When I'm gone

Valerie Kor finds out why preparing for one’s eventual death is a practical step that has several benefits

Creating safe spaces for people to have frank conversations about end-of-life planning is important. PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

A 2014 Lien Foundation survey on death and dying in Singapore showed that 77 per cent of Singaporeans wish to die at home.

In reality, only 27 per cent of them do. About 64 per cent of the respondents also thought hospice palliative care was expensive, but after learning more about it, 80 per cent were open to receiving palliative care for themselves.

Singaporeans wish to die at home without leaving behind financial burdens for their families. But there is a reluctance here to talk about dying to the elderly and those with terminal illnesses.

Making a safe space for caregivers and patients to have frank conversations is important. It allows the latter to talk about and share plans they have for the end of their lives without letting the former feel the burden of care that usually accompanies this conversation.

But Singaporeans like 73-year-old Mrs Wong are starting to see the value of starting such dialogues.

The homemaker and grandmother wants to enjoy life to the fullest, rather than worry about dying. This is also why she is not averse to making end-of-life plans for herself while she is still healthy.

She says: "I shared with my family that I want my ashes to be thrown into the sea. I don't want them to bury me or keep my ashes in an urn, as I want less trouble for them."

She has told her family about her plans for her funeral after she dies. "Death is just a fact of life; and when it comes, it comes," adds Mrs Wong.


Her daughter, Ashley, attests to her mother's openness to talking about death.

She says: "Of course there will be tears, but my mum wants dance music from Swedish pop band Abba to be played, and lilies and other colourful flowers at her wake. She enjoys attending performances at the Esplanade, so I think her funeral service will be more like a celebration. She also wants her ashes to be scattered at Niagara Falls, but I told her I don't think that is allowed."

Indeed, planning for a funeral has become a means to celebrate life for a growing number of people, as opposed to mourning the loss of a loved one.

Pre-planning on the uptake

More people in the industry have reported an increase in enquiries about pre-planning when it comes to one's death wishes.

Mr Dennis Ng, the general manager of Nirvana Memorial Garden, says the company now receives five times more enquiries than five years ago.

The company offers a full suite of services, including wake and funeral arrangements, as well as a private columbarium to store ashes of the deceased.

A check with two other funeral service providers also confirmed that there is an upward trend in enquiries regarding pre-planning. One of them says that five years ago, it hardly received enquiries on pre-planning, but now the company receives an average of five to eight enquiries a month.

Mr Ng says that some of the benefits of pre-planning include spelling out your wishes and preferences in accordance with your own life values, not burdening your children with decision-making when they are likely to be overwhelmed with sorrow at your death, and preventing possible conflict if there is no single decision-maker for carrying out these plans.

It allows you to decide on your preferred service and personalise the rites and rituals of your funeral, including the choice of your final resting place.

Says Mr Ng: "We have certainly witnessed an increasing trend among Singaporeans regarding afterlife planning. A pertinent issue is choosing between burial and cremation.

"If the choice is cremation, then one would wish to choose the place and location where one would like one's ashes to be placed. Nirvana Memorial Garden has conducted many seminars and dinner talks regarding the importance of afterlife planning. We have seen the level of awareness and interest increase steadily over the past five years."

Financial security

One of the biggest concerns is the cost that will be incurred during the final bereavement.

Adds Mr Ng: "Pre-planning enables you to hedge against inflation and protects you against escalating funeral costs. You will be able to control the cost of your funeral, thus preventing your loved ones from incurring additional expenses when the time comes.

"Through pre-planning, you will gain an understanding of all the costs involved, which enables you to set aside the necessary funds. This relieves your loved ones of financial burdens and unnecessary worries."


Multi-aspect approach to pre-planning

One of the first things people, especially breadwinners, think of is their financial legacy - whether their loved ones will be sufficiently provided for.

Mr Patrick Chang, 56, the director of a will- writing company, says drawing up a will ensures that one's financial assets are properly distributed to desired recipients. But he also believes that end-of-life planning is helpful for family harmony.

He says: "End-of-life planning should involve all aspects. One should think about arrangements for loved ones too - especially children and the elderly, in terms of guardianship and accommodation."

Mr Chang has already prepared his will, created a trust for his business, settled his Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) and the Advance Medical Directive (AMD). His next step will be to discuss his funeral package.

He says: "Arranging things according to our wishes before we pass on ensures that our loved ones do not fight among themselves after we die."

Visit www.nirvana.com.sg for more information.

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