"We have become a multicultural society with many different ways of celebrating life and mourning loss," intones an ad from a firm of undertakers that Argus chanced across somewhere. "We have become better educated about grief and this has led to many requests to make funeral services 'more personal'". It turns out on further reading that the advertiser has a "request" too: that those not yet dead will get out their credit cards and purchase a "pre-paid" funeral.

Clearly this firm is following the lead set by Here & Now Funerals, the entrepreneurial undertakers who have amalgamated the notions of the "more personal" and the "pre-paid" funeral into the "pre-loss" funeral, designed to take place before the dear departed's departure.

"A pre-loss funeral is of enormous advantage in terms of grief therapy," says Here & Now's managing director Barry Squinge, fifth generation in the family business. "Since there is no death or other unpleasantness of that sort involved there is no grieving process - apart of course from in those isolated cases where the mourners are put out that their loved one has not yet, in fact, passed away.

"Another advantage is greater flexibility of venue. Without the inconvenience of having to go to the cemetery or memorial park the pre-loss funeral can be held just about anywhere - restaurants, nightclubs, football fields, vintage trains, chartered sightseeing flights - anywhere you can party. Of course for our complete guaranteed service we recommend a cocktail party or luncheon in our own fully-licensed chapel. That comes with what we call "the Here & Now Experience", our high-end package for discerning clients who want to celebrate life and mourn loss in style."

So what do you get if you sign up for the Here & Now Experience? "When your loved one checks in," Mr Squinge explains, "they are greeted by a complimentary bottle of Australian champagne and a basket of chocolates. They are offered a choice of shrouds - we have some very tasteful ones in pastel colours - or they can bring their own costume, your know, their smartest leisure wear, their bike shorts or whatever they feel says something about them. We had one gentlemen who had a reputation as, well, being a bit too fond of young children and he insisted on bringing his Santa Claus suit. We dress the loved one and make them up, as in any funeral preparation, arrange them nicely in a casket standing on end in which we've installed a comfy cushioned seat, put a glass of bubbly in their hand - or some happy dust or a needle, whatever turns them on - and the obsequies begin. It helps enormously that the non-deceased can get up and circulate and join in the fun - dance, sing, chat, in short be the life of the party - rather than just be passively 'viewed'. It also gives them a chance to snub those so-called friends who haven't been in touch for years and only show up at funerals.

"Further, from a feelgood point of view, the Here & Now Experience is a real shot in the arm. Listening to all the glowing eulogies and reading the cards on the floral tributes about how much you'll be missed does wonders for anyone who's low on self-esteem."

What was the most unusual pre-loss funeral Mr Squinge had arranged? "On one occasion a loved one's daughter asked if she could combine her wedding ceremony with her father's send-off and she and all the bridesmaids wore black. Everyone looked great and it was a real occasion of family bonding in an age when the traditional family is under assault from all sides. Unfortunately, while the daughter and her guy were having their photographs taken in our columbarium a couple of contract mortuary staff who hadn't been properly briefed boxed dad up - he'd had a few too many earlier and passed out in the Chapel of Rest during the "As We Remember You" slide presentation - and trundled him off to the crematorium. He was half-way into the oven before his mobile phone rang inside the casket - a mourner calling to say he was running late, apparently. They managed to stop the conveyor belt - don't know how they did it, normally those state-of-the-art Supa-Nitschke 451 ovens have you in cinders in a flash - and whipped the lid off and found him. Thank goodness they were in time. An accident like that could have spoiled the whole funeral."

Mr Squinge said that while most Here & Now clients were "getting on a bit", the occasional younger person goes through his hands. "Most P-plater or train-surfing passings-over have to be handled by our post-need department but just last month we had a schoolie who was given a pre-need send-off for his eighteenth birthday. It was so nice, everyone lighting a candle and going to the rostrum to say, "We love ya, Dane," and "Have one for me, mate" in emotional tones. But just as the guests were getting ready to leave the chapel we discovered that the loved one was missing. It seems he'd slipped out while everyone was listening tearfully to Molly Sanden singing "Hallelujah" and driven off in a hearse out the back that was waiting to be sent to the garage for brake repairs. He'd been doing burn-outs down on the freeway when they found him and brought him back in for post-need treatment. It was very unfortunate really, particularly from the point of view of the client, who was involved in considerable extra expense. Our Here & Now service guarantee clearly states that, regretfully, we are unable to convert a pre-need ceremony into a post-need one without a substantial surcharge."

25 February 2012

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