Traditional or modern – which is the way to go?

A sombre black coffin in a church or an open casket on Piha beach? How would you like to be farewelled?

These days, the choices are endless. Barring a few regulatory and health obligations, funerals can be as varied as the people whose lives they celebrate.

Founded in 1899, Sibuns Funeral Directors & Advisors has become an institution in the Auckland suburb of Remuera, serving generations of some of New Zealand’s finest families. But even Sibuns are seeing the effects of change.

“We are traditional, but we’re also here to provide the kind of funerals the family wants,” says Kaye Shannon, Funeral Director at Sibuns. “When people have requests for the funeral, we say yes. It’s their event, not ours.”

She says funerals are very much about the person now.

“As people go to more personalised funerals, they feel at liberty to also do something more personal.”

While the community they serve does mean Sibuns will probably always be a bit more traditional than some areas of New Zealand, Kaye says that church funerals, for instance, now represent less than half of the ceremonies they organise. In the past, church funerals were very much the norm.

“We now often do funerals at home or in a garden, or beside the pool. People are keeping it lower key, with family members leading proceedings.”

Caskets, too, are no longer always sombre. “People use personalised caskets. One man had his casket covered in a picture of his favourite golf club, with a photo of his golf bag on the lid.”

People also like to put personal objects into the coffin, often photographs of the family, or even locks of hair. Kaye recalls at least one case where they were asked to pack a change of clothes and toiletries in the casket, and cell phones are not uncommon.

“We’ve been asked to put things like a bottle of champagne in the casket, but we have to be careful about putting in too much glass, from an environmental point of view.”

One of the major changes in funerals the increased role of technology. “People use digital technology to display photographs and videos, and the events are often recorded on video or directly streamed to other locations, so overseas family can also be part of the funeral.”

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