Work

Was I really suitable for my job?: 27-year-old funeral director speaks up after her setback

Harmony Tee // December 28, 2020, 3:36 pm

HARMONY TEE FUNERAL SETBACK

Original image: Rice Media

In December 2019, an employee of Harmony Funeral Care made a mistake, which resulted in the wrong body being cremated. Amid regulatory curbs and legal proceedings initiated by the aggrieved family, Harmony Funeral Care also received extensive public scrutiny after the mix-up was reported in the local news.

One year on, funeral director Harmony Tee, 27, shares what she has learnt from this incident.


How could I let such a mistake happen? Why did it happen to me of all people? Was I really suitable to be a funeral director?

Questions like these engulfed me one year ago. 

Things happened so fast then. I barely had time to process what I was feeling, much less to get a grip on the situation, before I was inundated with calls from different reporters.

As the news of my employee cremating the wrong body became more pervasive on both printed and social media, my whole world crumbled.

I was used to being in the limelight for positive things. But I sure wasn’t prepared to appear in the news for a mistake like that.

Reading the online comments made things worse. The guilt that I already felt towards the aggrieved family continued to build up.

I cried myself to sleep almost every day. I slept longer than usual and stayed cooped up in my room. Thoughts of suicide flashed through my mind.

I was really exhausted with life.

WITHOUT MY JOB, WHO WAS I?

During this time, I turned to my church friend who was working in a PR firm and she referred me to her superior. This meeting was so timely and apt.

Before even talking about her rates or fees, Cath asked me straight up: “Why did you join this trade?”

This question brought me to recall my journey of entering the bereavement trade. And as I shared this with Cath, I was reminded of my initial motivations.

Conducting funerals was not just a job to me. It was a ministry where I could serve God’s people during their time of loss.

After hearing me out, Cath then said: “If you know this is God’s calling for you, continue doing what you’re doing.”

That’s when it dawned upon me how important it is to always remember why we do what we do in life. It’s easy to forget the reason behind our deeds especially when we become successful. That was what happened to me.

But as I remembered the reason for entering this trade, it became one of the biggest motivators for me to stay on in this vocation.

In addition, many people encouraged and supported me.

I received many texts from relatives, friends, pastors and family members whom I’ve served over the last three years.

They told me to persevere as they had experienced our services first-hand and understood that this mistake was a one-off unfortunate event.

Till today, I remain grateful to those who took time and effort to initiate a conversation with me just to spur me on. 

REMEMBERING MY TRUE IDENTITY

In particular, I was especially heartened by a phone call I received one day after the news made it to The Straits Times.

A man who just lost his mother called me and told me this: “Hi, I saw the news, but we’ve decided to engage your services as we want to encourage you. I think Mum would love that.”

I was lost for words because I didn’t think anyone would still choose our company after reading the news. It was so out of this world that it had to be God’s work.

“If you know this is God’s calling for you, continue doing what you’re doing.”

Despite this, I was worried whether the business would survive. I was scared of the unknown, and upset that the title of “Funeral Director” – one that I had so fondly attached myself to – now seemed to be destroyed.

Without being a funeral director, who was I, really?

As I pondered these things, I was suddenly reminded of something an acquaintance I work closely with once told me: “Focus on God.”

He had said these very words to me months ago when I was confronted with other challenges in my job. He had encouraged me to put my focus on God instead of external circumstances, for the latter always changes but God alone remains constant.

As I remembered these words again, they reminded me of my true identity. I am a child of God, nothing more and nothing less.

Whatever that was bestowed upon me by Him – my job and material possessions – were just gifted to me to bless others.

He gives and takes away as He wills. And yet, He will surely provide me with all that I need.

With that shift in mindset and attitude, everything I was going through grew more minute in comparison to God’s grand scheme of things.

LOOKING AHEAD TO THE FUTURE

As such, I started to embrace what had happened and readied myself to face the consequences. But now, I did so not out of my own strength, but with the strength and wisdom from my Heavenly Father.

Slowly but surely, I rebuilt my life bit by bit. And as I started to change on the inside, I also began to look at how I could change things around me.

For instance, after feeling deeply responsible for the mistake made by my employee, I was motivated to improve the overall death care standards in Singapore.

From this came the idea to create a mobile app that enables family members to receive real-time updates of the decedent’s status and track which employee is on the job.

Another initiative I started was to prepare a grief journal and a gift for family members, to help them in processing their emotions.

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2020 has definitely been a watershed year for me. Life is not a bed of roses. But that is why we need to rely on God!

I still feel scarred from the entire incident and will need more time for emotional healing. Nevertheless, looking back, I can see that God was at work in the midst of my trial.

The very fact that the company still survives and even thrives today is how I know God works to make the impossible possible. In fact, when I share this story with others, many call it a miracle.

Harmony Funeral Care is a testament to God’s mercy, forgiveness and, more importantly, God’s marvellous work.

This incident has also taught me an important lesson: It is always good to take time every now and then to truly reflect why we do what we do.

Is it for vanity, or for the greater good and for God?

Always remember that the things of this world will fade away, but only God will not. May this be an encouragement to you when you face any difficulties in life.

THINK + TALK

  1. Can you recall the last time when you were faced with a major setback or failure? How did you deal with it?
  2. What is one thing that God has revealed to you through that difficult time (about Himself, yourself and the world)? 
  3. Why do you think a good God would allow His children to go through trials?