The aftermath of death - for the living
When I decided to start this blog on "Silver Linings", it was with the intention to let people know that they aren't alone in seemingly dark situations. As this idea was spurred from the passing of my mother, the first two posts were rather emotional, and I wanted this third post to be more practical - and hopefully beneficial & informative to those who may feel lost when having to deal with making arrangements for a loved one after death.
Now, I have never dealt with death before. I never knew my maternal grandparents, and I was fairly young when my paternal grandparents passed on. And even though my mum was diagnosed with a terminal illness early in the year, the thought had never crossed my mind on what exactly needs to happen practically when she passes on.
I don't know whether I should have, or if other people would have, been more prepared - but for those who aren't, here's a summary of the aftermath.
Day #1 (Saturday, August 29th)
I had spent the last 9 nights in the hospital with my mum. My dad and 2 sons had been in her room since 6:30 a.m. that morning, like the many mornings before. We were all at her bedside as her blood pressure dropped and her pulse weakened - and her heart stopped. Mum was called home to the Lord in the late afternoon. The Medical Officer was called in to pronounce death and inform us on the exact time when she left us.
Even though I had my dad and 2 sons with me, I felt very lost and alone at that moment. This was the inevitable end of the life of a wonderful woman, wife, mum and granny. What do we do now? This is what I learnt along the path of the aftermath:
1) Call an Undertaker
I had been given the phone number of an undertaker who organises many of the funerals at my church (Felix +6012-588 2498). I called him to inform him of my mum's passing at the hospital. As it was late afternoon, he asked me to check with the nurses on whether my mum's body could be kept overnight at the hospital. He would then meet me at home in a couple of hours to discuss further on the next steps.
(Note: I highly recommend Felix with his 18-years of experience, specialising in Christian funerals. He is truly compassionate, meticulous and efficient.)
2) Outfit for my Mum
My mum had only worn hospital gowns for the last 10 days - and I did not have any clothes for her at the hospital. I asked a friend (Eng) to head back to my house and pick up a selection of clothes for my mum. The one thing I did "sort-of prepare" for was picking out some of my mum's favourite outfits a couple of days earlier when I went home for a shower.
Eng came back to the hospital with the two sets of clothes (one was with a dark coloured bling-bling top, and the other was with a bright geometric print). I let my dad choose from the two. He chose the bright coloured top - it was one that both he and my mum liked very much (shown in the pic). Oh, don't forget about getting the dentures, shoes & underwear too.
The nurses at the hospital then sponge-bathed my mum, and clothed her. We saw her looking so beautiful in her own clothes, and bid her goodbye for that one evening. We collected some documents from the nurses and went home to meet the undertaker.
3) Inform family & friends
I had the message below shared to family & friends by WhatsApp and on Facebook:
It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of my beloved mother, Shirley Koay, this afternoon.
I will share the details of the wake and funeral services soon.
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26
I called my pastor personally to inform him of my mum's passing and to also check on his availability for the wake and funeral services.
4) Meeting with the Undertaker
Barely 3 hours after my mum's passing, we had some decisions to make:
Burial or cremation? - We chose cremation and for her ashes to be placed at the columbarium at the Western Road Cemetery (I'll cover the next steps in choosing the niche location, and booking/paying for it further down in this post)
The wake service (where & when?) - We chose to have it at home the following day (Sunday) at 8 p.m. (My pastor had confirmed his availability when I called him to inform of my mum's passing)
The funeral service (when?) - We chose to have this the day after the wake (Monday). The undertaker would need to check on the availability of the crematoriums and let us know, for us to then check on the pastor's availability.
Photo of mum to be given to the undertaker (high resolution in soft copy, by email or in a pendrive)
Order flowers for mum's casket (I ordered a casket top arrangement for RM200 via WhatsApp from Image Flower & Gifts +6016-470 4600)
5) Share details of wake service with family & friends.
We opted not to place an obituary in the newspapers. We simply informed family & friends by WhatsApp and Facebook, together with a snapshot of who my mum was, as below:
Thank you all for the thoughtful messages & texts. I apologise for not being able to respond personally as I've been busy with the wake & funeral arrangements.
The wake service will be held at home on Sunday, August 30th at 8pm sharp. You are welcomed to come anytime from 6pm onwards. Please WhatsApp me for directions.
The funeral will be held on Monday, August 31st. More details to come.
Day #2 (Sunday, August 30th)
6) Mum's clothes
I went through mum's wardrobe in the morning to set aside a bag full of her clothes, which will be placed in the casket with her. These would be used to raise her head higher, and as dry ice is used in the casket, these would also help absorb water condensation.
