Preparing A Final Farewell Isn’t Easy

Preparing A Final Farewell Isn’t Easy
Do you still remember the last appearance of a departed relative at their funerals? Most people do. No matter how much time had passed, the last appearance of the departed is deeply imprinted in the hearts of the family members. Their final "appearance" is due to the work of a clinical care professional. Whether its cleaning, dressing, and applying makeup, if it’s related to making the departed presentable, this is where Ebby Chong steps in it. While she has prepared many departed for their final journey, she still gets emotional when she must prepare a newly departed. On one occasion, she even cried because of the tragic death of the departed, despite knowing that not everyone gets a pleasant death.

Readers who pay attention to media reports may be familiar with Ebby Chong, a clinical care professional at Xiao En Group. Due to her professional experience at young age, she has often appeared under the media spotlight to share her journey. You might think having been in the industry for many years, Ebby would have been desensitised to her career and able face matters of “death” calmly, but that is far from true. Till this day, she still feels empathy for the death of someone who is not her relative. As a human being, she will also get emotionally at times sue to her work.

“Once, we (Xiao En) received a call that an elderly man who lived alone was found dead at home for several days, and my colleagues and I went to the scene to pick up the body. On the way to the place, I said to my colleagues that I don’t know what would happen at the scene, because generally, remains that are discovered after a few days would have begun to turn black and have an odour.”

Makeup is a part of Ebby’s work. The picture shows the part of the live person demonstrating makeup. (Image source: Ebby Chong)

“The departed’s house was a little dark because the lights were not turned on. After entering the house, I saw a black object in the distance, but I wasn’t sure what it was.”

She went on to describe the scene, stating that next to the wall was a dining table, and the black “object” she saw hung upside down on the dining table and chairs. Walking towards the dining table, Ebby found that the black “object” was the head of the departed man. Witnessing such as tragic sight, she immediately turned her head and ran outside the house to cry bitterly.

She said that the departed had likely died suddenly and violently during the meal, because his body was half lying on the chair, and his head was hanging upside down. Generally, in such cases, clinical care would not be carried out, instead a coffin would be brought to the scene and the remains put into it for a funeral and then cremated. After completing the preparatory procedures that day, the coffin had to be placed at the company’s premises to await cremation the next day as the crematorium had been closed due to it being the end of operation hours.

“My heartfelt feeling at the time was that: a pleasant death it is not a certainty.”

Compared to skill, the real test was persistence

When she was a child, Ebby Chong wanted to be a doctor, but she wasn’t truly her ambition as she just wanted to follow in the footsteps of her friend. That friend eventually became a doctor, while Ebby became a dancer in her early 20s.

“I have always been emotionally sensitive, and I felt incredibly depressed. At that time, I was at a low point in my life. Although I was only in my early twenties, I was not interested in the world, and I was confused about life. I don’t know why, although I don’t really want to commit suicide, but the thought had always lingered in my mind. Maybe it’s because I haven’t found the motivation to live.”

One day, Ebby happened to see an interview where the interviewee tried to commit suicide but later found a life purpose in becoming a clinical care professional, applying makeup on corpses. The interview created a spark within Ebby, and she felt a sense of direction ​​which she could move towards in the future.

On her first day at work, she was handed a body fresh from an autopsy to work on. The dissected body revealing various internal organs. While she wasn’t repulsed by the body, she was curious.

Different from the average girl, Ebby’s mobile phone album does not contain selfies, but of her “work” photos. For Ebby, looking at the serene appearance of the departed remains that were crafted by her hands gives her a special sense of accomplishment.

Ebby Chong’s studio station and utilities commonly used in her makeup kit. (Image source: Ebby Chong)

“There are photos comparing before and after makeup. I take pictures to see what I did well and what I did not do well. It is very fulfilling to watch myself slowly improve.”

Speaking of entry barriers, Ebby states that it is helpful to have makeup skills, but more trying than merely possessing those skills is the persistence to work this profession.

“I think ordinary people have an idealistic expectation about the profession, so many people apply for the job, but very few people can stick with it for a long time. We not only help the departed to make them beautiful and presentable to let them go on their journey with peace of mind, but there are also a lot of not-so-pleasant things to deal with, such as odour. For me, some odours are still unbearable, such the ones coming from the mouth.”

After she entered the industry, she accumulated experience with learning and practice, and even taught herself online when she was more motivated. Now, if the body sudden bleeds, she can immediately guess the cause.

Epiphany from a baby girl’s death: living in the moment

Throughout Ebby Chong’s career, the most profound influence on her was from the death of a baby.

“Usually there isn’t anything to do for babies when they die, but there was this baby girl who died of an illness at five months old. Her parents insisted on helping the child hold a funeral for three days and two nights. When I went to the hospital to receive the body, I had to be very careful in handling the baby because of her small size as we went back to Xiao En. When I showered the baby, it felt like I was helping my daughter take a bath.”

During the funeral, she met the departed’s aunt in the funeral parlour, and the aunt spoke with her about the girl.

“She was ill from birth, and she never left the hospital from birth until her death. The clothes she was wearing that day was originally meant to be worn when the child left the hospital. She was very strong during her battle with the disease, but in the end she couldn’t do anything about it.”

Ebby was troubled by emotional issues at the time, but the baby girl’s case inspired her not to waste time on those issues. So, she resolved herself to make a decision.

Because the parents didn’t want to keep the baby’s belongings, Ebby Chong always kept the hairpin pacifier as a memento. (Image source: Ebby Chong)

“She gave me the courage to take that step, because the time I have is a luxury for some people, so I shouldn’t waste it anymore.”

Becoming a “family member” to the departed, enable you to empathise with the family members

In the beginning of her career, Ebby stated that she only cared about the departed but not so much about the family members. It was only later that she changed her position to become a “family member” that she understood the various emotions that family members would experience when they were grieving and learnt to communicate with them.

“I didn’t like talking to strangers before, so I chose to avoid family members, but now I want to communicate with them. After all, family members are most familiar with what the departed looked like before he died.”

“The most obvious turning point for me was after my uncle passed away. My uncle was single and lived in Penang. Before he passed away, the hospital called my father, saying that my uncle only had a short time left. So we rushed to Penang to visit. When I spoke with my uncle, I found out that there were still many things he wanted to do, but he seemed unable to achieve them. He wanted to go home, but he couldn’t; he wanted to drink red bean water, but he couldn’t swallow it. After three days, we returned to our respective lives.”

At that time, Ebby thought that if her uncle was still alive on her holiday, she would go back to Penang to cook red bean soup for him to drink. In the end, Uncle passed on before he could drink that last bowl of red bean soup.

Because her father was not familiar with funeral procedures, she was solely responsible for her uncle’s funeral.

“The local funeral house handles my uncle’s death, and I experienced all the emotions that a family member would have in these circumstances. For example, I still want to do something for him, I worry about what I have done, wonder what I can still do, and I would get angry if the funeral house messed up. “

“In short, I understood the emotions that the bereaved family members will experience from beginning to end. Therefore, I’ve resolved to be more patient and listen to the needs of the family members in the future. If the situation permits, I will also invite the family members to participate in the process. I know that they would want to do more for the departed.”

“Because there isn’t a second time, there is only this last chance in front of you.”

* Original article first appeared in 访问 The Interview . Click Here

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