We’ve all heard of first responders.


But what about last responders?


We’re talking about funeral homes, their morticians, embalmers and undertakers — all of whom can be regarded last responders, given the essential final rites or services that they perform on this earth.


(Jeenah Moon – Reuters)


In the advent of the Covid-19, last responders have become as responsible in ensuring an environment that’s virus-free and safe for us to pay respects to the departed, as first responders are in treating the sick.


“Our bereavement care service providers are doing their best to ensure funerals are carried out smoothly and peacefully without much interruption,” says Teh Khai Lin, general manager of sales and services at Malaysia’s Nirvana Memorial, Asia’s largest in the bereavement business. 


(Nirvana Memorial)


“We understand it is difficult for them at this time, we hope they can bear with us and we all have roles to play to fight this war against Covid-19,” Teh added.


What exactly does this mean?


Firstly, it means limiting the sheer number of people who can attend a funeral. While having hundreds of people at a service during pre-pandemic days was common at Nirvana, these days it’s less than two dozen at a time. This is also in keeping with the Malaysian government’s Coordinated Movement Control Order — often referred to by its cryptic acronym, MCO —  which lets only 20 people attend a funeral at a time.


And while most establishments do temperature checks at the door, Nirvana is doing more. 


It disinfects the company’s vehicles on a daily basis and outfits staff with Personal Protective Equipment, including Dupont Tyvek Hazmat suits for those who have to handle Covid-19-related deaths.


“We have our own come-and-go approach to guide relatives and friends who are here to pay their respects, and then leave within 10 minutes to avoid them lingering on our premises,” Teh said in an interview with the Malay Mail of Malaysia.


“We’ve set limited chairs — four to six only at the venue — and no refreshments will be served so that relatives, friends and visitors have no reason to stay on for too long,” he said.


Usually, Nirvana opens its doors 24 hours a day. But with the pandemic, staff at the centre will politely tell people to leave if they have to. 


Teh knows how difficult this is for families already struggling with the loss of a loved one, and may want to stay longer with the person’s remains. 


Another difficult decision: Not allowing children below the age of 10 and the elderly above 60 to follow funeral processions for burial.


“These groups of people are more vulnerable to the virus,” Teh said.


The good thing is most of Nirvana’s customers have understood and cooperated to ensure a peaceful and dignified send-off for their loved ones.


  • Adapted from an original May 19, 2020 article in The Star: A new way to mourn: How Covid-19 has changed funerals in Malaysia
  • Banner picture: Hari Anggara, The Star


Nirvana Memorial


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