It was certainly bittersweet to see her wide and varied selection of clothes, ranging from animal prints to bling-blings to bold prints & cut-out designs, as well as identifying the outfits I had bought for her from my trips abroad, which were always greeted with squeals of delight whenever I returned home.
7) The undertaker team arrives at the house
And with them, they bring canopies, tables, chairs, fans, air coolers, lights, sound system, backdrop, bottled water & groundnuts. They are also there to help with the death certificate process. You would need to provide a photocopy of the burial permit (that was provided by the hospital), a photocopy of the IC of the signor of the burial permit and the original IC of the deceased.
8) Bringing mum home
I then head to the hospital to sign the release forms for the undertaker team to bring mum home, where she will have her make-up done. I gave them her favourite lipstick to use on her.
9) Choosing the niche location
I had two choices of columbarium - either at the Western Road Cemetery or the United Hokkien Cemeteries at Paya Terubong. I chose Western Road, and headed there to look at available niche locations. Whilst there, I pick up the booking form and call Terence Ee from the Penang Christian Cemeteries Association at +6016-416 1400 to inform him of the niche location I would like and to arrange a time to meet & make payment. (Note: The booking form needs to be signed by your church pastor, complete with the church stamp before you meet Terence. Do request for your pastor to bring the church stamp to the wake service so that this could be done ASAP.)
10) Write eulogy
Amidst receiving continuous calls, messages and flowers throughout the day, you would need to ensure you get some quiet time to write the eulogy. Joshua had wanted to personally choose the songs that will be played at the wake and funeral services instead of using the standard song list provided by the undertaker team. If you'd like to do the same, you'd need to provide the songs in a pendrive to the sound system guy. Let me know if you would like a list of the songs Joshua chose to play.
11) Wake service
As we are still under the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO), strict standard operating procedures need to be adhered to, including recording details of all visitors for Covid-19 contact tracing. Joshua was put in charge of ensuring everyone registers in a book provided by the undertaker team. He was also put in charge of the donation box.
The undertaker team will arrive at 7 p.m. and start preparing to serve food and drinks. They will pause the serving during the wake service at 8 p.m., and resume again after the service till about 11 p.m.
Do remember to get your pastor to sign and stamp the columbarium booking form either before or after the wake service.
Day #3 (Monday, August 31st)
12) Before the funeral service
An hour before the funeral service, the undertaker team will pull stalks of flowers from the wreaths to be placed in the casket by the immediate family. Along with the flowers, my dad, Joshua, Caleb and I each also placed a personal handwritten letter to my mum in her casket. We then spent time taking final photos, and saying our final goodbyes - after which, the undertaker team will remove the backdrop and lights around the casket before the funeral service begins. Remember to empty the donation box before the funeral service starts too.
13) Funeral service
At the end of the funeral service, a last mark of respect will be shown by walking around the casket. The immediate family (in my case, it was my dad, my 2 sons and me) will stand just after the casket to receive condolences. The window cover will then be closed, and will not be re-opened again.
It is a common practice to prepare a love gift for the pastor and the church, to be handed after the funeral service.
The casket will then be taken to the crematorium in a hearse. The undertaker team would have saved some flowers from the wreaths, and these will be handed out to everyone at the crematorium to be placed on the casket before the cremation.
Day #4 (Tuesday, September 1st)
15) Paying for the niche
I arranged to meet Terence at the Penang Christian Cemeteries Association office located at YMCA Penang (Address: 211, Macalister Road, 10400 Georgetown) to make the payment for the niche. You will need to give him the booking form that has been signed and stamped by your church. He will then provide you with the niche certificate. You will need to make a photocopy of this certificate to be given to the contractor during the inurnment.
16) Thank people for attending / sending flowers / donations / wishes / etc
I did this by WhatsApp and/or email.
Day #5 (Wednesday, September 2nd)
17) Pick bones at the crematorium
My dad, my 2 sons and I arrived at the crematorium at 9:30 a.m. We were shown the remains of my mum after cremation, which were basically ashes and bone fragments. We were each given the opportunity to pick a bone fragment and place it in a white porcelain urn. The crematorium worker would then place the rest of the remains in the urn, and secure it with a red ribbon.
You would need to prepare 4 angpow packets of RM10 each for the crematorium staff.
