approached a few funeral directors, who looked at him with interest and scepticism. But over time, the idea took hold.
The process begins with specially made blank coffins
The designs are printed on using a latex digital printer.
Some orders are particularly complex, like the sailboat, which included a keel and rudder, cabin, sails, even metal railings and pulleys.
Depending on the design, the coffins cost between $NZ3,000 and $NZ7,500 ($2,775 to $6,950).
Mr Hall said the tone of funerals had changed markedly over recent years.
“People now think it’s a celebration of life rather than a mourning of death,” he said.
Debra McLean said she and her late husband, who was 68 when he died in February, used to tour the country in their caravan, and Phil loved comparing cream doughnuts in every small town, considering himself something of a connoisseur.
He considered a good doughnut one that was crunchy on the outside, airy in the middle, and made with fresh cream.
After Phil was diagnosed with bowel cancer, he had time to think about his funeral and, along with his wife and cousin, came up with the idea for the doughnut coffin.
Ms McLean said they even had 150 doughnuts delivered to the funeral in Tauranga from Phil’s favourite bakery in Whitianga, more than 160 kilometres away.
Mr Hall’s coffins are biodegradable and are usually buried or cremated along with the deceased.
The only one he’s ever gotten back is his cousin’s, because in that case he used polystyrene and shaping foam, which is not environmentally friendly.
Phil was switched to a plain coffin for his cremation and Mr Hall says he will be keeping the doughnut coffin forever.
For now, it remains in the back of his white 1991 Cadillac hearse.
As for his own funeral? Mr Hall has changed his mind about those red flames.
He has since emailed his kids saying he wants to be buried in a clear coffin wearing nothing but a leopard-pattern G-string.
“The kids say they’re not going,” he says with a laugh.