Will anyone cry at your funeral?

THE TELEVISED state funeral of Dr Goh Keng Swee (May 23, 2010) showed the admiration and genuine affection that many people in Singapore continue to have for one of the city state’s founders, although he had been out of the public eye for almost a decade.

If we’re fortunate like Dr Goh, we too may live a long, productive life. But sooner or later we would have to appear at our own funeral (in body though not in spirit). What will our family members, friends and acquaintances (including, er, past lovers) think of us when they heard we’re dead and waiting to be buried (or cremated)? The sentiments people harbour in their hearts will be a good gauge on how successful we had spent our days.

To measure your true success in life, we will have to see how many A’s people who know you, are willing to give you, when you’re dead. The A’s are Affection, Admiration (both of which Dr Goh had aplenty), Adoration (what pop idol Michael Jackson would have received) and mere Approval (what your kids will grade you provided they get a share of your house and whatever is left of your CPF and other hoards).

As long as you had been nice to people, didn’t divorce your spouse or vandalise subway stations, visitors to your funeral would probably nod their heads in approval at the kind of life you had had led – nothing significant or interesting, just a ho-hum indifferent existence.

To win an A for Approval, stay out of trouble when you were alive. Let sleeping dogs lie; treat friends to drinks occasionally; and grin like an agreeable idiot when people argued over controversial World Cup goals, politics and structured investments from predatory financial salesmen.

Earning an A here is harder. You gotta genuinely love your spouse and not drop her like a hot brick when a slender, longhair China woman comes along (the China woman is actually thinking your retirement savings are more attractive than your aging face). Don’t regard love like some ghost in the old Changi Hospital – everyone has heard of it but no one has seen it.

Affection or charity starts at home but shouldn’t stop there. Extend your love in a practical way to relatives and friends in need, and to charities as well. Volunteer your time, effort and money to a worthwhile cause in which you have a strong interest – save dolphins from Japanese fishermen and marine parks, visit destitute old patients in Ren Ci Buddhist Hospital, give tuition to schoolchildren from poor families, go to Haiti as a volunteer at Dr Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health, a healing organisation for the underclass.

The Buddha once explained that Indra the chief of the gods earned his preeminent position because in a previous life as a young man, he engaged in charitable works such as building shelters for homeless folks, repairing roads and bridges and distributing food during famine.

Get involved in compassionate activities. At your death you may not be reborn as chief of the gods, but at least you can die with confidence and acceptance, without having to worry whether Yama, king of the underworld, is going to torture you or not. Compassionate people have no fear of the afterlife.

If you carry out your achievements – in charitable works or other human endeavours – to an exceptionally high level, you can be sure of receiving an A for Admiration, just like Dr Goh. And when you’re in Yama’s court, the fellow would probably rush out to greet you, invite you in for tea and even ask one of his ghouls to give you a neck and shoulder massage.

Adoration is slightly different from Admiration in the sense that it is more personal. If family members, relatives and close friends adored you, it means they hold you as a role model and want to pattern their conduct, speech and attitude after you. Wow, this is something almost impossible to achieve. To have adoring people at your funeral, you must have truly live the authentic human life!

By the way, if you strongly suspect there would not be many people who would sincerely weep over your passing (because you know, and everyone knows, that you’re nothing but a mean ol’ bastard), then you need to set aside money to hire professional mourners at your wake. And as a mean ol’ bastard, you should also set aside money for your funeral director to buy Hell’s banknotes to burn beside your coffin, so that you can carry sufficient cash to the Underworld to bribe Yama’s officials. They will ensure your tortures will not be so painful.

– June 30, 2010

The Love that conquers even Death | Granny's funeral | Contents Page

When you have sailed into the eternal sunset, how will you be remembered?