Three Women on What It’s Like Work­ing With the Dy­ing or De­ceased

How does it feel to be sur­rounded by death ev­ery day? CLEO speaks to three women who are in the busi­ness of car­ing for the de­ceased or dy­ing, to find out why they chose this seem­ingly grim call­ing.

CLEO (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

Wong Xiao Hui, 23, Pall­bearer

Un­like her peers, Xiao Hui knew she wanted to join the fu­neral busi­ness since she was a teenager. It might seem mor­bid that a 14-year-old would even think about this, con­sid­er­ing it’s still a ta­boo topic for a lot of peo­ple, but Xiao Hui knew it would be a mean­ing­ful job af­ter watch­ing a Ja­panese drama called The Em­balmer.

“I knew then that it was my call­ing,” she says. A decade later, she ap­plied for an internship at Di­rect Fu­neral Ser­vices.

“I didn’t do any­thing about it ear­lier be­cause I thought that my age was go­ing to be an is­sue, and I didn’t have any rel­e­vant ex­pe­ri­ence,” ad­mits the un­der­grad­u­ate, who’s a „inal-year eco­nom­ics stu­dent at NUS. “But then last year, there was a lot of news about young women in the fu­neral busi­ness – Nicole the em­balmer from Seren­ity Cas­ket, Kelly the un­der­taker from Hiap Hin Un­der­taker, and Glo­ri­anne, an in­tern at Di­rect Fu­neral Ser­vices. That gave me the push to ap­ply for the internship ear­lier this year.”

Hav­ing just started, Xiao Hui is cur­rently a pall­bearer un­der Di­rect Fu­neral Ser­vices’ internship pro­gramme. Dur­ing this time, she’ll be learn­ing the ropes of the trade – from set­ting up the venue to con­duct­ing re­li­gious rites. She hopes to progress to em­balm­ing af­ter com­plet­ing her internship.

Her fam­ily isn’t squea­mish when it comes to in­dus­tries that deal with death – in fact, two of her sib­lings are nurses, and her mum, who vol­un­teers reg­u­larly at a hospital, had also har­boured dreams of be­com­ing an em­balmer. So it’s no suprise that her fam­ily is sup­port­ive of her ca­reer choice.

Some­one told me be­fore that you can­not carry a cof­fin alone, and I think that’s the at­ti­tude that ev­ery­one in this in­dus­try has.”

“I think I en­tered the in­dus­try at a very good time,” Xiao Hui muses. “The in­dus­try is very small, so ev­ery­one has been re­ally help­ful and friendly – even peo­ple from other com­pa­nies, al­though we’re tech­ni­cally com­peti­tors. Some­one told me be­fore that you can­not carry a cofin alone, and I think that’s the at­ti­tude that ev­ery­one in this in­dus­try has.”

Nat­u­rally, she sees tragedies on an al­most daily ba­sis. The cases that af­fect her the most are the sui­cides, which hit close to home be­cause she has a rel­a­tive who is suf­fer­ing from de­pres­sion and sui­ci­dal ten­den­cies.

She re­counts set­ting up a fu­neral for her very irst sui­cide case. It was for a woman who had jumped from the 42nd floor. She couldn’t be em­balmed be­cause of her in­juries, and her fam­ily had re­quested an open cas­ket.

“I re­mem­ber hold­ing her photo, and look­ing at it. I couldn’t tell that it was the same per­son in the cofin,” she re­calls, with a hint of sad­ness in her voice.

“But be­cause I see death ev­ery day, it has re­ally made me cher­ish my time with my fam­ily and friends.”

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