Preparing For The Departed

You will need to be detached in order to do the things that need to be done when a loved one dies. It’ll be easier when you’re prepared with a checklist before they leave. Here are some of the things my siblings and I had to prepare when our parents passed away in 2011 and this year:

Originally published on Medium.com

You will need to be detached in order to do the things that need to be done when a loved one dies. It’ll be easier when you’re prepared with a checklist before they leave. Here are some of the things my siblings and I had to prepare when our parents passed away in 2011 and this year:

Reporting The Departure 
You have 24 hours to register the departed’s death at either the ICA or at any police station. What you need is your IC, the departed’s IC and a certificate of cause of death — usually given by a hospital or a doctor.

Photograph
You want visitors to the wake/funeral and people who make it a point to read the obituaries to see a photograph they want to remember your loved one by. You may think this is simple — you just open your laptop and scroll through pics — but when your loved one is an elderly person who’s spent a large part of their last decade bedridden and not looking particularly photogenic, you may want to start looking through old photo albums and collections of passport photos. Pick a nice, happy picture.

You might find some of the photos blur or pixelated when blown up, so be prepared to spend some time on this if you need to have consensus between family members. There is also this convention that the departed needs to be depicted in a photograph wearing a suit. I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask why there was a dress code, and let the funeral home’s resident Photoshop expert blend the sharpest-looking suit my father never wore. Seriously, they do it quite well.

On hindsight, I would’ve left the photograph as it was — my father smiling in a batik/hawaiian shirt, probably stained with gravy from some pork dish — and I’m quite sure his friends would have remembered him this way too.

Funeral Director / Undertaker
Do some research, confer with family, and have a number handy. The company we used was a subsidiary of a church, and the staff involved in both my parents’ funerals handled everything, and us, with immense respect and sensitivity. You will need to confer with family regarding religion and ritual — I’ve seen many families squabble over what beliefs their departing loved ones held, and I can tell you, it will add to your anguish. My maternal grandfather’s funeral wake was a compromise made by his fourteen children — there were Christian hymns and prayers in the morning, and Taoist rituals in the afternoon. I think nights were reserved for the secular activities of eating and mahjong.

The funeral director will handle everything, including the layout and publication of an obituary. Note that it’s not compulsory to have an obituary, but it does serve a purpose — the departed’s old friends and acquaintances may only know of their demise through the papers.

The Wake
Some churches and funeral homes have rooms, and void-decks are also an option. The only thing about void deck wakes is that you will want to have someone guarding the casket and other things through the night. Whereas if you held the wake in a funeral home or a church, you would be able to set a cut-off time for visitors.
The funeral director will also ask you what you require. You may want to order the ubiquitous wake buffet or just packet drinks and snacks. You can return any unopened peanut and drink cartons. You won’t need to get anything else — the director will provide you with condolence books, red thread, and other necessities like playing cards and so on.

You may want to assign the collection of condolence cash gifts to a trusted friend or relative, and ask givers to put down their names so you can thank them later.

Friends and workmates will want to give wreaths and floral arrangements — but you have to be mindful of having to dispose of these later. No, they can’t be cremated or buried with the departed. A reasonable option is to state in the obituary that you prefer not to have floral arrangements and wreaths, and that the money that would have been spent on these be donated to charity instead.

“Paying respects” to the departed describes how visitors attend a wake, some saying a prayer before going to the head of the coffin where the glass panel is, and sometimes making a comment on how the departed looks. Be prepared for awkward comments.

The NEA gives you seven days from the day of death to when the remains are dispatched. If you intend to extend the wake past seven days, you can apply to the NEA for permission.

The Funeral and Beyond
You will need to choose between a cremation or a burial — which may be a given because of your religious practice, but all burials in Singapore a limited to 15 years. The only active burial ground in Singapore is at Choa Chu Kang, and is actually a complex of concrete crypts which will contain the departed’s coffin. After 15 years, the NEA may exhume remains and families are given the option of cremating the remains or re-interring (if there is an available burial ground by then). That’s right, burial is not freehold.
The crematorium at Mandai is a modern complex complete with service halls and an automated furnace with a viewing gallery.

