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Foo Jie Ying
Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Singapore

For a dignified send-off

The New Paper | Foo Jie Ying | Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Premium funeral services such as limousine hearses are growing in popularity.

His father's wake and funeral three years ago cost $20,000, which is almost double the usual price.

But Mr Sng Meng Lee, 36, and his family, who engaged Singapore Funeral Services (SFS) Care, think it was money well-spent for the "fuss-free and dignified" send-off they got for him.

It was also through his father's funeral preparations that Mr Sng eventually became a funeral photographer.

He captured several poignant moments at his father's wake for memory's sake and ended up setting up Life View Remembrance, a provider of professional funeral photograph and video services, with two partners.

The days of plastic tablecloths, peanuts served on disposable plates and chrysanthemum-adorned altars at funerals may soon be gone.

Premium funeral services, such as funeral photography, limousine hearses and personalised wakes, are growing in popularity among Singaporeans, say funeral service providers here.

SFS Care, for instance, has been seeing two-thirds of its clients opting for a more expensive package since five years ago, said its boss Victor Hoo.

Mr Sng is one of them.

He had approached SFS Care at his sister-in-law's recommendation.

ASSURANCE

"We wanted the assurance that we would not have to deal with different vendors so we could just focus on the mourning for my dad, and they gave it to us," he said.

For three days, Mr Sng and his family did not have to deal with any logistics or paperwork. Every detail was taken care of, from the aesthetics of the wake to the comfort of guests.

"There was WiFi at the void deck, a coffee machine and fabric-lined tables and chairs. It all felt very clean and comfortable and this made people want to sit down to have a few more cups of coffee," he said.

The uniformed butlers were a great help, and "carried themselves quite well", he said. They helped serve food and drinks to the guests and took care of their needs.

Said Mr Sng: "We were engaged in Buddhist rituals and there were probably about 200 people every night.

"It was impossible for us to engage everybody, so it was good that SFS provided staff to serve the guests."

After the guests left, a watchman remained at the wake so Mr Sng's family could rest at home.

"Through the night, he tidied up the place and stocked up on the drinks. After that, when he was free, he would start folding joss paper offerings for us," Mr Sng recalled.

The limousine hearse used as a final send-off during the funeral also impressed him. "Everything just looked so nice. As a son, you would assume that you have fulfilled your duties," he said.

'We try to meet clients' needs'

It could be a limousine hearse or a request for a video montage to be screened at the end of a cremation.

Some may even personalise a wake, right down to the colour scheme and flowers to be used, said Mr Ang Zi Sheng, a funeral director with Ang Chin Moh Casket.

The 27-year-old said: "If the deceased was a carpenter, family members would have specific requests for the type of wood used for the coffin. You will always see such customers.

"We try our best to meet those requirements."

This is the kind of service that several funeral service providers are rendering after the industry went through an image overhaul several years ago.

Mr Ang said the increased demand in such services is a result of a more discerning consumer group.

"They are more tech-savvy and read about such funeral services online. They are also more open to new services and will consider them if they are within budget," he said.

"Perhaps it's a comforting assurance to the family that their loved one is in good hands and will have a dignified departure."

Mr Victor Hoo of Singapore Funeral Services Care attributed the popularity in his premium packages to the presence of nuclear families today.

FUSS-FREE

His premium packages offer a fuss-free solution, with butlers tending to guests at a wake so families can concentrate on the rituals. They also offer limousine hearses for a send-off that is "dignified, yet not flashy".

Coffee machines are popular with the young, Mr Hoo added.

"They are already drinking coffee at Starbucks, so they may feel that a coffee machine is necessary," he said.

Mr Hoo said he decided to offer such more elaborate packages after a client asked him: "Why did you treat my mother like goods and put her on a... truck?"

"That was when I realised the importance of a send-off that is 'dignified without compromise', which is now our company motto," he said.


This article was first published on May 26, 2014.
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