Before it's too late: Discussing funeral arrangements with your parents

PHOTO: Before it's too late: Discussing funeral arrangements with your parents

SINGAPORE - Talking to your parents about funeral arrangements when they pass on may be one of the hardest things you'll ever do.

Many seniors - especially those who are sick - need time to ease into conversations about death and dying, says Winnie.

"You don't have to push your parents to talk. Most of the time, they'll bring it up on their own - while watching a death scene on television or attending a funeral. They may say, 'One day, I'll be gone too'. Don't dismiss such musings - take them as your cue to broach the subject."

If you sense that your parents wish to talk but don't know how, get the ball rolling by mentioning your own plans first, suggests Winnie.

"Say something like, 'Dad, when I die, I'd like a sea burial. How about you?'"

If not, give them space. Winnie says you can take your parents to talks on preparing wills and other legal documents as an indirect way of reminding them about the eventuality of death - and the practical arrangements that need to be made.

You can also tell them that you'd like to know their instructions so you can honour their wishes when they pass on.

Winnie and Angjolie share a checklist of funeral arrangements to talk to Mum and Dad about:



Type of service

Do they prefer a religious or secular service? Angjolie Mei, managing director of Life Celebrant, says: "Some families who don't practise a religion may opt for a memorial service instead of a funeral service. And instead of prayers, they may offer flowers as a sign of respect."

Duration of service

Wakes are usually held for three, five or seven days. "It's a matter of preference. Families who have overseas kin may want to give relatives time to travel to say their last goodbyes," says Angjolie.

Where to hold the service

"Some want to have it at home - at their void decks or on their landed property - so it's easier to keep vigil all night," says Angjolie. "Others may choose a funeral parlour if they expect a smaller crowd and want a quieter service."

Type of funeral set-up

Do your parents have any special requests? These can range from having a colour theme to having their favourite music played during the service, says Angjolie. Winnie Wong, counsellor with Shan You Counselling Centre, adds that most elderly people would have made some preparations like buying a niche or choosing a burial spot near their kin.

"Some seniors I know even tell their children what type of coffin they want and what belongings they wish to put inside."

Whom to inform 

To be viewed or not

"Some people don't wish to be embalmed, so they'll have a closed- casket funeral. Others want an open casket so friends and family can say their last farewell - it's also a means of closure for them," says Angjolie.

Picking a photo and outfit

Sit with them to pick out a burial outfit or a photo they'd like to place at the head of their casket, says Winnie. "This allows them freedom of choice, so they won't feel so helpless in the face of death. If they refuse to talk, choose a photo or outfit and say, 'Dad, this looks nice'. Wait for their reaction - if they like it, you can use it; if not, try another." But for parents who are very stubborn, Winnie says not to push it.

Start taking good pictures of them when you're out together, just in case.

Whom to inform

Besides relatives, Mum and Dad may have long-lost friends whom they'd like to have at their funeral. "You'll need time to update your phonebook and make contact, so speak to your parents early," says Winnie.

Final resting place

Ask your parents if they wish to be buried (at Choa Chu Kang Cemetery), cremated or have their ashes scattered at sea. For a cremation, they'll need to decide on a columbarium to place their ashes at. The scattering of ashes at sea is only allowed at a designated location. You can contact the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore's Marine Safety Control Centre (tel: 6325-2488) to find out more.

Other issues to keep in mind 

Consider These Too: Other end-of-life issues you need to keep in mind

• How your parents wish to spend their last days

If they're dying of an illness, Winnie says you should ask them if they wish to remain in hospital or be brought home (if they have the option), and who they'd like to visit them - people to say their goodbyes and thank- yous to.

You should also consider how to have proper home care for them, if needed.

• Settling open accounts

Ask your parents where they keep all their legal and financial documents so you can manage them on their behalf after they've passed on.

These include memberships, utilities, bank accounts, insurance and credit card bills, says Winnie.

"Reassure them by saying: 'Mum/Dad, I'm not trying to cheat you of your money. I'm only looking out for your interests.'"

• Appointing a "grief" committee

When your parents pass away, it'll be difficult to collect your thoughts and see to practical matters, like funeral arrangements.

Winnie suggests gathering a few close relatives to form a committee to handle it.

"Appoint a person-in-charge who's decisive, rational and can function amid the family's grief. And have a list of delegated tasks to work through."

What to do at the time of death 

What to do at the time of death

1. Contact your family doctor. He'll need to certify the cause of death and issue a Certificate of Cause of Death.  If you're unable to locate a doctor, call the police.

2. Register the passing within 24 hours at the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority's Registry of Births & Deaths or any neighbourhood police post.

3. After you receive the death certificate, you can place an obituary in the newspaper and engage a funeral home. If you're holding the wake at your void deck, apply for a permit from your town council.

How much does a funeral cost?

Funeral homes offer a variety of packages for different budgets. "Most packages account for funeral set-up, casket or coffin, embalming service, tentage, pall-bearing service, hearse and transport.

But some costs, like fees for cremation or burial, post-funeral rites and final resting place, are not included. So check with the funeral director beforehand," says Angjolie.

For Buddhists

A simple three- or five-day funeral package with basic arrangements ranges from $5,000 to $10,000. A mid-range package - with more elaborate

decorations and prayer ceremonies, for example - can set you back by up to $25,000. For a lavish sending-off, some funeral homes provide customised services like engaging a live band or arranging for catering with plated service. This can cost $30,000 and up.

For Christians

Services are generally simpler and the cost may be lower than Buddhist packages by $1,000 or more.

For Muslims

From about $1,000, inclusive of pre-burial religious rites and prayers.

For Taoists

Funeral ceremonies are more ornate and start from a five-figure sum.

For Hindus

A simple cremation package starts from about $3,000. There are additional charges for ground burials.

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