The collection of the departed’s ashes can be traumatic. It’s as if you’ve had to say goodbye again, by putting the skeletal remains of the departed into whatever receptacle your funeral director may have recommended. It doesn’t help your emotions that the NEA gives you a Toyogo box to collect the ash and bone from another receptacle. It is a dusty affair, and some bone fragments may end up on the table or floor. If you’re not up for it, tell the funeral director, and they’ll do everything for you.

You will have the option of keeping the ashes of the departed at home or in a niche at churches, temples and also government-run columbariums. Scattering of ashes at sea is also permitted with an application, but limited to an area near Pulau Semakau. Think of it as a smokers’ corner for the dead.

After all that is done, you will have some more time to grieve, if you need to. And if you need to, you must.

Resource: NEA Care For The Dead Services

Explaining Boston To A Four Year Old

Yesterday morning on waking up, I checked my phone for messages, and read about the Boston Marathon bombing. As Naomi and I headed to our kitchen for breakfast with Kai, I decided to turn on the television for updates.

Kai started to ask what we were watching on tv. As has been our policy, we attempted to explain in as age appropriate a manner as possible what had happened, and why it was a very bad thing that happened, caused by a very bad person, nobody knows who yet, and why it was a very sad day.

It didn’t quite sink in – partly because Kai was taken in by the novelty of us turning on the tv at breakfast, and partly because the event was a race, and there was a bomb.

We’re still struggling to wean him off his little boy’s diet of pretend cars crashing, guns shooting (especially in light of the Sandy Hook tragedy) and bombs exploding, and he doesn’t completely grasp why we ban toy gun play at home when he sees other kids playing with toy guns and replicas.

On the way home yesterday evening, he asked if he could have some tv time after dinner – he wanted to watch the one about the race and the bomb. We explained again why it wasn’t a happy thing to watch. Thankfully he was quite exhausted and settled for another episode of Dinosaur Train instead.

(I found this last night: What to tell your kids about the Boston Marathon Bombing).

Cleaning up the birdshit

It will have been one month this weekend since my mother’s passing. We’ve kept busy and we’ve tried to keep our emotions at bay for the most part, allowing ourselves only spurts of grieving. I still hope that maybe if I keep busy for long enough, I might let the passage of time dull grief.

But really, if not for my very supportive and loving wife and my darling baby boy, I don’t know how I’d have been able to hold it together. For Naomi and I, our Annus Horribilis began last November with the sudden death of her brother in Shanghai. Since then, it seems to have been one shocking piece of news after another.

And watching Japan reel from the earthquake is just… I don’t know.

My sister’s friends who’ve been similarly bereaved because of their parents’ sudden demise tell her that ‘the first few weeks is usually spent looking for things’.

My sister, brother and I have been doing just that – keys, passwords, safe combination numbers, bank statements – some have been found, and some haven’t. There have been moments of levity though, with the discovery of some of my mother’s handwritten memos – to her staff and to herself, some of which are about the most bizarre matters.

In one memo she talks about contemplating buying a parrot for my father because she thinks keeping one would provide him company and conversation. (Papa is homebound because of Parkinson’s).

The memo ends with this: “Kenny (my younger brother) says birds are dirty and you have to clean up all the birdshit. So, KIV”.

Mobile roaming

Some of my late mother’s friends, on hearing of her passing, took to texting her on her mobile with tributes and messages of how shocked they were and how much they would miss her.

I kept her mobile, an Phone4, for a few days before I passed it to my sister, who’ll be keeping it and its number for sentimental reasons. It hasn’t been all sombre or pleasant, as there has been more than one telemarketer trying to close a sale even when he’s been told that the person who used to own the phone has recently passed away, like a fortnight ago, hello, if my mother was alive she’d have chewed you up and spat you out good and proper.

I’m still checking her work email too, so that urgent business matters can be attended to,  although it could have been said that Kate Spade sales were urgent business matters too. Goodness, she got/gets a lot of spam.