Helmed by the third generation of Hock Hin Undertaker, a renowned family brand name in the funeral industry for over 55 years, Harmony Funeral Care infuses contemporary ideas with age-old traditions in the planning of funerals.
What careers do you think are most meaningful? Many think of occupations, such as doctors, teachers, or policemen. However, after speaking with Harmony, the Founder of Harmony Funeral Care, I’ve gained an incredible amount of insight into this unexplored industry. Not only did she take the route less travelled, but as a 28 year old female in a male-dominated space, it was no easy path.
It’s a common saying that your degree doesn’t dictate your career, and Harmony is a literal embodiment of that. Though she graduated from the National University of Singapore with a degree in Accountancy, she decided to quit her job before starting Harmony Funeral Care.
Working in a space where emotions are constantly on a high can easily become toxic, especially when you are unable to segregate work from your own personal life. Harmony attests, “You have to constantly remind yourself that you’re doing a duty and that it’s a job.”
It’s easier said than done, especially in situations where the family members, in a state of distress, project these feelings onto her and her employees.
“It’s interesting how this industry can change your whole perspective on life,” she explains further. “The unpredictability of life really shapes the way you view things. One small mistake used to affect me so much. But now that I’m dealing with death every day, I’ve started to view things from a more macro perspective. If you think about it, most of the things you’re worried about now won’t matter five years from now, so I’ve started to change the way I deal with people around me.”
It sounds dark, but Harmony views this positively.
Her experience has led her to cultivate one of the most important human values: empathy. Especially with the state of our world today, being a source of support for others during hard times can bring about a bigger impact than one might think.
Separating your work from your emotions isn’t the only challenge working in the funeral industry. Being relatively young and female is another.
“Others in this industry don’t respect you, so you have to really know everything inside out in order to prevent yourself from getting bullied.”
To make matters worse, “There isn’t a training manual, so nothing is formally documented. Many of them have been doing this for so long, and they’ve memorized almost everything by heart.”
All of this did not stop her though.
In her persistence to understand and master her craft, she was hands on, changing the clothes of decedents and even carrying the coffins herself. Her pure determination is admirable. She, in her own words, “pestered the experienced funeral care workers all the time with questions” pertaining to religious or ceremonial aspects when holding a funeral.
She admits, “It takes a lot of motivation and a certain level of resilience.”
Even so, mistakes are an inevitable part of the learning curve, and Harmony definitely had to deal with a fair share of criticism.
One mistake was a mix-up of the collection of bodies by one of her employees. This resulted in a devastated family, and it took a huge toll on the reputation of the company. Harmony took full responsibility for the matter.
“I didn’t think it was morally right to push the entire situation onto him. It was a huge mistake, and it was also a human error.”
She recalls, “I was certain my business wouldn’t survive.” But she stuck on and the business continued to grow. “I think people appreciate when you’re honest and upfront about your mistakes,” she ends.
I sat in silence for a bit as she opened up, trying to piece my thoughts together. But I had one question on my mind. Where did this passion come from?
“I initially gave myself one year just to try it out and honestly, I didn’t know that I would have come so far,” she smiles.
“It brought about so much meaning in my life. It’s an honor and privilege for the family members to allow us an insight into their lives during their most vulnerable period. The friendships I’ve formed with the members, that extends way beyond the funeral, really brings about this sense of job fulfillment and purpose in life.”
Harmony has definitely come a long way, but she doesn’t just stop here. Death is still a taboo subject as it is associated negatively. Talk about it too much, and you would probably get strange looks.
Because it’s so rarely talked about, information is difficult to find. “There’s an issue of price differentiation, even in the funeral industry. You know how water repair costs are different depending on where you stay? Well, it’s the same for funeral services. I really want to make prices more transparent.”
To tackle the stigmatization of death, she sought the best way, which is through digitalisation. By utilizing social media platforms, and even Tik Tok, she wishes to normalise death by sparking conversations within the youth in Singapore.
As our conversations came to an end, she offered some advice for those wanting to pursue their dreams that may not align with societal norms, or even simply their degree.
“I’ve received advice from so many people around me. Some told me to continue in my current job for a few more years before making the switch. Others cautioned me from entering a field I had no knowledge about,” she recalls thoughtfully.
However, she stuck to her intuition and decided to make the jump anyway. “Because I was so young back then, I had so much more energy and endurance to push myself.” Her continuous efforts eventually paid off, and Harmony is a true testament of that.