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

Magna Carta World Tour

I’m excited, not only because this is an 800-year-old literal ‘piece’ of law — one of only four surviving copies– but also because the last time English law came round these parts, they left us with s377 and other such delights of the Penal Code, which we have tweaked just a little bit so that gay sex is now sandwiched between sex with corpses and animals.

Ok, not quite world tour, but the Hereford Magna Carta is touring New York, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, China, and Singapore.

I’m excited, not only because this is an 800-year-old, literal ‘piece’ of law — one of only four surviving copies– but also because the last time English law came round these parts, they left us with s377 and other such delights of the Penal Code, which we have tweaked just a little bit so that gay sex is now sandwiched between sex with corpses and sex with animals.

The Hereford Magna Carta will be displayed at the Supreme Court building some time in November.

Adding To Our Melting Pot

It is part of Singapore life to have foreigners in our midst, and that there are people grumbling about how there are too many of them. There are also terms first used by the Government – such as “Foreign Talent”, that have taken a derisory and derogatory tone when used by the same grumblers.

You would have been hiding under a rock if you didn’t encounter someone daily who wasn’t born in Singapore. And that’s the thing I love about living here: you don’t have to travel far to get a dose of somewhere else.

But what I find a bit troubling is the term “integration” and how we must “integrate” foreigners into “our society” and “our culture”. There is this idea that we need to live in harmony, without any social friction, and that is all well and good. But it would pay to remember that we are a city-state of diverse cultures and backgrounds. There is no “our culture” and “our society” as if it were homogenous. All you need to do is look at our Miss Singapore Universe’s “national” costume. To put it in our vernacular, “simisai is a five-star-and-moon national costume?”

We don’t have one national identity, and I think once we accept that, we’re on the way to living together peacefully, no matter where we come from.

My late mother’s papers identified her as a “subject of Negeri Sembilan”, while my father, born some time in the 1920s in Hainan, then part of Guangdong Province, arrived in Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan, in 1935 and in 1946 decided to identify himself as a citizen of Chang Kai Shek’s Republic of China, rendering himself stateless after 1949, because, you know, PRC?

Both my parents took advantage of Colombo Plan-subsidized tertiary education and worked and schooled themselves in Australia, eventually settling in Singapore as occasional Aussie-slang speaking educated professionals.

My wife Naomi bears an even more varied family history – my mother-in-law is a Taiwanese lady (who makes the best Taiwanese Beef Noodles you can get in Singapore) who married a Japanese businessman from Tokyo. They both decided to settle in Singapore in the 1970s.

Style Weddings March 2007 Feature: Mixed marriages mean more fun with costumes!
Style Weddings March 2007 Feature: Mixed marriages mean more fun with costumes!

I proudly identify myself as Singaporean, but even I am not sure what that means definitively. I would count NS, Singlish and food as part of our collective culture, but beyond that, we’re really a mishmash of different things.

Maybe that is why both my wife and I find it easy to speak to the new “sin-keh”, as they used to call fresh migrants in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Our next door neighbours arrived from Germany last year, and we’ve hit it off nicely, inviting each other into our homes for tea and handing down our son’s old stroller and toys for their daughter. It’s not so much about them “assimilating” into our culture, but whether they feel welcome and looked out for.

It’s a simple matter of saying “hi” or asking if they need help with carrying their groceries when we do see them. Like we tell our son, Kai – we treat people from abroad extra nice because they’re here in a different country, away most of their family and friends, and we’d like to be treated the same way if we were in a different country, away from our family and friends.

One of my business associates is an American citizen who only had an idea that he wanted to set up a company in Singapore for business, but realised that it was a great opportunity for him to resettle his family here because I took him around and showed him what a varied spectrum of cultures this place actually is. More so than our pigeonholing into four “races” and “languages” makes it out to be.

The key is not just about getting newcomers to fit in. It’s very much about the ones who are already here being considerate and welcoming.

Shashlik: Only in Singapore: The classic example of one migrant group (Hainanese) adapting and appropriating an itinerant group’s (Russian merchant sailors) cuisine/culture
Shashlik Restaurant: Only in Singapore: The classic example of one migrant group (Hainanese) adapting and appropriating an itinerant group’s (Russian merchant sailors) cuisine/culture

For Cartophiles – Map Mania at the NLB

I love maps, and I was pleasantly surprised when I made my way up to rehearsals at the Drama Centre Theatre yesterday, because there was this display in the lobby of the National Library (Central) featuring the first topographical map of Singapore.

That is part of an exhibition on maps called “Geo|Graphic: Celebrating Maps and their Stories“. I plan to check it out when we get a break from preparing for the show. It (both the show and the exhibition) promises to be fascinating.

For instance, did you know that Tampines, Toa Payoh and Gelang were named more than a hundred years ago? Or that the terminal building of Kallang Airport still stands?

Bukit Timah 1947
Painstakingly preserved map of Singapore City from 1947 (from National Archives of Singapore)

 

Don’t Eat Cheese And Don’t Drive

That’s the message I got out of the response to the EIU’s ranking of Singapore as the most expensive city in the world for expats.

I’m a local, and so I shouldn’t be eating cheese (we’re mostly lactose intolerant anyway), watching movies from Gold Class cinema seats, buying Cat A theatre tickets, taking a taxi, driving any car or motorcycle and having a four course dinner at a restaurant.

And who wears a Burberry raincoat anyway? So fargly! Please lah, raining just put a newspaper on your head lor. Only $1. Some days even got news worth reading.

So don’t complain lah, please. Life is good as long as you don’t aspire or wish for anything else other than your lot.