Interview - Chee Hui Ming

SKIP TO INTERVIEW | Xi Ying Khoo | Jodie Goh | Chen Jiaying | Chee Hui Ming | Toh Jiahe |


|| CHEE HUI MING, 21, Atheist

| PERCEPTIONS TOWARDS DEATH

Hui Ming last attended a funeral last year. It was of her ex-classmate, who passed away due to cancer, which took a turn for the worst despite much optimism from friends and family. Hui Ming was shocked upon hearing the news through Facebook and friends. She attributes the shock largely due to the fact that her friend, Michelle, was of the same age then – at just 20 – which she found very much chilling, especially since death at a young age was “not exactly the most expected”.

In our interview, she shared her perceptions on death:
“I feel like we often see death as something that comes with old age (that comes with some illness), and not very much associated with youth - unless an accident had occurred”

She expressed a definite fear for death. Especially so for her own life. Michelle was the first friend her age to have passed away, and she felt that an incident like this really made her reflect on her own life – whether she was actually accomplishing anything, if she had any regrets. To Hui Ming, it was almost an awakening. “At that moment, it’s strange, because 20 suddenly sounds so young and so old (like you’re wasting time) at the same time. I think for me, life is about what I have accomplished that I can be proud of. Death is then not exactly the opposite of that, but it’s the deadline of what I can accomplish”, she shared. “The annoying thing is, I have no idea when that deadline is.”

Additionally, she felt that death always made her feel all that more vulnerable as a human being – more so than fear, especially because she closely attributed death with age. In her words, age was “something that you can’t stop or turn back time on, but make each day or year mean and worth more”.


For her, the thought of death immediately evoked the word – “end”. She laughed at the cliché of life flashing before your eyes before you die, but still recognises that she would want those flashes, those memories, to be happy ones. “We tend to speak of death as the end to all meaningful things we can do in our lives, which is why we do things that we won’t want to regret ‘at that moment’ before we pass,” Hui Ming said. The death of someone close would mean a definite loss, pain and grieving for her, but she acknowledges that they would “live on” in her heart – or at least tell attempt to tell herself so, as many often do. Still, she knows that she will always miss their presence in her life.

This perception mainly had to do with the fact that Hui Ming is an atheist with no religious affiliation. She admits that this perhaps makes her feel even more vulnerable to changing ideas of what death would mean to her. Though, she says that it is not necessarily a bad thing, and she aims to keep an open mind. “I feel like instead of living my life to achieve something after death, I should just focus on the present and how that would contribute to my future, and not a post-death experience,” she shares.

That said, she does not believe in life after death, mainly because she’s not a religious person. Hui Ming has pondered over the thought of what “form” she would take after death, but never really came to a conclusion. In her mind, she always thought of it as just having a soul wandering around without a physical being. It was strange to her that she would just disappear from existence – even her soul – hence her belief that there is something separate from her physical being that will not disappear along with her physical self.

| PRE-FUNERAL

Michelle’s family held her funeral about 2-3 days after her passing. Hui Ming had received news of the time and location through another friend’s SMS. They had been ex-schoolmate in Secondary School.

| FUNERAL

“It was straightforward,” Hui Ming shared. The family was Methodist but the funeral was held in a covered public space (sort of a gathering/event space) in the middle of a HDB estate, as opposed to a church, as Hui Ming would have expected. She wonders if it was because the family was not well to do. Though Hui Ming did not know the family personally, she felt that paying her respects was an overwhelmingly emotionally-charged experience. She met up with a friend, Samantha, at a nearby MRT station before going, and she remembers them being “insanely hesitant and almost nervous”. They had received news that the casket would be placed at the area for a few days. They lingered outside the tented area for awhile before deciding that they had to overcome their nerves.

Not being a Christian, Hui Ming allowed Samantha to lead most of the prayers as they sat with Michelle’s mother, mostly to wish her daughter all the best, and that she was no longer suffering and feeling much better in heaven with God and in a much better place. There was also a collage of photos given to the family by her closest friends (of them from young through school days) and messages of well wishes - very much cheerful-looking. There was also hanging banners of bible verses, a large photo of her displayed in front of her open casket, accompanied by flowers. They walked up to the coffin to say a short prayer with a moment of silence. There were Christian hymns playing in the background, some more cheerful sounding than others. Tables were mostly large wooden or plastic ones with red and white chairs. The family also provided snacks and packet drinks for those who came to pay their respects.

Her friend also reminded her that that they had to bring some money in certain even-number denominations - otherwise it was unlucky or disrespectful – as a contribution to help the family cover the cost of the funeral. She gave SGD$20 (still being a student without any income, it was considered quite an amount to her), and they wrapped our contributions in an envelope and passed it to her mother with a message of condolence just as they were about to leave.

She then muses over what she would want her own funeral to be like, and settles on it being a definite happy occasion – not one celebratory of her death, but a celebration of her life. “Hopefully I would have achieved something that would be worth remembering me for by then!” she said with a laugh. “I think what alot of us fear is that no one would turn up at our funeral. It sort of says that you haven’t impacted any one's life, which is quite a scary thought.”

She then recollects one of the last trips she took to Penang to visit her maternal grandmother. Hui Ming’s mother made her help take a good photograph of her grandmother, and though they did not outrightly admit it, they all knew that she was on the last few years of her life, though she still seemed to be going strong, albeit with walking problems and an onset of dementia. They wanted to make sure they had a good photo for her funeral. Hui Ming then shared that she would not want her death to be sudden, but did not want her friends and family to worry about the last few years or months of her life, and not have an illness dragged out for years. She hopes to die from old age, with enough time to visit or meet up with everyone who means something to her before that. She would also hope to die in Singapore, with friends and family by her side, with a piece of mind. That said, she seems to have an image of her funeral well thought out:

“I would still want everyone to dress up in black (just ‘cause its one of my favourite colours haha, not because I want people to be grieving), perhaps I’ll have a dress code of purple/black, something classy. And I want people to be drinking margaritas haha, hopefully to take the edge off. Only happy tears will be allowed. It’ll also be good if I could hold it at home, or somewhere close to my home. I don’t want it to be at a funeral home or some crematorium or any depressing place. I’m hoping that by then, my children, grandchildren, immediate and extended family, will be there not out of a sense of obligation but because I actually meant something to them.”

| POST-FUNERAL

With the lack of burial space in Singapore, Hui Ming seems to have succumbed to her decided fate of being cremated. Still, she would insist on her ashes being placed next to her loved ones’. On Singapore’s Human Organ Transplant Act (HOTA), she recollects receiving her letter from the Ministry of Health nearing her 21st birthday sometime the middle of this year.

“It was this cheerful looking envelope, all bright and yellow, and it told me that I was automatically part of the donors list as part of HOTA, and would have to opt out by sending in a form, which included checking off organs that I could chose to or not to donate upon any cause of death,” she said. She admits that at that time it was a highly disturbing thought and did not really want to think about it, so she decided to just leave her name on. “I guess that’s the danger of the opt-out system. It kind of targets people like me,” she said, comparing it “emotional blackmail”, as the letter stated that one would also be of lower priority in the case of needing an organ transplant after having chosen to opt out.

“Then again, I guess if I could do something that would help someone live on healthily and happily after my death,” she said, “then at least there would be that much more of meaning to my life."


-end of section-


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