In the States, funerals are not a 3- or 5-day affair. Generally, most funeral services in the States last 2 to 5 hours. So when I witnessed and attended my first funeral in Singapore, my initial thought was, “How does the body stay ‘fresh’ and not smell while left out in a warm and humid environment for 5 days?” And I wondered how much does such a lengthy funeral service cost.

Death is a business. And for something that has a 100% certainty, it’s crazy that we never talk about it,”

said Bob, my boss when I lived in the States. When Bob was growing up, his family owned and operated a funeral service. At age 15, Bob was an expert at embalming bodies. More on that later.

My grandmother passed nearly 15 years ago (in the States). She died at age 93. She never once in her life wore makeup. So when my mother was asked by the funeral director whether she wanted an open or closed casket, my mother felt it would be too creepy to see my grandmother’s face with makeup. So we opted for a closed casket ceremony.

The ceremony was a traditional Buddhist funeral service, with monks, chanting, offerings, and other rituals. But the service only lasted 2 hours. After that, the immediate family gathered at a restaurant and that lasted another 2 hours. In the States, there’s not even an option to have a multi-day funeral (that I’m aware of).

 

How Much Does a Funeral in Singapore Cost?

According to Bank Bazaar the cost for the service itself can range anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000, depending on the type of service and funeral provider you choose. Please note that this price does not include the burial plot or columbarium. But what if you don’t want a service? And does one have to engage a funeral service provider or parlour to have their loved one cremated?

 

How Much Does the Actual Cremation Cost?

The Mandai Crematorium is one of only three crematoriums in Singapore and is the only one managed by the government. Their cremation fee is $100. For children under 10, it is $50. The cremation fee includes the use of their Service Hall. It does not, however, include the cost of a cremation casket (which can be a cardboard container) or transportation of the body.

Can you apply directly to the NEA to have your loved one cremated? Yes. You can even apply online through NEA. But, if you go to a funeral service provider, they might offer you a “cremation-only” or “same day cremation package” for $1500, even though they would basically apply online through the same NEA portal for the cremation booking. So basically you’re paying an extra $1000+ for transportation, some paperwork, and a cardboard box. 

 

Why I Would Choose Direct Cremation (with no ceremony)

Firstly, I have to disclose that I am not required to abide by any religious or spiritual proceedings or ceremonies. When someone (an ethicist, who deals a lot of end-of-life issues) asked how I’d like to “pass on”, I told him that my ideal scenario would be to first donate my organs, and then be placed in some sort of organic burial pod to become food for a tree. If I were cremated, I’d at least want my ashes to be placed in a biodegradable urn.

 

Why I Would NOT Want a Multi-day Funeral

1. The embalming.

And embalming usually involves evisceration (removal of internal organs) and blood draining. The body is then preserved in embalming fluid, which can be a mixture of formaldehyde, methanol, and other solvents.

There are other gruesome details that I’m leaving out, but here’s some food for thought. Just how do you think one eviscerates a dead body? How do you think they get the skin to appear moist and supple? How do they keep eyelids and mouths shut? What do they do about “leakage”? If these procedures were personally witnessed, even when done with care, many would consider them to be acts of “desecration of a human body”.

So that scene when Superman is resurrected, he shouldn’t have just started moving (sorry for the spoiler). Because he’d be missing his guts, his brain, his blood, and likely his laser eyes.

2. The debt.

There are people I know who needed to borrow money for a funeral. This made me question whether it makes sense that one should go into debt for the reverence of another’s life. Clearly, this can be a difficult decision, and each individual faced with that loss must decide. But, we should all appreciate the impact losing a loved one has on our mental health and consequently, our ability to work and pay off the debt.

3. The wastage.

Singaporean funerals involve a lot of resources – time, money, food, flowers, space, etc. And often, some of these resources are wasted. Would it have been better to direct those resources to when the person was alive?

Even the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Association said, “In the context of an urban Singapore, where 80% of the population live in HDB estates, we suggest that funeral rites be simplified.  Historically Chinese funerals were viewed as public demonstrations of filial piety.  We believe that it is more important to show love and respect for one’s parents when they are alive.” 

4. The unintended consequences.

Bob died at age 68. He died of lymphoma. It has been long known that formaldehyde is carcinogenic, and surveys among those exposed (e.g., anatomists, pathologists, and morticians) have shown excess numbers of deaths due to lymphoma, leukemia, and other cancers. It’d be a sad irony if the preparation of my body after my death was the cause of someone else’s death.  

 

Some Thoughts

There has been a recent trend in more eco-friendly ways to send our loved one off. More and more people are questioning the prudence and sustainability of practicing ancient traditions to honour those that have passed on.

I believe one of the highest privileges we have as first-world citizens is that we have the ability to choose some of the terms on how we exit this world, and what happens to our bodies afterward. Some people, particularly refugees and those in war zones, do not get to choose.

And perhaps what we choose does not need to burden our future generation. For some, abandoning or altering traditions is too extreme, so a smaller step would be to start openly talking about our wishes after we pass. Acknowledging the end of our life, rather than avoiding it, reminds us how precious life is.   

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