Hello, I am a funeral emcee!

/ Eva Ow Yann Shan

“Miss, how long have you been a funeral emcee?”

An uncle asked me this question as I walked out of the ceremonial hall. He then said, “You are all trained, right?”

I nodded with a sincere smile and replied, “Well, we are all trained internally.”

The uncle continued: “Very good, very professional.”

With that, I politely smiled and thanked him for his compliment before rushing off to prepare for another ceremony and execute my responsibilities as the emcee.

When I got home that day, I thought about it more closely and realised that it should be more than seven years since I embarked into the business of funeral emceeing. I thought back to the first time I set foot into a big company like Nirvana Asia Group. I was very nervous because I had stepped out of my comfort zone and ventured into an industry I have never thought of before. However, I have also experienced many firsts and learnt many terms that I had never heard of outside. For example: the first time going through the process of paying respects; the first time stepping into a ceremonial parlour; and the first time I didn’t shy away from watching my colleagues hammering in the nails when sealing the casket. The other thing about this job is having to pick up the microphone and speak in front of an audience. If you can’t overcome your fears, it can be really hard to endure.

When I recalled those first days at my new job, I went home every day mentally and physically exhausted, falling asleep after taking a shower. I was tired not because of a heavy workload, but having to face death and grieving families crying their hearts out every day. Their mourning and grief made it difficult for me to find release; I still couldn’t adapt to these energies I brought home and the only way I knew how was to sleep and rest to find relief.

After undergoing training for a period of time, I followed my colleague to a funeral to preside over the ceremony. I still remember this case very well.

The deceased was a young father in his thirties. His wife was a full-time housewife who took care of their three children at home, so the father was the sole breadwinner of the family. The deceased was very healthy and used to go running at the park every evening. I just didn’t expect that such a healthy person would suddenly die in his sleep. When the wife got up in the morning to wake her husband, she found him not breathing and his body had already gone cold. He passed away without any explanation and without any symptoms.

When I walked into the ceremonial parlour on the day of the funeral, I saw the wife standing by the casket the whole time, looking at her husband’s face while sobbing and saying, “Why did you leave without saying anything? What should I do now that you’re gone? I don’t want you to leave, please come back now.”

The sound of the wife’s sobbing filled the parlour. Her grief shook me to the core and made my breathing extremely heavy. 

Although I was silently feeling like I wanted to cry, my colleague suddenly said to me, “You will do the casket sealing ceremony later and then hand it back to me.”

As soon as she finished speaking, she handed the microphone to me. I didn’t have time to respond at that time and everyone started to prepare for the casket sealing ceremony. As the staff closed the lid, the wife held on tightly to the casket and started wailing loudly, refusing to let go. All the relatives came in and assisted the emotional wife out. At this point, my colleague gave me a wink and told me to begin the casket sealing ceremony. My body went cold and my hands and feet went numb, but I grabbed the microphone and announced that the moment to seal the casket had arrived. As soon as my voice rang out, the wife fell to the floor and wept.

The ceremony made me feel that separation is not something everyone can bear. We never know how deep the pain goes and how long it will take for us to let go. I was just an outsider, and it took me a day to recover. Every day at work, I had to accompany different family members to experience different partings.

Some friends will ask me if I have become numb to it and no longer feel anything since I have been doing this for so long. The truth is, I would like to say that people are emotional creatures and it is impossible not to feel anything, but the feeling dissipates when the ceremony is over and done with because I am like a bridge between the family members and the deceased – telling the deceased what they want to tell them from their hearts through my voice – so that they can feel at peace with each other.

So the significance of this job is what keeps me going. Here, I want to say out loud, “Hello, I am a funeral emcee!”

Nirvana Care’s Emcee Department

Nirvana Care’s Emcee Department is responsible for conducting funeral ceremonies according to the family’s respective background, customs and rituals, as well as language and culture. We ensure the smooth flow of the funeral process, including the viewing, sealing of the casket, paying of respects and the funeral procession. The funeral emcee is also responsible for interviewing the family to obtain information in order to celebrate the deceased’s life, help write eulogies and memorialize the deceased together with the family.

About the author

Eva Ow Yann Shan was a former administrator in Nirvana Care’s Ritual & Culture Management department before becoming a funeral emcee. Eva specializes in administrative workflow and is responsible for the administrative affairs of the department, arranging and guiding members in the administrative system. Eva has been emceeing for several years with a solid stage presence and is fluent in Chinese, English and Cantonese.

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