Ashes to ashes, dust to diamonds
AS IF losing a loved one is not painful enough, imagine the stress of waiting for years before a final resting place can be found for the ashes.
Some find themselves in this very situation in Hong Kong, where the queue for a spot at a columbarium can extend to three years.
And this could be our fate if we do not look towards alternatives to burial and cremation in land-scarce Singapore, cautioned Ang Ziqian, chief executive of Ang Chin Moh Funeral Directors.
"Columbariums are just a band-aid solution; there will be a space problem, given time, and it is a problem faced globally," he said.
"Everyone is asking: What's next?"
Mr Ang, 33, offers two possible solutions - a biodegradable urn used for sea burials and the technology to turn ashes into diamonds - but admits that more time is needed for these practices to gain greater acceptance here.
The biodegradable urn, brought over from the United States, has caught on more readily after being introduced several years ago. This is, in part, due to the growing environmental consciousness among young people today and the rising popularity of sea burials, he said.
Compared to the 1990s, when only around five such burials used to take place in a year, Ang Chin Moh Funeral Directors now oversees three to five each month. Of these, around 60 per cent choose to use the biodegradable urn.
The memorial diamond, introduced later in 2010, is gaining popularity at a slower pace - but some 20 were created in 2012 alone.
These aside, Mr Ang hopes to improve the service standards in the funeral industry here, drawing from the practices of funeral directors overseas.
A fourth-generation funeral director, he jumped into the industry at the age of 13 and was just 22 when he took over the reins of the family business. His mission: to change people's perception of the death industry to one that is not shunned.
Now, he is also the first Asian to be appointed to the United States' National Funeral Directors Association Global Committee, where he will serve a two-year term.
Mr Ang urges funeral directors to invest in their staff. They should be sent for skills upgrading and learn from the best practices overseas, he said.
A lot has to do with sensitivity, he notes. Many here make the mistake of not listening to the family members and instead force them to choose from ready-made packages. That, he said, would make one merely a supplier of the service, not a funeral director.
Another challenge on his plate is to attract the next generation of funeral directors, he said.
He hopes to collaborate with educational institutes to bring funeral courses to Singapore, so that the industry would be seen as a profession with proper certification.
"It is not the mainstream choice but it is an essential service required by the community, he said. "Ten years down the road and we might see ourselves queuing for funeral service if nothing is done now."