Working on the dead: The undertaker
It takes someone with a big heart to work with the dead and their grieving families every day.
It is 5pm on a gloomy Thursday evening. Grieving family members speak in hushed whispers and a sense of foreboding fills the bare void deck.
As the mourners sat quietly, Casper the undertaker and his team set up the food, joss sticks and religious statues. They worked steadily for an hour to turn the empty space into a place of respectful mourning.
When they were done setting up, the stoic undertaker gently directed the family onto a mat and handed each of them a burning joss stick. He then proceeded to walk them through the motions of a Buddhist encoffining; telling them when to bow, when to move, and how to complete the ritual.
The body soon arrived in white cloth. As the family members were asked to turn away, Casper’s team seamlessly transferred it into the coffin.
Working with the dead and their families is part and parcel of a normal day as an undertaker.
Casper Ang, 29, has been an undertaker with the Singapore Bereavement Services for eight years. He has handled over 500 dead bodies and dealt with countless grieving families.
“I help to arrange and plan funerals for families to make it more meaningful and affordable,” said Casper. He feels that the true skill of an undertaker lies in the ability to take away the stress of planning and performing the appropriate rituals from the families, so that they can grieve properly.
Casper said: “For me, every funeral is the same. We just go in and try to do our best for the families.” While it is easy to assume that he no longer gets affected by the emotional nature of his job, Casper remained friendly when talking to me about his work.
Maintaining a heart for people seems to be a trait common to many undertakers.
Dave Lim, 52, is the senior operating manager at Trinity Caskets and has also been the first call for many families since he left his sales job 20 years ago. He has experienced many funerals, but each one is still special to him.
Dave said: “One of my most memorable experiences in my 20 years here is when I did my first funeral for a baby that was about eight months old.
“My kids were still quite young at that time and I remember that that was the moment I realized a coffin was not just meant for an older person.”
Dave talks passionately about his job and how proud he is when he is able to execute a funeral without any hiccups. He feels that having a heart for people is the most important requirement to be an undertaker.
“It’s not really about being academically smart because you learn everything on the job. For me it’s about the attitude and being willing to care and learn,” he said.
This desire to help people in their lowest times has kept the turnover rate in the industry very low. Despite not having the best qualifications, most undertakers stay in the business for an average of eight to 10 years, because they feel their work makes a difference to others.
Three months after Dave put the baby to rest, he received a phone call from the parents that he still remembers. Dave recounted it with a smile, saying: “They called to thank me for what I did, and I knew that I had succeeded and that brought me every bit of joy.”