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PART 1 – INTRODUCTION

A Guide To The Common Types Of Funeral Services Held In Singapore

Singapore is a cosmopolitan society with people from various races and religions. Among the most common faiths in Singapore include Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and many more. Due to these various religions, a funeral service in Singapore may differ depending on the beliefs of the departed and their family.

Each religion has its unique funeral customs and rites that may not be apparent to those who do not practise the faith. As a result, some guests may be oblivious to the proper procedures and etiquette when they attend a funeral in Singapore. While it is never their intention to offend, their unfamiliarity might sometimes result in actions that come across as disrespectful.

Therefore, it is essential for everyone to understand the significance of funeral rituals and customs outside their own race and belief system. This way, we can ensure we pay our proper respect to the deceased and their family when we attend a funeral.

This is why we have put together a guide to the common types of funeral services held in Singapore. We hope that what we have shared will help you understand the different funeral arrangements and the proper etiquette to follow when you arrange or attend a funeral.

PART 2 – A GUIDE TO THE COMMON TYPES OF FUNERAL SERVICES IN SINGAPORE

2.1. What to expect at a Buddhist funeral service

What to expect at a Buddhist funeral service in Singapore

A Buddhist funeral service traditionally lasts for either three or five days. Before the memorial service commences, the body of the departed is cleansed and clothed at a funeral parlour before being transported to the service. A large tentage will be set up at the deceased’s home or, more commonly, at the void deck of an HDB.

The atmosphere of a Buddhist funeral is generally calm, serene, and solemn, with guests expected to remain quiet and sombre. Buddhist priests will be present during the ceremony to perform the chanting, which is carried out on the first day and last night of the wake. It is believed the chanting helps remove the deceased’s bad karma and aids them in their journey to the next life or Nirvana.

During the wake, the priests will also chant scriptures from the Buddhist sutras and lead the family and guests in offering prayers and food to the deceased. Guests may also present white Buddhist funeral flowers and joss sticks when paying their respect to the departed. 

On the final day of the Buddhist funeral service, the body will be prepared and transported to the burial ground or a columbarium to be buried or cremated, respectively. A priest will be present to lead the ceremony, reciting scriptures and making offerings before the family and guests depart for the burial grounds or cremation hall.

If the family opts to cremate the body, they can collect the remains and keep them in an urn, enshrining it in a government columbarium or private temple. Alternatively, they can choose to scatter the remains at sea.

Dos and don’ts of attending a Buddhist funeral

  • Dress attire

Family members of the departed are clad in white, while guests are generally expected to dress in black during the funeral. If black is not an option, you can consider clothes that feature neutral colours. Avoid wearing any jewellery or clothing with bright, flashy colours, as such actions are frowned upon and deemed disrespectful to the deceased and their family.

  • Behaviour

It is customary to proceed quietly to the altar to light a joss stick and pay your respect to the departed when you arrive at the funeral service. When approaching the casket, you should bow slightly with your hands in front of you in a prayer position. You may choose to pause for a moment of reflection in front of the casket if you desire. Subsequently, you can return to your seat and wait for the ceremony to begin.

A Buddhist funeral service usually consists of chanting and sermons. When the priest is conducting the ceremony, follow his instructions and stand when you are required to do so. If you do not feel comfortable participating, you can politely decline and wait quietly for the ceremony to conclude before talking.

While it is not mandatory to donate any money, this gesture will still be appreciated by the family. This monetary contribution – known as 帛金 – can help them offset the costs of the funeral arrangement. You can also consider sending a condolence card or flower wreaths. Do remember to avoid bright colours when selecting the flower arrangement. 

2.2. What to expect at a Taoist funeral service

What to expect at a Taoist funeral service in Singapore

Taoist funeral services can differ according to the dialect group of the deceased. While some customs and rites may vary, there are a few rituals that most Taoist funerals share. Additionally, the funeral ceremony traditionally centres around the theme of filial piety.

Once the body is transferred to the funeral parlour, the mortician will prepare the departed for the funeral ceremony by cleaning their body with a wet towel dusted with talcum powder. The deceased will then be dressed in their finest attire, usually in the colours black, white, brown, or blue.

If the departed has reached a certain age and is blessed with numerous offsprings, they are adorned with a set of special clothes termed 寿衣 – which is made with quality materials and possesses seven layers to keep the deceased warm in the afterlife. Generally, red is avoided in the attire, as it is believed that the colour will cause the departed to return as a ghost.

During a Taoist funeral service, a picture of the departed is placed prominently on an altar in front of the casket alongside portions of their favourite food, which serves as an offering to the deceased. Joss sticks and candles will also be lit and placed around the altar to allow guests and relatives to offer their prayers and respect.

There will traditionally be one or two Taoist priests leading the congregation through the various rituals. These rites generally involve the chanting of the Taoist scriptures and are intended to safeguard the spirit of the departed, the bereaved family, and guests from harm. The chanting of these scriptures is often accompanied by music from the drums and various other musical instruments. 

