Our Wish Bearers
*Trigger warning: this article contains a brief segment where s**cide is mentioned
Every story eventually comes to an end – whether a fairy tale, horror show or even the highly popular Game of Thrones series. The same goes for our life story. As we approach the end of our life’s journey, who are the people that will fulfill our last wishes, guide our family through the funeral process and help us with what would be the final party of our life?
Traditionally, the role of a funeral crew or undertaker is often shunned by many who are afraid of death or view it as a taboo. However in recent years, there has been an increase in curiosity about the industry, viewing it as a celebration of one’s life instead of a somber event. More millennials and Gen Z alike are also finding purpose and meaning in this trade, leading to a rise in these demographics joining the funeral industry.
At Direct Funeral Services, a group of 22 unique individuals between the ages of 23 and 64 years form our Operations department. With an average age of 37 years, this is our most diversified department, with men and women from all walks of life. Despite their differences, they work hand in hand to guide, support and comfort us during our moments of grief.
Today, we sat down with our operations trainer Dee Yee (aged 38 years), operations team leader Zhi Guo (aged 40 years) and operations crew member Felix (aged 29 years) to learn more about their job and experiences.
How did you get into this industry and what made you stay?
FC: I was an interior designer and helped out with my family business before this. I decided to make this career change mid last year (2020) and stayed due to my passion for the job – I found meaning in being able to provide families with comfort as they cope with the loss of their loved ones.
ZG: I was scammed by my recruitment agent! *laughs* I was told that I would be working in a factory but when I came to Singapore, I found out that I would be working in a funeral parlour instead. This was before I joined Direct Funeral. After trying the job out, I found fulfilment in helping people and decided to stay on. This is already my 11th year in this industry!
DY: I was working as a factory operator and I felt that the job was really boring. One day I called up a funeral parlour and asked if they had any vacancies. It has been 10 years since. Personally, I find a sense of fulfilment from this job. When the families thank us for helping their loved ones to leave the world peacefully, I feel very comforted.
Tell us about what you do here.
FC: We are responsible for quite a number of things on a daily basis – tasks such as the collection of the deceased, sending to wake locations, the funeral day’s ceremonies and even ash collection. Apart from these, we are on one night of stand-by within each working week. As we are unable to predict when we might receive cases, “night stand-by” is when we are rostered to be on call overnight.
ZG: My daily job scope is similar to Felix, but as an operations team leader, I am also tasked to lead the team during sendings and funerals. On the day of the funeral, I will also take on the role of an emcee during the funeral ceremony. An emcee at a funeral is pretty much the same as an emcee at a wedding. We guide the family and guests through the ceremony and also present the eulogy should the family require us to.
DY:: For me, I take on the role of an operations trainer alongside being a member of the Operations crew. I train all the new operations crew members and potential emcees on their roles (which also include a portion on drafting eulogies). For potential emcees, we typically train them at our office, with our colleagues acting as family and guests. Once we find that they are confident and are able to perfectly emcee the entire funeral, we will dispatch them to the actual cases.
Why is there an emcee at a funeral?
ZG: There are some family members who don’t know how to express themselves or don’t know what to say. There are also some who are too overwhelmed with emotions to speak, so we stand in to help the family members express their love instead.
FC: Having an emcee allows for personal touch – it shows that this occasion is something that matters & makes the funeral memorable. It’s our job to convey the family’s emotions. There’s an extra sense of satisfaction when we’ve managed to help convey & express the family’s emotions. Emotions make the experience memorable.
How do you craft a eulogy & has there been any eulogies that you have gotten emotional over?
DY: Eulogies are not mandatory, it’s entirely up to the family. Typically, the eulogy is centred around the recollection of what the deceased likes & enjoys, their hobbies and how the deceased was like in life. Special memories of the deceased are also included. We usually encourage families to write it out, as they know the deceased better. Of course, we are more than willing to write on their behalf and let them read through it.
Personally, I will go onsite to talk to the family members about the eulogy a day or two before the funeral day as they need time to discuss what to write or say in the eulogy.
FC: Yes, the eulogy is crafted in a way that spotlights their experiences, vocalising how much the deceased is loved by their family. We also encourage the family members to tell the deceased, ‘I love you’ because we don’t usually express ourselves in our asian context. I personally think it’s a very powerful line to use!
A few have got me emotional – the most unforgettable one was when one of our colleague’s grandmother passed on. Though he wasn’t the best at writing, he crafted the eulogy on his own and got Dee Yee to help edit it. It was a 4-paragraph long eulogy. On the funeral day, before reaching the second paragraph, he began to break down emotionally. Dee Yee took over after. It was a very genuine and heartfelt piece. I think that’s what makes a good eulogy – sincerity & genuinity.
Are there any accumulation of things that you’ve experienced here that have changed the way you live or approach life?
FC: I certainly see life differently now. Here, we see how unpredictable life is. Infants and children are not spared from death. One can never guarantee that they’d be able to wake up after going to bed. My experiences here have also opened my eyes to the severity of depression in Singapore as we’ve dealt with many suicide cases over the years. We don’t always see it on the news – children as young as 12 years old who commit suicide due to depression. I’ve learnt to be thankful for what I have now and cherish life more than ever.
ZG: I’ve had a change of heart. When interacting with my loved ones and those around me, I’m constantly reminded that I will never know when’s the last time that I will see them. Hence, I’ve learnt not to harp on the small things, to let them go and treasure my loved ones more.
DY: Yes I agree! Some things are no longer as important to me. As long as my loved ones and I can live healthily, that’s good enough.
What do you want people to stop asking or saying about your job or industry?
FC: Definitely the stereotype that people have of the industry – that we are just going to crime scenes and collecting the bodies. What we are doing is so much more than that!
ZG:I wish they would stop asking if I’m scared of seeing bodies. *laughs* If I am working in this industry, I see them on a daily basis, so I’m used to it and I’m not scared anymore!
DY: Many people think that we earn a lot of money or that we try to extort money from families but we don’t! There may be some black sheep in the industry but this is not always the case.
Many people also assume that only uneducated people work here, but it’s not true. Times have changed – we do have degree and diploma holders in our company!
The last question is for you, Dee Yee, what’s it like to work in a male dominated industry?
DY: They (the male colleagues) always tell me that they don’t see me as a female *laughs*. Personally, there aren’t any difficulties for me as a female. Some small perks though, they usually won’t let me carry heavy items and I get the comfy seats. *laughs*
*all photos posted here were taken pre-Covid
If you or anyone you know needs emotional or psychological support please contact Samaritans of Singapore, 24/7 helpline 1800 221-4444.
This article is part of a series of interviews with our colleagues in the various departments of our company. Keep a lookout for our next interview with the Operations Office that will be released on 31 December 2021. Meanwhile, check out our Funeral Insider page to get an insider’s view on what life is like in the death industry! Funeral Insider page to get an insider’s view on what life is like in the death industry!