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.
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 cofin 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 cofin,” 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.”