A particular Taoist funeral ritual involves a priest brandishing a sword – which is believed to be capable of vanquishing evil spirits – and circling a fire containing nine tiles. Subsequently, the priest will break each tile with the sword, signifying the freeing of the deceased soul’s from the nine levels of the underworld. 

During the funeral wake, family and guests are expected to support the rites by burning joss paper money and other luxurious items made from joss paper, including houses and clothes. Attendees are also encouraged to mourn as loudly as possible during the ceremony to display their love for the departed.

On the last day of a Taoist funeral service, the casket will be nailed shut after everyone has paid their final respects. During the process, everyone is expected to look away as it is taboo to stare at the casket when it is sealed shut. Afterwards, white and yellow papers will be affixed to the surface of the coffin before it is transported to the burial ground or crematorium on the funeral hearse. If the body is being buried, family members and guests are again expected to look away when the casket is lowered into the ground.

Dos and don’ts of attending a Taoist funeral

  • Dress attire

When attending a Taoist funeral, you are encouraged to be clad in white, blue, or black. Avoid bright and flashy attires, especially those with the colour red, since this colour is believed to hamper the spirit’s journey to the next life. Additionally, avoid carrying anything with a reflective surface, as there is a belief that those who see the deceased’s coffin in a mirror’s reflection will subsequently encounter death in their family.

  • Behaviour

Upon your arrival at a Taoist funeral service, you should proceed directly to the altar to pay your respect to the departed by offering joss sticks or a silent prayer. Similar to a Buddhist funeral, you are not obligated to participate in the chanting of the scriptures, but it is highly encouraged. If you choose not to do so, you should politely wait for the ritual to end before talking. Lastly, you are encouraged to keep vigil with the family members during the duration of the wake.

Monetary contribution – 帛金 – is not mandatory but remains appreciated by the family during this turbulent time. In fact, this gesture is actively encouraged regardless of the type of funeral service you are attending.

2.3. What to expect at a Christian funeral service

What to expect at a Christian funeral service in Singapore

The colour white is a common theme in most Christian funerals, with the funeral service usually decorated with white curtains and drapes, as the colour is generally associated with peace and purity. An opened Bible will be placed on the altar or table beside the casket to symbolise the Christian faith.

Unlike traditional Chinese funerals, which tend to emphasise rituals and traditions, Christian funerals often focus on remembering the deceased. A pastor will oversee the service and lead the congregation in the reading of prayers and singing of hymns, which are chosen specifically for the funeral service. The ceremony ends with a final commendation by the pastor to significantly commend the departed to God’s loving arms.

Subsequently, the departed is transported to the burial site or crematorium. The pastor will conduct a final, short service before the cremation or burial, guiding the family members and guests in the singing of Christian hymns. After the funeral service has concluded, the family members generally prepare refreshments as a way to thank their guests for sending off the cortege with them.

Dos and don’ts of attending a Christian funeral

  • Dress attire

While Christian funerals do not have a fixed dress code, it is still crucial for guests to dress appropriately for the wake. So it is advisable to wear black or any dark-coloured clothing and avoid wearing anything too revealing or containing bright colours.

  • Behaviour

Do offer your condolences and express sympathy to the bereaved family when you arrive at the funeral service. You can extend a handshake or even a hug if appropriate. And when you are paying your respect to the deceased, avoid touching the open bible placed at the altar as it is not meant to be removed.

If you have urgent business to attend to, it is advisable to schedule your departure before or after the service to avoid causing a disruption. There is usually an itinerary available to inform the guests of the service timings. Alternatively, you can check with a family member who should be aware of this.

2.4. What to expect at a Catholic funeral service

What to expect at a Catholic funeral service in Singapore

Catholicism is a denomination of Christianity. As a result, you will find plenty of similarities between Catholic funerals and Christian funerals. However, a Catholic funeral service places a greater emphasis on its rituals, as Catholics believe their actions in life will determine whether their soul departs for heaven, hell, or purgatory. This ceremony is referred to as the Reception of the Body, and it is generally conducted by a priest.

The ritual involves the sprinkling of holy water on the casket, and scriptures from the Old Testament of the Bible are recited along with a passage from the book of Psalms. A commendation prayer will also be conducted by the priest to entrust the soul of the departed into the arms of God. Lastly, the Holy Communion is carried out and holy water and incense are used to bless the casket before the body is transported to the crematorium or burial site to be cremated or buried, respectively.

Dos and don’ts of attending a Catholic funeral

  • Dress attire

The atmosphere at a Catholic funeral is generally respectful and sombre, so it is advisable to dress accordingly. Men typically sport a suit and tie, while ladies may wear a dress, black skirt, or pantsuit. If such attires are not available, guests can opt for the darkest semi-formal clothing they have.

  • Behaviour

When expressing your condolences to the bereaved family and paying your respect to the deceased, you may also say a short prayer for the departing soul and their family. Also, while it is not mandatory, we recommend offering the bereaved family a basket of fruits as a sympathy gesture and monetary contribution – 帛金 – to cover the expenses for the funeral.

