TO EMBALMER and funeral director Bony Sim, funerals are all about dignity and comfort — for the dead as well as the living.
He says: “We come in one piece, and we also want to go with dignity. And this also gives comfort to the next of kin.
“That is the only thing you can give them. This eases the pain. This is something that they can control.”
Invariably, it is the little things that matter to the families of the deceased. He says: “For example, if a mother passes away, I will ask, what would you like your mummy to wear? Or if a baby dies, they can help put a diaper on him for the last time.”
The 49-year-old’s name really is Bony. His parents had intended to name him Bonnie, but misspelled it.
Mr Sim, who has been in the trade for more than a decade, has vivid childhood memories of watching Taoist and Buddhist funeral processions in his Bukit Ho Swee estate.
He can recall exactly why he entered the business of death.
“I came into the funeral trade out of curiosity, as I wanted to understand death,” says the father of three.
“As I observed further, I realised that the embalmer, of all the people in this trade, has the closest relationship with the deceased. He is someone who preserves, touches up and dresses the body.”
The former aircraft fuel specialist, who worked in the aviation industry for at least 15 years before his current profession, decided in 2002 to follow his true calling.
Mr Sim obtained a diploma in mortuary science via distance learning. He then established Mandaicorp Funeral Services, where he is the chief operating officer.
If life is unpredictable, so is death.
He gets calls from clients at all hours, including in the middle of the night. He says: “There’s no rest day. If I am not in the middle of another case, I will go. I am always on alert.”
When activated, he goes to wherever the deceased may be — at home, in a hospice or hospital.
To prepare the body, Mr Sim first embalms it using chemicals like formaldehyde. It usually takes just over an hour to embalm an individual who has died a natural death. But in cases of accidents or unnatural deaths, the process takes longer, and is more expensive too, he says.
“Depending on the condition of the body, such a case may take two hours. If it’s an accident, then restorative arts and wax is involved. I need to do a lot of patching up, and it takes many hours,” he explains.
Throughout the process, Mr Sim treats the body with respect. He says: “I am a Buddhist, so I do pray for them. I talk to them as if they are alive, saying things like, ‘Now I am going to do this, please cooperate’.”
He then puts on his funeral director hat, a role which he likens to an events management director, to sort out the arrangements for the funeral wake, and what follows after that.
“We are there every step of the way,” he says. “We help them to arrange the tentage and ask what their wishes are – what religion, budget, how long the wake will be.”
On the more practical side of things, he stresses that the funeral trade is not as profitable as some think.
“A lot of people think that we funeral directors si beh ho tan (Hokkien for very lucrative),” says Mr Sim.
“A funeral can cost tens of thousands, but not all of it is our earnings. We have to spread it out to other contractors.”
His fascination with death is such that he even has a small collection of animal bones and skulls.
For the past eight years, he has used the collection to give talks at schools, community centres and libraries.
He has seen many “youngsters” in their 20s and 30s coming into the business in recent years.
His advice to anyone thinking of entering his trade is: “Please have the passion. It’s a very demanding job. You must be ready to make sacrifices. If not, you shouldn’t do this job.”