Death needs a future in Singapore

Death is not a key policy priority in the civil service and the crafting of policies, measures and strategies to manage death is oft reactive rather than proactive. Death it seems can wait. But death is salient. It is near.

Death and the development of the funeral profession is a key public policy consideration. It has to be. There is a strategic urgency to address the shortfalls in our attitudes towards death and the funeral profession in Singapore, lest the nation falls into an existential crisis, one that goes to the core of our identity, our geography and our cultural heritage as a nation.

Today, we wait in line for our flats to be ready. Tomorrow, we [our loved ones] will wait for a space for our urn. Look no further than Hong Kong, and we see a shadow of the crisis that will engulf Singapore in no time. Singapore’s land will run out in no time, the living will live on at the expense of our [dead] loved ones.

Today, we have cooling measures for the property market. Tomorrow, cooling measures will be a necessity for the death [property] market. The human person is not just a human body [or pulverized ashes], it’s Mum or Dad. In life and death, I have a duty as a son and a citizen.

We are on a cusp of a national existential crisis. As it stands, death’s future in Singapore is bleak. Dark clouds hovers across the horizon. It is that [dead] critical. Singapore lacks a strategic plan for death management, and the development of the funeral profession lags far behind, muffled by a wall of silence, incomprehension and procrastination put up by the ones who still are able to breathe, us. When our breath becomes air, it will be too little too late.

As death nears, we the living sits on the judgment seat and issue the arbitrary “Not-in-my-backyard” (NIMBY) edict. The dead among us — our family members and our fellow Singaporeans — will thus be exiled from our presence, sojourners in a land that they once called home.

We relegate the dead to urns in a columbarium as if emotional and spiritual distance is not enough. We visit them once in a while, at best twice or thrice every year. We allow fear to cripple the future of death in Singapore.

Today, Dad is family. Tomorrow, he will merely be a lamb sacrificed at the altar of the nation-state. The strategic urgency of now is before us, one that requires us to reconsider and reframe our present unhealthy relationship with the dead in our midst.

What do the dead means to us? Who are they to us and who are we as a people?

Our relationship with the dead does not end with the conclusion of a funeral. It is but the beginning, the beginning of a national conversation.