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Colored coffins illuminate the mood of New Zealand funerals

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – When the coffin bearers brought Phil McLean’s coffin to the chapel, there was shortness of breath before a wave of laughter spread among the hundreds of mourners.

The coffin was a giant cream donut.

“It overshadowed the sadness and hard times of the last few weeks,” said his widow, Debra. “The last memory in everyone’s mind was of this donut and Phil’s sense of humor.”

The donut was the latest creation of Phil Ross Hall̵

7;s cousin, who runs a business in Auckland, New Zealand, called Dying Art, which builds custom-made coffins.

Other Hall’s creations include sailboat, fireman, chocolate bar and Lego blocks. There are gleaming coffins covered in fake jewelry, a coffin inspired by the movie The Matrix, as well as many coffins depicting people’s favorite beaches and vacation spots.

“There are people who are happy with a brown box of mahogany and that’s great,” Hall said. “But if they want to shout it, I’m here to do it for them.”

The idea first appeared in Hall about 15 years ago, when he wrote a will and contemplated his own death.

How do I get out? He thought, deciding he wouldn’t be like everyone else. “So I made my will that I wanted a red box with flames on it.”

Six months later, Hall, whose other business is an advertising and graphics company, decided to get serious. He approached several funeral directors, who looked at him with interest and skepticism. But over time, the idea took hold.

The hall starts with specially made empty coffins and uses fiberboard and plywood to add details. A latex digital printer is used for the design. Some orders are particularly complex, such as the sailboat, which included a keel and handlebars, a cabin, sails, and even metal railings and rollers.

Depending on the design, the coffins are sold at retail for between 3,000 and 7,500 New Zealand dollars (2,100 and 5,400 dollars).

Hall said the tone of the funerals has changed significantly in recent years.

“People now think it’s a celebration of life, not a mourning of death,” he said. And they are ready to throw away suffocating conventions in favor of getting something unique.

But, donut?

Debra McLean said she and her late husband, who was 68 when he died in February, were touring the country in their camper, and Phil liked to compare cream donuts in every small town, thinking it was something as a connoisseur.

He thought it was a good donut that was crispy on the outside, ethereal in the middle, and definitely made with fresh cream.

After Phil was diagnosed with bowel cancer, he had time to think about his funeral, and he and his wife and cousin came up with the idea for the donut coffin. Debra said they even received 150 donuts at the Tauranga funeral from Phil’s favorite bakery in Whitianga, more than 100 miles away.

Hall said his coffins were biodegradable and were usually buried or cremated with the deceased. The only one he ever got back was his cousin’s, he said, because he uses polystyrene and styling foam, which is not environmentally friendly.

Phil was switched to a regular coffin for his cremation, and Hall said he would keep the donut coffin forever. For now, he remains in the back of his 1991 white Cadillac hearse.

As for his own funeral? Hall said he had changed his mind about these red flames. He sent an email to his children saying he wanted to be buried in a transparent coffin carrying only a leopard-print G-string.

“The kids say they don’t go,” he says with a laugh.

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