The heartbreaking business of funeral parlours as Covid-19 deaths soar

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As a funeral parlour operator, Ng Lie Cheng never really feels good when there’s a sudden spike in her business. It usually only means a catastrophe has taken place somewhere.

And that is what happened lately – a sudden spike in the number of Covid-19 deaths has kept her business brisk.

“There was a spike in Covid-19 cases since December last year and January this year, especially this month. It is becoming very frequent now.”

“We didn’t receive many cases from March to May last year. I don’t know how it was for the non-Chinese community as we specialise in Chinese funerals only, but it was okay then.

Ng Lie Cheng

“We didn’t need to order many body bags for Covid-19 bodies. We didn’t stockpile body bags because we were also not hoping to see many deaths from Covid-19,” Ng told Kinitv in an interview.

Ng said through her recent visits to hospitals to handle bodies of deceased Covid-19 patients, she had also witnessed an increase in the number of elderly patients being admitted without being accompanied by any family members.

“I was waiting for Health Ministry officers in a hospital when I was handling a Covid-19 case. Within that half an hour, I witnessed several ambulances sending Covid-19 patients to the hospital, at least five of them.

“They came in every five minutes; all the patients were elderly. They came without the company of their family members or children. I felt sorry for them.”

Some of these elderly patients, who were all admitted alone, did not make it in the end. Contrary to the usual practice for a Chinese funeral where the wake is held for three to five days for family and friends to mourn the deceased, all Covid-19 patients’ funerals were rushed and kept simple.

“We felt sorry for them, but there was nothing we could do. When we handle Covid-19 cases, we couldn’t dress them nor bathe them. We couldn’t do anything for them.”

“They had to be placed and sealed in a casket right away. Once that was done, they would immediately be sent to the Kuala Lumpur City Hall crematorium for cremation. For us Chinese, we can’t hold any ceremony, and we can’t dress them in nice burial garments nor do the makeup for them as usual.”

Ng added that when a Covid patient is pronounced dead, only one or two family members are allowed into the morgue to verify the body. That would be the only chance for the family to have one last look at their loved one, and even then, it must be done from a distance.

Ng Lie Cheng

Immediately after that, the body would be sealed and sent to a crematorium or a burial ground on the same day. There, family members, two at most, again must maintain a distance while watching the cremation or burial. No ceremony is allowed until the body is cremated or buried.

Health Ministry officers would be present throughout to ensure the standard operating procedures (SOPs) are being observed. The whole process, Ng describes, is heartbreaking.

Ng recalled the funeral of a Covid-19 patient who was so estranged from his family that he was sent off almost without any worldly belongings in the rush as no one had prepared anything for him, something deemed very grievous in the Chinese tradition.

“I had wanted to buy him some clothes, but I was wearing personal protective gear so I couldn’t leave the hospital, and we were ready to make our way to the crematorium.”

“I asked the sister of the deceased to bring some clothes to the crematorium directly. While there, I quickly wrapped the clothes and put them on top of the sealed casket right before it was sent into the furnace. I would feel very sorry if he was cremated without any funeral goods as being a deceased Covid-19 patient is terrible enough.”

For Ng, she only has one hope.

“Please follow all the SOPs, as we don’t know who has the disease, and where our friends have been. Please don’t go out, we want to take care of the elderly.

“Don’t bring them out because they are old, vulnerable and may not follow the SOPs. They could easily contract the disease. If doctors are infected, it would be a pity, as they have families too.” – Malaysiakini