Additionally, the bereaved family member will provide guests with a red thread as a respectful gesture to ward off any possible bad luck that may be brought upon them by attending the funeral wake. So before you depart the funeral service, you should tie the thread loosely around your fingers and let it slip off your hand before you reach home.

2.5. What to expect at a free-thinker funeral service

Singaporeans may be accustomed to attending a funeral with a fixed set of customs and rites, but what happens if the departed is a free-thinker? Are there any etiquettes to follow? And as the number of free-thinkers in Singapore continues to rise, there is a need for funeral services that cater to this particular group.

There are no fixed rules when arranging a funeral for a free-thinker. Since the deceased do not practise a faith, the service will be dissociated from any religion. The bereaved family may still opt to include the various cultural practices associated with the departed’s ethnic group. If the family is unsure of how to proceed with the funeral, they can discuss the arrangements with a funeral director.

However, guests can still expect some similarities with other funeral services, including the paying of one’s respect to the deceased and the transportation of the body to be buried or cremated. But generally, the service will be more of a commemoration of the deceased’s life, with family and friends sharing their favourite things and moments with the departed.

Dos and don’ts of attending a free-thinker funeral

  • Dress attire

Just because there are no fixed customs and etiquettes to follow does not mean you can dress inappropriately for a free-thinker funeral. Similar to the dress codes of other funeral services, you should avoid wearing bright, flashy clothes. Instead, opt for dark or neutral colours.

  • Behaviour

Likewise, you should still be on your proper behaviour when attending a free-thinker funeral. While the service may be more of a commemoration of the departed’s life, the atmosphere will likely be serene and solemn. Therefore, it is advisable to avoid disrupting the calm.

If you have to depart the funeral service early, you should still inform a family member. Additionally, we advise making a small monetary donation – 帛金 – to help the bereaved family cover the funeral expenses.

PART 3 – HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT FUNERAL SERVICE PACKAGE IN SINGAPORE

Choose the right funeral service package in Singapore

Planning a funeral is a challenging prospect for many of us. The process is much easier if the departed had their funeral pre-planned. However, given that death remains a taboo subject for many Singaporeans, funeral pre-planning is not something many would have considered. As a result, you or a loved one may be tasked with handling the funeral arrangements.

However, given the number of funeral service providers in Singapore and the various funeral service packages available, it can be difficult to select the ideal one for your loved one. Overspending is also a valid concern. After all, you do not want to go over your budget and add unnecessary complications to the situation. So allow us to guide you in selecting the right funeral service package that matches your needs.

1. Plan out your budget beforehand

It is always prudent to know how much you are willing to spend before engaging the services of a funeral director. Don’t forget to include other expenses, including the catering and the rental of the funeral venue, if applicable. This way, you will not be caught by surprise once you tally up the funeral cost. Once you have determined your budget, you can approach a funeral director to discuss the funeral details.

2. Don’t forget to consider the extra services

The services included in a funeral package vary from one service provider to another. Therefore, it is imperative for you to enquire about the details of the package with the funeral director to ensure the services you need are included. Conversely, if there is a specific service you do not require, you can exclude them from the package. This way, you can minimise the funeral cost and avoid going over budget.

3. Know what you want

Your ideal funeral package will be dependent on the funeral rites you require. For example, the customs of a Buddhist funeral are vastly different from a Taoist funeral service. If you require the former, you would want to look at the available Buddhist funeral packages in Singapore. But if you seek the latter, you should consider a Taoist funeral package.

Additionally, you need to decide if your family wishes to bury or cremate the body after the funeral service. This decision has a significant impact on the funeral plans. For a burial service, you are required to purchase a burial plot beforehand. Conversely, you will need to get an urn and book a niche at the columbarium of your choice if you wish to cremate the body.

At the end of the day, you will want to ensure your loved one’s final wishes are fulfilled. Therefore, every detail should be decided before the funeral begins to ensure everything goes off without a hitch. If you feel overwhelmed by all the planning required, you can seek the help of a funeral director. They can provide you with the support you need during this trying time.

4. Unite in your decision making

Between planning the funeral service and grieving the loss of a loved one, it is understandable for tensions to be running high during this tumultuous time. As a result, it is common to see disputes occur due to disagreements between family members.

However, this is a sensitive time when family members should come together and support each other. And a dispute is the last thing you want. While everyone should come together to consult on the details, such as the budget, there should be a decision-maker appointed to make the final decision. The other family members should recognise and respect the choices made by this person.

PART 4 – CONCLUSION

Whether you are simply attending a funeral or involved in the planning process, there is no denying that funerals are an emotional affair. During this turbulent time, your presence will likely provide much-needed comfort to the departed’s grieving family and friends. Therefore, it is essential for you to understand the proper customs and etiquette of the funeral you are attending to ensure you pay proper respect to the deceased and their family.

If you or someone you know require help with planning a funeral, it is advisable to seek the assistance of a reliable funeral service provider in Singapore. At Confidence Funeral Services, our experienced team has assisted with the arrangement of various funerals of different rites and customs. Do not hesitate to contact us today if you require assistance with the funeral arrangements of a loved one.