Ever since the rise of COVID-19 cases, the Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital (HTAR) has been overcrowded with patients. While some were fortunate to leave the hospital, others were not.
“I have been in the funeral industry for more than 11 years, but this is my first time encountering such a depressing situation,” Terrence told WeirdKaya.
Many of these patients who succumbed to the virus overfilled the hospitals mortuary. As the hospital struggle with the lack of space, some corpses were left unattended. What’s even worse, were the few corpses placed in rooms with poor ventilation.
We had to put dry ice on the bodies to prevent them from rotting.”
More than 50% of the deceased held at the mortuary were from foreigners, of which the process of handling such cases are much more complicated than dealing with local cases.”
The mournful truth
Terrence Lim, the founder of Evergreen Memorial Services, revealed to WeirdKaya that more than 20 patients perish to COVID-19 every day at the Klang Hospital. Ironically, the figures had been more prominent since the implementation of the full Movement Control Order (FMCO).
A very stark difference as compared to the first MCO with only 1-2 deaths daily.
Despite being in contact with COVID-19 patients on a daily basis, undertakers are not recognised as ‘frontliners’. This means they are not prioritised with vaccine appointments.
Additionally, funeral parlours are excluded from government subsidies. While frontliners are often praised and applauded by the public, the undertakers and morticians are often overlooked.
I think that’s mainly because the whole industry is not united enough, he quipped.
No time to say goodbye
In these trying times, Terrence also shared that there’s no time for the deceased’s family to mourn for their loss. With funerals restricted, the entire process of handling a COVID-19 deceased is reduced to a minimum.
Furthermore, there is no chance to ‘prepare’ the dead. The deceased don’t get to dress up, powdered up, shower and so forth. Everything needs to be done quick and fast to minimise contact.
The deceased’s body will immediately be put into the coffin, wrapped, sanitized before heading to the cemetery. This all happens within hours,” Terrence explained.
Under the latest SOP, Terrence shared that only one family member is allowed to identify the deceased. Hence, other family members do not get a chance to pay their respects.
A disturbing experience
Looking back, Terrence vividly recalls a time where he was tasked to handle a male and a female cadaver that had been left at HTAR for 3 days.
When I first saw their body, I was shocked as the body had decayed like it has been left for a few months. These bodies were only kept in a air-conditioned room instead of the mortuary.
I was so stressed out as I still needed to take their picture for their family members to identify them.
He recounted that the family members were deeply disheartened by the situation. Wanting to avoid such devastation, he donated 4 containers filled with dry ice to the hospital.
On the other hand, Terrence informed WeirdKaya that the SOP for handling a foreigner’s remains is far more complicated. He emphasised that the documentation process may take up to 2-3 weeks for the release of the body.
He pointed out that even if their family members had identified and confirmed the corpse, they will still need to get documentation from their respective embassies. Unfortunately, this is not viable with the continuous lockdown.
The constant stress and anxiety as a non ‘frontliners’
For Terrence, the psychological pressure is tremendous. His wife had just become pregnant, and their child is still young.
Hearing news from other funeral service providers being infected with COVID-19 has heightened his mental stress. Given that most cases are asymptomatic, he worries that he may transmit the virus to his family members.
When questioned on how he copes with the stress, Terrance shared that he busies himself with work.
“I have to keep myself focused on the work, because when I am free, the negative thoughts will start to come. It will affect my mental health in the long run.”
Furthermore, Terrence’s other source of pressure comes from the safety of his employees. As they are also required to handle the COVID-19 patients, they are vulnerable to the virus.
The only thing I can do now is to provide additional financial assistance and disinfection tools for all the employees.
Dampened by the current situation, Terrence concluded that the government should acknowledge the roles funeral parlours play in this pandemic. He continued to state that the government should review the lengthy procedure in administering the death of immigrants. These documentations should be the least of the family’s worries.
Lastly, he urged everyone to stay home and stay safe.
Cover Images Provided By Terrence Lim for WeirdKaya
Proofreader: Sarah Yeoh