18) Drop urn at the Western Road Cemetery Columbarium
The undertaker would have informed the contractor on your estimated time of arrival at the columbarium with the urn. Here are the items you need to prepare for the inurnment:
Photocopy of niche certificate
Photocopy of death certificate
Photocopy of burial permit
Memorial plaque inscription
Passport size photograph of deceased
Payment of RM420 for the memorial plaque
The urn is then placed in the niche, and the niche is temporarily sealed. The contractor will inform us once the memorial plaque is ready (in approximately 4 week's time).
19) Drop by Island Hospital to thank doctors and nurses
My mum was very fond of the doctors and nurses at Island Hospital, especially Dr. Cheah Soon Keat (Cancer/Clinical Oncology), Dr. Leow Chai Hooi (Internal Medicine/Respiratory Medicine), Dr. Cheah's nurse - Mira, all the nurses at Oncology - especially Ms. Cheah and Upak, and all the nurses taking care of the Level 8 wards. Because of the genuine caring nature of all these people, my mum's regular visits to the hospital weren't dreaded or feared - and I wanted all of them to know how much my mum, my family and I appreciated their care and support.
Day #6 (Thursday, September 3rd)
20) Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M)
Under BR1M's Skim Khairat Kematian, the next-of-kin is able to claim RM1,000 from any Bank Simpanan Nasional (BSN) branch. I went to the BSN branch at 13, Jalan Macalister, 10400 Georgetown. All I needed to bring with me was:
My mum's death certificate (original)
My mum's and dad's marriage certificate (original)
My dad's IC (original)
My dad (in person)
The claim was processed instantly, and the RM1,000 cash was given immediately.
I have made a note to ensure my mum's BR1M benefits for 2021 is transferred to my dad, but that can only be done next year. BR1M benefits for 2020 have already been paid into her bank account this year.
21) Democratic Action Party (DAP)
In Penang, the state government will also provide a payout of RM1,000 if the deceased is a senior citizen (60 and above). Unfortunately, my mum wasn't registered under the "Program Penghargaan Warga Emas" and we could not make this claim. However, we took this opportunity to get my dad registered to this program to be eligible for this benefit, as well as the RM150 annually. All that is needed for this registration is:
Senior citizen's IC (original)
Senior citizen's bank book / account details
Beneficiary's IC (original)
We did this all at Wisma DAP, 3 Jalan Rangoon, 10400 Georgetown. Esmond was super helpful and great to talk to.
22) Close mum's bank account
My mum didn't have much money in her bank account so the process was fairly simple. I had to bring the same documents as I did to BSN plus a RM10 setem hasil (which can be bought from any post office). The money in my mum's bank account is then issued to my dad.
Thereafter, it's just keeping my dad busy with activities that take him out of the house.
On the Wednesday after leaving the Western Road Cemetery, I took him to Dragon-i for lunch (my mum loved the Xiao Long Bao there). On Thursday, we had lunch at Merlin Nasi Kandar in between our visits to the banks. On Friday night, after picking my sons from tennis, we all had supper together at Tong Sui Po. We had a nice dimsum breakfast at Tai Tong on Saturday before watching my sons play a tennis round robin at the club that Joshua went on to win in the 15-and-under category.
On Sunday, I took all of them for a haircut, followed by the famous crabmeat popiah and pasembur at Padang Brown. On Monday, we had Passions of Kerala for lunch; and on Tuesday, we had my dad's favourite porridge and fried yong tau foo in Pulau Tikus. After a week of feasting, I thought it would be best to go for a walk at Botanical Gardens on Wednesday after dropping my sons to school. The food fest continued with Hokkien Mee for breakfast on Thursday; rojak & cendol for supper at Gurney Drive on Friday, and CRC for dinner yesterday.
This week, our eating schedule will include loh bak at Kheng Pin Cafe, char siew rice at Sky Hotel, laksa & char koay teow at Taman Emas on Gottlieb Road, roti canai at Transfer Road - and I'll be sure to include many more walks in Botanical Gardens too!
If you find yourself enduring a traumatic event in life, try to take a step back and focus on God's comfort to those who experience affliction, as Paul did in 2 Corinthians.
Know that because God stands in the position of judge over all people, He is also the source of all mercy. Instead of executing judgment on all who deserve it—which is all of us—He freely gives His mercy to those who come to Him through faith in Christ (John 3:16–18). In the middle of our suffering and affliction, believers must remember that God has given us mercy and will continue to do so.
He is also the God of all comfort. Christians do not run from God to seek relief from their pain; they run to Him as the source of comfort. The idea of the word "comfort" is more than just momentary relief from pain; it also involves encouragement and strengthening. God's comfort allows us to quit striving in our own strength against suffering and affliction and to rest, to be strong, in His strength.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (New International Version)
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."