Eugene Tan of Entrust Funeral Service felt his calling to serve the deceased and their families after experiencing funerals of people close to him.

Eugene Tan, 24, of Empathy Funeral Service wanted to address service gaps in the funeral industry. Unlike many of his peers who take over the family business, he started out on his own with the aim of providing better quality funeral services.

  1. Why did you become a funeral director?

Death wasn’t a topic that I was preoccupied with. Similarly, I believe that preparing for the end is often glossed over by many people, and they end up being unprepared when death occurs.

After witnessing and experiencing funerals of people who were close to me, I have since learned to cherish life and the value of kinship.

You could say it’s my calling. I decided to become a Funeral Director so that I can help bereaved families get through this difficult time. And I never looked back.

I started my own funeral service company because I discovered many service gaps that resulted in customer expectations frequently being unmet while I was an apprentice. After I gained the required knowledge, I ventured out on my own to close those gaps and provide better quality funeral services.

Others may feel there is a taboo to being in this trade, but I feel that my work has made my life more fulfilling.

  1. What qualifications do you need to become one?

As funeral directors, our work requires us to possess certain values and attitudes, and there is less focus on academic qualifications. They are:

A sense of responsibility – A funeral directors is responsible for the level of quality in the services provided. Getting things done right the first time is important because what I do during a funeral service cannot be erased or redone – there is only one funeral service for the deceased person.

My team and I are constantly trying to improve our work. We also reference other funeral service providers locally and abroad so that we can provide tip-top service quality to our clients.

Professionalism – It is very normal to have clients lose control of their emotions when their loved ones die. A funeral director should be prepared to respond professionally and provide help to their problems sensitively.

Good funeral directors should also provide emotional support for clients when needed. We are serving both the deceased and the bereaved families too. Listening attentively to the families and fulfilling their needs and requests is a crucial factor when directing funerals.

Domain knowledge – Our knowledge as a funeral director plays a big part in our role; we should be constantly learning, understanding and researching to keep up to date and in touch with funeral customs. Ceremonies are directed by us and our clients depend on us for our knowledge.

Nevertheless, before applying new knowledge, I always check with seniors in the industry and relevant religious persons before introducing it to our funeral services.

We also need to be humble and sincere when dealing with people and not be shy to ask questions. Learn fast, grow deep and don’t repeat mistakes.

How long have you been in your role? Why did you choose to be in this profession?

I have been a funeral director for 3 years, and I see it as my calling.

I feel a strong sense of fulfilment every time we organise and execute a successful and smooth-sailing funeral service, so my work has become my passion.

In fact, my work doesn’t even feel like a job to me. Handling funerals on a daily basis also serves as a constant reminder to myself that life is precious – the work I do helps me to grow and be a better person as a young adult.

I have seen cases where siblings who were not on talking terms become close again after a parent passes on. I’ve also seen a wayward child promise his ailing dad to change his ways and take care of his mother after his father passes away.

After witnessing how family conflicts are resolved during funerals, I am convinced that the role of a funeral director is important.

Describe a typical day on the job for yourself and your team.

My day usually begins when I meet a client. The timings can be random, but from there, we will begin to carefully plan a funeral event.

Once the event is planned, my teams will be activated to fulfil the expectations that have been planned out.

We have to fit new incoming cases into our schedule, which is usually filled with current cases, such as cremation services, post-funeral services, and Gong Teck etc.

Our work does not end even after night falls. We will provide assistance to ongoing cases with funeral prayers as these take place mostly at night.

Our hours are long, and we can be activated at any time of day, sometimes even when we are on the verge of going to bed.

Which part of your job do you find the most satisfying?

It’s satisfying for me to help a client find closure.

Other than logistics, planning, and guiding them along for rituals and rites, I make it a point to help my clients accept the passing of their loved ones and see their death as a release from suffering.

I learnt from attending a psychology course that helping the bereaved accept their emotions is beneficial for their emotional health. So, before the final funeral ceremony, I’ll encourage the bereaved family to express themselves and their emotions, whether it is by crying or speaking last words to the deceased before proceeding to the cremation chamber or burial grounds.

Which part of your job do you find most challenging?

Starting my business from scratch is the most challenging.

Unlike me, most of my peers took over their family businesses. They started off with equipment, capital, and a firm customer base that gave them a good headstart.

Although we are a young company, I believe we’re competent due to our diligence and perseverance as we face challenges. My team and I are constantly innovating to improve ourselves and the services we offer.

But it’s not all bad being new, because we are not bogged down by legacy and having to continue practices passed down from previous generations. I can truly cater to the unique requirements of each client while using customs and traditions as a general guide.

Because of our commitment to becoming the best service provider, we constantly get regular referrals from our previous clients.

If you could change something about what you do, what would that be? Why?

I believe society is slowly accepting that death is not a taboo topic.

As our work gets more accepted, we should have a set of standards to provide more consistent and quality service for clients. I hope to be able to create those standards so clients truly receive service that is “what you see is what you get”.

Plus, I think I need to look older so the elderly folk will take me more seriously when I interact with them.

Tell us something about yourself that makes you well-suited for your role as a funeral director.

The traits a good funeral director should have are:

  • Compassion
  • Sincerity and humility
  • Patience
  • Trustworthiness
  • Empathy
  • An organised multi-tasker
  • A win-win mindset and be ready to give more than you take
  • Willingness to learn

I make sure these qualities are evident to my clients when they deal with my team as they deliver on the funeral packages and services.

This is also why I’m able to work long hours and be on-call 24/7. There have been times when I cancelled a vacation at the last minute to attend to an urgent case.

I’m truly driven by the satisfaction I receive by helping those in need.

Which services are most requested for by clients?

My company is a one-stop service point, so I also offer post-funeral services. My clients frequently ask for customised funeral services. For example, they would like a Buddhist funeral service but also be able to offer joss paper and a paper house, which is a Taoist practice. We try our best to accommodate our clients’ requests.

I believe that as a bereavement care service provider, our main purpose is to help our clients spend more time with the deceased instead of worrying about planning the event.

Is there something about funeral directors that you would like clients to better understand?

Funeral directors are also human, but some people think we are immune to emotions associated with death. In truth, we do get emotional but we do not express them as we must remain composed and professional to carry out the funeral smoothly.

Who is someone that inspires you? Why?

My parents are an inspiration to me. I’m motivated thinking of the times when they struggle and face challenges, but they worked extremely hard to overcome those moments without giving up.

Starting up a company isn’t easy as I face challenges frequently. Their perseverance is always a reminder to me to keep going.

Can you give a tip or two for someone who has just lost a close family member – how should they go about shortlisting a funeral director?

Don’t panic. Understand that there is time to browse the Internet for more information about the available funeral companies and the services that they provide.

The prices and packaged items offered by the various companies are usually about the same, and differences between package prices are minor. But beware of companies that offer prices that are too good to be true.

What is more important is learning what the company does. Get to the company’s Facebook page and find out what do they do and what their clients say about them.

Check the company’s background, facilities and the manpower strength that they have. Set up a meeting at their office. Many funeral companies in Singapore don’t have physical offices or showrooms, so they share addresses with undertakers who are also casket suppliers.

Take the time you need to source for information and find proper service providers. The deceased is counting on you to provide a dignified and proper send-off.

Update on 24 Sep 2020: Entrust Funeral Service is now known as Empathy Funeral Service

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