Daughter of undertaker Roland Tay sets up foundation to help lonely elderly

Funeral firm's Direct Life Foundation plans to hold events that bring kampung spirit back

Ms Jenny Tay (right) and a volunteer dyeing the hair of Madam Florence Ho, 85, at the void deck of Block 4, Marsiling Road.
Ms Jenny Tay (right) and a volunteer dyeing the hair of Madam Florence Ho, 85, at the void deck of Block 4, Marsiling Road. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Growing up, Ms Jenny Tay did not see much of her father Roland - an undertaker known for his generosity in arranging free funerals for murder victims, the poor and the destitute.

"He was managing (the business) alone," said 30-year-old Ms Tay. "I never blamed him because he was helping the community."

Now, Ms Tay, who joined her 71-year-old father's company as managing director three years ago, wants to help more people through a foundation that she and her husband set up last month.

Yesterday, the Direct Life Foundation, with the help of 80 volunteers, held its first event for 35 elderly residents in Block 4 Marsiling Road.

All beneficiaries of the voluntary welfare organisation Swami Home, they live alone in one-room units. Volunteers cut and dyed their hair, and some had their flats cleaned.

They were given a Chinese New Year lunch treat and went home with a basket of festive goodies.

Secretary and volunteer Chua Shu Fen, 30, said the experience was a "very meaningful one", adding: "(The seniors) just want someone to talk to, or have someone listen to them. It's not easy for those who live alone to find company."

Helping the growing number of elderly people in Singapore is a key focus of the new foundation, according to its executive director Darren Cheng, who is Ms Tay's husband.

"In our line of work, we see many elderly staying alone," said the former counsellor who joined Ms Tay at her father's firm, Direct Funeral Services.

The couple married last October.

The foundation plans to hold more events with "a personal touch" - such as haircut drives and lunches - to bring senior citizens closer together. "Otherwise, they keep to themselves and don't interact much," said Ms Tay.

"We want to bring the kampung spirit back," said Mr Cheng, 31.

Ms Tay first noticed how isolated the elderly can be when Mr Wee, who is in his 80s, visited her father two years ago at their office in Jalan Besar. "He asked my father to take care of his afterlife preparations. He said that he was alone and had no one," said Ms Tay.

The man feared he would be left to decompose in his one-room unit less than a kilometre away from their office.

The father-daughter pair decided to visit Mr Wee and found him living with only a bed, a chair and four walls for company.

"The only thing he needs to do is to buy food for himself. Sometimes, he eats at the void decks, but he is always alone," said Ms Tay, whose visits to Mr Wee's home became a monthly affair.

During the pair's second visit, they encountered more elderly people in similar situations who also asked Mr Tay for help in preparing their funerals.

The experience convinced them to do more for elderly people.

"Helping Mr Wee made us feel that we can help those who are still alive," said Ms Tay.

Mr Wee is happier than he was before, she added.

The decision fitted well with what Ms Tay and Mr Cheng learnt in the funeral trade: that life is transient and more can be done to cherish the people, especially family, when they are still around.

The foundation plans to hold workshops to spread concepts such as filial piety, or respect for one's elders.

The couple declined to comment on how much they are putting into the foundation.

Mr Cheng said: "We want to focus on the efforts, not the amount."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 31, 2016, with the headline Daughter of undertaker Roland Tay sets up foundation to help lonely elderly. Subscribe