Friday, May 16, 2014, 10:58 It’s your funeral By Ming Yeung / Focus HK
People who die unexpectedly leave a void — the family has to decide what to do and how to deal with the mourning process.
Lillian Li suffered a terrible blow with the death of her younger sister. She and her sister had been close. Li Ching, deaf, bright, intelligent, degree holder, couldn’t bear life’s disappointments. Rejected time after time after applying for jobs, she took her own life. She left no note to reveal her final thoughts, only a single word written on a bundle of certificates — “rubbish”. Lillian believes her sister came to feel that she had no value despite her outstanding academic success.
The family was at a complete loss about what to do next. They let a funeral planner take charge. “But is this really what she wants?” Lillian wondered — knowing that the answer would forever elude her.
“Funerals serve not only as a last event to honor the deceased. It’s the last thing family members do for her. It has great effect on the family to help deal with their sadness,” acknowledges Lillian. “If my sister had told us what she’d like to us do, we would have felt more at ease.”
In 2013, Lillian established Lightbulb, a social enterprise that handles a variety of projects, including Party Lasts, a core project of the company that helps people arrange their last parties and plan their funerals.
The year-old Lightbulb has thus far organized four last parties, or living funerals. All clients were terminally-ill patients.
“We feel it’s inappropriate for a healthy person to hold a farewell party but we encourage people to plan their funerals ahead. We can help our clients publish a book or shoot a short movie if they want to have a retrospective that can be shown at special occasions, including funerals,” Li says.
“Living funerals is (a) platform where all family members and longtime friends say the things they have missed out and reconnect with people whom they have not contacted for a long time,” she adds.
Death associated concerns
A client of hers, a cancer patient in his 20s, had cut off all contact with his friends. But there were words he wanted to say so badly. By having a living funeral of his own, he got in touch with the friends again and understood that he was not alone in the battle with the sickness. His physical condition has significantly improved since then.
But not everyone is “brave” enough to do such a thing given all the concerns associated with “death”. The funeral industry is not against the idea but not many people request for it.
The Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, which let William Chan hold a living funeral at one of their two funeral homes, says they will handle such a request on a case-by-case basis, but after Chan, they have not received any enquiries about living funerals.
Richard Chan of Luk Fook Funeral College is supportive of living funerals, but he said it will take a longer time before the public would accept it.
“People evolve from planning their funerals to arranging a living funeral of their own. They need to keep an open mind to embrace death,” he said, adding that living funerals should not be held at funeral homes due to their limited capacities to serve the deceased.
“To embrace the idea of holding a living funeral, you have to let go of the baggage — a set of values you have created intentionally or unintentionally with this world — and ignorance — a profound fear of death,” William Chan says.
With an estimated life expectancy shorter than other people, Chan treasures every minute of his life, trying to educate the public the importance of “living in the moment”.
“Nothing and not a single minute should be taken for granted. I want to tell those who believe they have a future, regardless of age, that there might not be tomorrow for you, so get a life and fulfill your dreams,” says Chan.