Giving elderly who are alone the final farewell they deserve
Volunteers needed for charity that has held funerals for almost 1,000 seniors with estranged or no kin
He had no children and had separated from his wife more than 20 years ago.
So in the months leading up to his death, Mr Tan Whee Suan wondered if he would get a proper send-off if there was no one to plan his funeral.
A weight was lifted off his chest when the team at Afterlife Memorial Service assured him that his funeral would be taken care of, and that he would get a proper farewell.
After Mr Tan died from pneumonia in 2019 at 82, his wishes were fulfilled.
Set up by non-profit organisation Cheng Hong Welfare Service Society in 2012, Afterlife Memorial Service handles the funeral arrangements of senior citizens who do not have dependants or may have been estranged from them.
Speaking to The New Paper recently about Mr Tan's case, deputy chairman of Cheng Hong Welfare Service Society Kenny Sim said: "Mr Tan wanted a Catholic funeral and requested for his ashes to be scattered at sea... We followed through."
Mr Sim added that Mr Tan's elder brother, now 88, was unable to aid in the funeral arrangements due to his age.
Mr Tan's funeral was one of almost 1,000 memorial services that Cheng Hong Welfare Service Society has helped to plan over the past nine years.
Mr Sim, who joined the society five years ago, has personally overseen funerals for 20 senior citizens.
Mr Sim added that Afterlife Memorial Service aims to help senior citizens above 65 years old, most of whom live alone.
According to the Population Trends 2020 report, of the resident households in 2019 that had heads of the household aged 65 and above, 22.9 per cent were people living alone.
This is an increase from 16.6 per cent in 2009.
"Most of the seniors that we have sent off were 70 to 80 years old. There has been an increasing number of seniors living alone, we try to help as many as we can," Mr Sim said.
But planning such funerals are not always smooth sailing.
Said Mr Sim: "There have been cases where seniors made it clear to us on how they hoped their funeral would be like. We tried to follow though but were stopped by the seniors' estranged children.
"It is heartbreaking to come across such cases."
Mr Sim believes that every senior should be laid to rest and sent off the way they want.
He added: "No one should be on their deathbed worried that there is no one to plan their funeral or no one to say goodbye to them."
Afterlife Memorial Services handles close to 100 funerals every year and is seeking volunteers to help with the processes.
Said Mr Sim: "We currently have 10 volunteers, with only four helping with the process of collecting the body or tossing the ashes out at sea.
"I want to make the call to those who are keen to join us as we need all the help we can get.
"The work we do here is fulfilling, and it is meaningful to give seniors a peace of mind that someone is there for them on their final journey."