One of factors that was considered when deciding whether to rent an HDB or a condo apartment was the thought that we would get more of the Singapore experience if we lived in an HDB. We live in an HDB, and I think this consideration has rung true many times.
Most HDB’s have a ground floor that is devoted to community items. These may include hawker stalls, privately owned shops (including aquariums!), a wet market (where locals sell fruits, vegetables, and fish), day care centers, or simply an open space reserved for community functions. This has the advantage of putting a lot right at the fingertips of the residents, but it also has the disadvantage of less privacy and more noise.
Our community has 10 HDB high rise buildings. Within these community ground floors there is a few day care centers, a small collection of hawker stalls, an eldercare facility, a convenience store, and several open areas – some including seating. (Thankfully there is no wet market facility as that would take away from the serenity of our community.)
In these open community areas several functions take place. Within the few short months that we have lived here we have heard several weddings and more than a few funerals. We have quickly learned that weddings, if they are Indian, include karaoke (which can go on for several hours). Also, funerals can last days because the wake is often included. Depending on the nature of the funeral we have heard everything from low chanting, wailing, to loud banging that is hard to call music.
Yesterday we heard some noises coming from another HDB building. After listening for a while and not hearing karaoke and hearing softer noises not too dissimilar from a chant we decided it was probably a funeral. After we had completed our dinner and were going about enjoying our evening, a knock was heard on our own door. We opened the door to find the real estate agent of our landlord. She asked if we had heard any news. She then delivered the shocking news that our landlord had passed away the day before. The funeral we had heard going on outside was actually the wake for our own landlord.
We were stunned. We had no idea.
We had just visited our landlord within the past week or two. And his wife just the last week. His passing was so sudden.
Andrew and I spent many moments throughout the evening consoling each other, praying for the family, and thanking the Lord. We knew that our landlord was a Christian. We knew that he had gone to be with His Savior. Even though we were bearing our loss and grieving for his family’s loss, we were rejoicing because he had made it to heaven before us.
He was a humble man. He was not filled with greed, but of generosity (that we have had the blessing to experience). He treated others with a tender kindness. We had only known him 3 and a half months, and yet we were struck that we would miss the working of the Lord through this gentleman.
This morning we got up earlier than usual so that we could pay our respects before Andrew went off to work. It was a bittersweet moment to greet his wife and see the peace that she possessed. She confirmed what the real estate agent relayed – his passing was quick and sudden. But she told us, “it’s okay”… she knew he had gone to meet his maker. During our brief visit with her, we learned that the 23rd Psalm was his favorite.
Andrew and I had some extra time before he had to catch the bus so we walked hand in hand to enjoy breakfast together (at McD’s). Andrew went to work. And I went back to our apartment. The rest of the morning passed with rainy weather that matched the sadness in our hearts.
A little after noon, towards the end of the wake and shortly before the funeral, I was in the apartment enjoying the break from the pouring rain. That is when I heard sweet familiar strains from down below outside. I did not hear the clanging and obnoxious noises associated with Chinese funerals. Nor did I hear loud chanting. No, as I listened I realized that they were gently singing hymns. “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” was being sung by family and friends of this man who had gone to meet Jesus. They were soft but strong voices. Voices filled with hope, sorrow, and comfort. It is to-date one of the sweetest sounds I have heard from our community.
This afternoon I attended the funeral. I can now add Singaporean funeral to the list of experiences I have had since moving here.
I was overwhelmed by the demonstration of support shown to the family of this humble man. It appeared that I was probably one of the only ones attending that was not of Indian ancestry. Many men remained standing during the service as seats were given up to the ladies. The large majority of women had their heads covered in shawls, many in soft white fabric, for the duration of the service. Almost every lady I saw was attired in a pretty Indian dress. Nothing flamboyant and nothing overwhelming, but to my unaccustomed eye, it was a sea of pretty and simple colors. I imagine that it was similar to what they would wear to church on a Sunday. Not the dark colors and black that is typical of an American funeral. No, instead it was a congregation that was dressed in a way that seemed to appropriately demonstrate the quite joy in their hearts.
Although there was much sorrow in the air (evident by the handkerchiefs and puffy eyes that could be easily found), there was a comfort in the way this congregation of believers stood together. The congregation stood as the service opened in prayer. A short phrase of prayer was uttered by the leader in English and was then translated into Tamil. This phrase was swiftly responded with a resounding “Praise Our God” or “Praise to God” repeated several times. Another short phrase was uttered followed by the same enthusiastic response. Many lifted their hands and nearly shouted their response of Praise to God.
Never before have I been so struck with such a feeling of a congregation standing together in a firm determination to Praise God in the midst of whatever circumstances they were in!
After the beautiful prayer two hymns were sung. One in English and one in Tamil. While I had no idea what the meaning of the Tamil hymn, I could tell it was sung with a triumphant and soulful unified voice. It seemed to be a hymn well known and loved by the people around me.
Testimonies were then shared. They spoke of this man’s quiet kindness and his determination to serve the Lord with all he had. Some of the selected sharers were overcome with emotion that it was hard to understand what they spoke, even though it was done in English. The last testimony was very touching. The gentleman testified how even though this man did not know he would die suddenly, how earlier that week he had given up his last burdens to the Lord. His burdens were not of money or of regrets. But rather they were for his family members. His last burden was for himself. I listened in awe as he described him giving up his professed burdens to the Lord by the outward act of raising his hands to the Lord in surrender. No one but the Lord knew that he would pass from this life within the same week of that act.
A message was then given clearly laying out the Gospel. It was broken up as the translator interpreted to the Tamil speaking population that was in attendance. I remember thinking how right it was for the Gospel to be proclaimed with more importance than speaking of the man’s life.
The service was concluded with two more hymns: Amazing Grace in English and Extol God in Tamil.
As chairs were being stacked up, a human queue was formed leading to the casket.While standing in line, a kind lady asked me if I knew the family. I told her how I was acquainted with the family. Feeling a connection with this individual I confessed how I felt a little out of place with my blond hair. Her response was, “Under Christ, we are all the same.” What a fitting statement. She said that color and the like did not matter in this setting. She encouraged me that I was free to pay my respects the same as the rest, and that I was not out of place. Each person, if they elected to do so, walked to the casket and was handed a bottle of (what I assume to be) perfume to drop onto the corpse. I had never before participated this act, which in my eyes, seemed a fitting way too say goodbye while signifying the sweetness of the event.
After the last guest had payed their respects, the family was then given time to huddle close and share their grief around the casket.
The last action was then for the casket to be carried away for the burial. As the car slowly drove away, it was followed by a group either singing or praying. My heart was content to leave it at that. I went to the next building over, went up the elevator and walked back into my apartment.
I was thankful that the Lord allowed me to be reminded of the simple truth: “Under Christ, we are all the same.” It makes me think of the saying, “We are all sinners. There are only two different kinds: saved and unsaved sinners.”
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” – Romans 3:23
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” – John 1:12
My prayer is that this passing of my brother in Christ would urge me on to boldness to testify to others this truth.
I realize that this post breaks from my habit of more light-hearted post. But I feel that this serious matter (eternity) is worth a serious post. I hope this story of one man’s passing may have an effect beyond those who knew him, beyond this community, beyond this country and beyond this time. In closing, “Praise to God.”