Growing From Crisis:
Responding As One Public Service

Helping Bereaved Families With The Final Send-Off

Losing a loved one is hard, and made even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. One public officer recalls the initial difficulties in managing the new crematorium protocols and the support his team rendered to the bereaved families.
National Environment Agency officers prepared safe management measures during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
From L-R: National Environment Agency officers Shah Ridhuan Azman, Wong Kim Choong, Daniel Ong (centre) and Desmond Wee re-enact how they prepared safe management measures during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The final send-off of loved ones is deeply personal and emotional for bereaved families. Within the Memorial Facilities and Planning Division (Mandai Crematorium) at the National Environment Agency (NEA), Daniel Ong understands the frustrations of bereaved families at funerals and wakes during the pandemic, as they had to abide by Safe Management Measures (SMMs).

“It is natural for family and friends to gather during a period of grief to show care and support for one another,” the Senior Manager says.

“With the SMMs, families have to restrict the number of funeral attendees, which includes the use of after-death facilities such as the Mandai Crematorium’s Service Hall.”

Knowing that most bereaved families engage funeral directors to assist in post-death matters, Daniel and his colleagues disseminated regular circulars to funeral directors to keep them informed of the latest requirements. They also devised plans to allow space for bereaved families to grieve while adhering to the SMMs.

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“Being empathetic allows for deeper conversations and builds trust between parties. And it is this trust that enables me to engage with them and provide persuasive solutions.”

For instance, the Mandai Crematorium Complex team developed a cremation entry pass system for bereaved families to plan out the funeral attendees in advance. The prevailing SMMs determine the number of entry passes issued to the cremation applicant, and only attendees with entry passes are allowed into the crematorium. Those who are unable to join the cremation service can participate remotely via Livestream.

“However, some families were not keen to adopt such streaming services,” Daniel says, recalling how one family had appealed to be allowed into the Service Hall as they wanted to participate in the final send-off in person.

“After explaining the rationale for the restrictions and listening to their needs, we proposed that they could still participate in the send-off via their private vehicle until the main gate of the Mandai Crematorium. We then met the family members at the gate to reiterate the reason for the requirements and seek their understanding. They appreciated our assistance.”

National Environment Agency officer Daniel Ong

He stresses the importance of being an active listener to these families and believes in putting himself in their shoes to understand their circumstances better.

“Being empathetic allows for deeper conversations and builds trust between parties. And it is this trust that enables me to engage with them and provide persuasive solutions while being tactful yet firm.”

The team also worked within tight deadlines to implement the SMMs, with some of the works being carried out after the facilities’ operating hours. For instance, the number of attendees allowed at funerals would change according to the prevailing COVID-19 situation. On several occasions, the team stayed back after the last cremation service to update the seat markings in the Service Halls and facilitate the new requirements for the next day.

National Environment Agency officers At The Mandai Crematorium

“Through this experience, I learnt to be agile to changing circumstances and understand what it means for a team to bond through difficult times,” Daniel reflects, adding that teamwork was paramount in implementing the SMMs on the ground.

His team members often took the initiative to render support to one another and members of the public without asking.

“I’m indebted to my team for their strong support, and we send positive vibes by constantly reminding each other that the work we do helps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Singapore,” he says.

  • POSTED ON
    Jul 6, 2022
  • TEXT BY
    Jinny Koh
  • PHOTOS BY
    Teck Lim
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