Not much is known locally about living funerals, but for late HCA patient Michelle Ng, it was a precious opportunity to gather with her loved ones for the last time. “I just want to be a friend to them, as much as they have been a friend to me, while I am still alive,” Mike, as she preferred to be known, had said.
Prior to the metastasis of cancer, Mike was a go-getter who enjoyed cycling and running, and working on her own wearables business. “I love cycling and feeling the wind in my hair,” Mike said. “It was how I spent my Saturdays, exploring new routes before dawn.”
“Cycling is a male-dominated sport, so I just have to chase the boys.”
The same spunky spirit was evident in Mike’s approach to end-of-life matters. When HCA Principal Medical Social Worker Jayne Leong first broached the idea of a living funeral, Mike embraced it quickly. “A living funeral is a celebration of a person’s life while they are still around,” Jayne says. “It allows the dying person to create a legacy, and to have the opportunity to connect and reconnect with loved ones.”
Mike was just 27 when she was first diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer in 2021. Things took a devastating turn at the end of 2022, when she learned that the cancer had metastasised. Mike sought treatment at the start of 2023, but it unfortunately proved futile.
With a poor prognosis, Mike decided to spend her remaining time at home with her loved ones, supported by the HCA team. “Being mortal inspired me,” she said. “I specifically wanted to call the event a living funeral, instead of a celebration of life [another commonly used term], as I wanted death to be close to our hearts, and not something to be feared.”
Despite the pain and discomfort, Mike pressed on with her pursuits, even opening a second retail store last year. “She started finding pockets of meaning by connecting with others, and working on her goals,” Jayne shares.
A Heartfelt Sharing
Weeks of preparation went into planning Mike’s living funeral, the logistics of which was coordinated by HCA’s multidisciplinary team. Mike had envisioned an intimate atmosphere, with good music, food, and words of love, akin to a birthday party. “I want to share my love, food, music and books with my friends,” she had said.
In the invitations sent out to her friends, Mike encouraged them to write a final letter to her, and to bring a book of their choice, for a book exchange with fellow guests. Rai, one half of Mike’s favourite local band Jack & Rai, also performed a couple of sets at her living funeral.
Together with her family, Mike prepared a delectable spread of food for her guests, which included the HCA team. While the primary objective of the living funeral was to connect with her friends, Mike also wanted to raise awareness of HCA’s work and hospice and palliative care in general, and to encourage her guests to gift to HCA in lieu of condolence monies.
In Mike’s speech, she said, “I wish people would know more about HCA and palliative care. They have helped me so much, in seeing the light in the tunnel.”
While the pain and low moods had been debilitating at times, there was no doubt that it was a joyful day for Mike, as she sang and clapped along to Rai’s music, and infused the atmosphere with her signature quips.
In addressing her friends, she said, “Thank you for making me so happy today. Your presence is so, so appreciated. I am grateful to hear every single laughter, to see every single smile.”
Mike passed on peacefully on 2 January 2024.
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