Life is the beginning of existence, while death is its ultimate destination. Throughout our lives, we inevitably encounter numerous separations and farewells due to life and death. How should we view life and death? How can we face death with ease? And how can those who are alive sincerely embrace life? How can medical care and funeral services demonstrate respect for life?
This Life & Death forum, held at Kuen Cheng High School on 15th and 16th July 2023, aims to answer these questions and provide valuable insights into the topics of life and death. With a thematic focus on “Facing Death with Ease, Embracing Life Sincerely,” the forum brings together experts in the field of life and death education, psychologists, healthcare professionals, and funeral service providers from both domestic and international backgrounds to address these questions.
As the forum aims to help participants overcome the fear of death, while making good life plans and striving to live out the meaning and value of their own lives within the finite time they have, this author took the liberty to interview the life practitioners of Xiao En. Here is a snippet of their stories that will be shared at the forum:
Kezman Kok: A Funeral Care Consultant’s Story Of Service & Healing
Q: What motivated you to become a funeral care consultant?
Before I became a funeral care consultant, my relationship with my father was strained due to his strict and disciplined upbringing. However, his sudden death and our unfortunate encounter with unprofessional funeral service providers left my family burdened with debt. This experience ignited a deep desire within me to find a more meaningful way to honour my father’s memory and help others in similar situations. Becoming a funeral care consultant allowed me to do more for grieving families beyond typical service standards, such as making arrangements for the departed to return home before the funeral or organising important rituals like the 24 Festive Drums for a son to perform for his father. I believe in going the extra mile to bring solace and closure to the entire funeral process, both for the family and the departed.
Q: How did your role as a funeral care consultant impact you personally?
Being a funeral care consultant had a profound impact on me because I carried a deep regret for not having shared a proper breakfast with my father before he passed away. This regret fuelled my dedication to assisting other families in their funeral arrangements, ensuring that they could have meaningful moments before saying their final goodbyes. There was once an incident where a neighbour passed away with a similar situation like my father’s, but this time, I was no longer helpless. I knew exactly what to do. I accompanied the neighbour’s son to the hospital, where the father ultimately passed away. However, I was able to guide the son in arranging the funeral, offering him support and knowledge that I had acquired through my own experience. Being a funeral care consultant not only allowed me to comfort and guide others, but it also served as a form of personal healing for myself.
Desmond Koh: A Clinical Care Professional’s Thoughts On Closure
Q: As a clinical care professional in the bereavement industry, how do you maintain the delicate balance between professional responsibilities and requests from grieving family members?
When faced with requests from family members to personally help dress and prepare the departed, I always try to give them space to do something for their loved ones in their final moments. It’s important for them to have a sense of closure and contribute to the process of saying goodbye. While I have many years of experience in the profession, I believe that involving families in these tasks can bring them comfort and a sense of fulfilment during such difficult times.
Q: From your experience in handling grieving families, what are the common traits that you’ve observed which enables families to find peace and closure more easily?
In my opinion, acceptance of a loved one’s passing comes more easily when the families had built a harmonious relationship and appreciation for one another in life. I often find myself admiring the harmonious relationships between family members, particularly fathers and sons. I strive to have a friend-like relationship with my own father, where we can understand and support each other on a deeper level. It’s something I’m actively working towards, as I believe a strong bond with my father would bring us both joy and fulfilment.
Sunny Tan: A Bereavement Care Professional’s Insights on Life and Relationships
Q: How has your personal experiences shaped your perspective as a bereavement care professional?
As a bereavement care professional, my personal experiences with loss and caregiving have profoundly influenced my perspective. When my mother was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer, I initially wanted to personally arrange her funeral ceremony. However, I entrusted the task to my colleagues to have time for my final farewell to her. This experience taught me the importance of allowing oneself to grieve and say goodbye. It also emphasized the significance of providing support and comfort to grieving families during their most vulnerable moments.
Q: Can you share an instance that highlighted the emotional connection you feel with the families you assist?
One particular incident stands out, where a son arrived at the mortuary and expressed anger towards his departed father, venting his frustration for neglecting his health and working long hours due to social obligations. In that moment, as my colleagues and I made eye contact, it felt as if the son’s outburst was directed towards us as well. This emotional connection served as a reminder of our shared vulnerability and the need for balance between work and personal life. It reinforced my fear of losing my own loved ones and motivated me to cherish and care for them deeply.
Nelson Lai: A Cremation Specialist’s Dedication To Respecting Life
Q: Death is a sensitive topic to discuss, what more a career that involves being around it daily. As a cremation specialist, what is your philosophy behind choosing this career?
As a cremation specialist, I look at service in this industry from the lens of empathy. Death isn’t something to be feared, but a temporary departure. But like all long-term departures, it involves emotions and time for those who remain behind to grow while being apart from one another. My service philosophy is in treating every individual and their family with the utmost respect throughout the entire process. From warmly welcoming the departed and their loved ones to the crematorium, to meticulously conducting the cremation process, collecting the remains, arranging the bones in a tray that reflects the body’s structure, guiding the family in collecting the bones, and explaining the condition of the remains, I leave no stone unturned. Each step is executed with great care, ensuring that every detail is taken care of, and no aspect is overlooked. It is my sincere belief that by upholding these standards, I can offer the highest level of care and respect to both the departed and their grieving families.
Q: As cremation specialist with over a decade of experience, what kept you motivated in this career?
The driving force behind my dedication as a cremation specialist comes from a profoundly touching experience on my birthday. It was during that day that my wife and child visited the crematorium, and to my surprise, my child expressed a deep curiosity to witness the cremation process. With me by their side, my child’s fears were eased, and they bravely observed the entire process. Afterward, my child turned to me and said, “Dad, you are great.” Those heartfelt words resonated within me, leaving an indelible mark on my soul. The profound appreciation expressed by my child reminded me of the significance of my work and served as a constant motivation to perform each task with the utmost sincerity, honouring life in every aspect.
Quek Ser Pin: A Grief Counsellor’s Drive To Unravel Taboos Of Speaking About Death
Q: How did your time in college prompt you to explore the idea of life and death education?
My mother passed away when I was very young. Growing up, my family had a belief of not mentioning the departed, leaving me without any impressions or knowledge about my mother. However, during a college assignment to describe my family, the empty space reserved for my mother sparked a deep curiosity within me. Determined to learn about her, I delved into photo albums, hoping to catch a glimpse of her face and discover more about her.
Q: What were the turning points in your career as a grief counsellor that reinforced your drive to overcome the taboo of not speaking about a departed loved one?
As a grief counsellor, I once encountered a case that reshaped my perspective on discussing death. It involved a courageous 9-year-old girl, whose older sibling had passed away. Unlike the customary avoidance of conversations about death, this young girl fearlessly asked any questions she had about her late sibling. Witnessing her unfiltered curiosity and longing for understanding, I began to question the societal taboo surrounding death. It became evident that discussing death openly and honestly was not only acceptable but also essential for healing and growth.
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