This article is contributed by Robert Hoey - Funeral Support Services Co. Ltd.
My company specializes in embalming for local funeral homes and repatriations for foreigners who die in Japan; however, the need for funeral services in the expat community has been slowly developing. We deal with all different faiths and religions. The foreign community in Japan has been growing and with it comes the different cultures and religions. As a funeral director it is necessary for me to be familiar with and accepting of the various needs the families my company serves.
I was a funeral director in Canada for five years before I came to Japan thirty years ago. Canada is a country of immigrants with various nationalities thriving within their own communities. Within these communities, quite often there is a funeral home serving them. My dream has always been to start my own funeral company providing personalized services for the expat community here in Japan. My dream came true five years ago.
It was a quiet Saturday morning when I received a phone call from a Vietnamese woman. Her five month old baby had died and she wanted to arrange a direct cremation. I took down the details, told her that I would arrange the transfer from the hospital to our care center and that I would meet her at the city office to register the death on Monday. All deaths need to be registered at the local government office and we always accompany the family to complete this process.
While sitting at the city office we talked about what had tragically happened to her baby and how she was dealing with it. As expected her grief was deep. Her and her husband were a young couple and were concerned about the funeral expenses so this is why they had chosen the most economical way by having a direct cremation. I explained that I was able to provide additional services which could be affordable for them. Grief can be very difficult especially when dealing with the death of your own child.
I explained about the benefits of embalming and how she would be able to hold her baby and not worry about rushing through with the cremation. When there is the death of an infant, being able to hold the baby brings comfort to the parents.
We were able to hold a gathering for the friends and co-workers of the couple and everyone came to spend the afternoon at our care center. They talked, placed flowers in the casket and the parents took turns holding the baby. It was a very emotional time for everyone and the support given to the parents was very heartwarming. The grandmother was able to join via video chat and she said Catholic prayers for the baby. We are living in an age where online video feeds can bring people together from all over the world.
The following day we took the parents and the baby to the crematorium. They spent their final moments together holding and rocking the child until the cremation began. In the car on the way home the mother thanked me and said that she did not think she would be able spend such a meaningful time with her baby.
It gave me great satisfaction to guide this family through such a traumatic time. It pulled at everyone’s heartstrings, even my own. One thing I always tell the families I serve is that you don't need to rush. Sit down and take a breath because this will be the last time you will be able to spend with your loved one. Cherish every last minute.
We deal with all different situations. I received a call from a British man whose Japanese wife was dying from cancer at their home. He told me that he was meeting with different local funeral companies to discuss her arrangements but decided to deal with us because he couldn’t speak Japanese well. I was honoured that he chose us and promised to do my best to help him provide a dignified send off to his wife when she passed. He called me at 5:00 am the following weekend and I got out of bed, put on my suit and was in the transfer vehicle on the way to his home right away.
We transferred his wife back to our facility to do the embalming and then brought her back to their home in the afternoon. When we arrived, we prepared her for rest up in her bedroom. Her husband came in and smiled with tears coming down his face. He said that she looked like she came back from the beauty parlor. She was fading away from the cancer that was eating her body and he was excited to show her to her friends who were coming to visit. The embalming procedure is complex and we are able to restore people using different procedures.
After the visitation and funeral period he considered various methods of disposition for the cremated remains including shooting them up into space. His wife was a Star Trek fan. He finally decided on a sea scattering service that my company provides. As he eventually planned on returning to England in a few years, there would be nobody here to take care of her grave.
The option of sea scattering provided a simple ceremony of putting the ashes in a place she loved off the coast of Enoshima. It was a beautiful day for the cruise and Mt. Fuji made a beautiful backdrop for the ceremony. We played her favourite music, poured some of her favourite Calpis soda into the sea and scattered petals of her favourite flowers.
The husband opted for a private service so he could send his wife off by himself. I was so privileged to be a part of her final arrangements. I am sure that he drives down to Enoshima occasionally to be close to her.
Being a funeral director for the expat community brings me into many interesting situations. Although I deal with the grief of others, there is great satisfaction carrying them through the difficult times.
Funeral Support Services assists with funerals fully in English. Please send inquiries or ask for consulting if you have any questions.
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