Who will bury you?

As a Catholic, I will have recourse to a faith community I can call on for help, a parish with a funeral parlour where my parents can rest, and a priest to commend them as they leave the mortal world.

Aug 11, 2023

Sitting in the front pew at my mother’s funeral, I could not help but be grateful for the fact that mum had a Catholic spouse, daughter and granddaughter to pray her to heaven. If God will have it, I hope to do for my father what I did for mum: cross his quickly cooling forehead with holy water, and recite the Divine Mercy chaplet as I wait for the cogs of the funerary machinery to begin to turn.

As a Catholic, I will have recourse to a faith community I can call on for help, a parish with a funeral parlour where my parents can rest, and a priest to commend them as they leave the mortal world. As a trained lector, I read Romans 14: 7-12 to and for my mother, because I believe her life was truly lived for the Lord, and as such, she herself became a blessing to others.

I have already chosen my father’s first reading for his funeral Mass, just as his columbarium niche is already waiting, together with my mother’s and mine. Whilst a family of four, there will only be mum, dad and I in a row at Lutheran Garden, because my brother, though baptised by the full swimming pool dunk of the Pentecostals, is no longer practising.

Thus, should I die young(er), it will be left to my Catholic daughter – should she be old, or capable enough – to ensure I am given the complete rites of my beloved Church. Not wanting to lay the burden on someone prospectively so young, I laid the groundwork for my death when I moved into my present home 14 years ago.

From my devotedly Catholic and vigorously participating mother-in-law (baptised only in her 60s, with her paraplegic husband after he suffered a massive stroke), I was able to find out the name of the BEC coordinator in the area which my then-young family was to move to.

Before we took full residence, I had approached the kindly gentleman at Mass and introduced myself. The month we moved into the new house, I attended my first BEC meeting, and did not miss a meeting until the COVID-19 lockdown.

As I got to know the Catholic neighbourhood community better, I was comfortable enough to speak openly to my BEC coordinator about the not-so-pious reason I became such an active member. Quite the traditional, strong and silent Indian gentleman, Jude Francis was taken aback when I made him promise that if I were to die while still in the neighbourhood, that the BEC would take care of the necessary. You see, I am one of the many who rolled her eyes at the warning in 2 Corinthians 6:14 (Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?). Love — declared the me who was hellbent on marrying a doctor since I could not be one — is enough.

What a person in love fails to understand is that love, like the seed of the Sower in Matthew 13:3-9 needs good soil in which to grow. And for Catholics, that soil is a common faith. Decision making, child raising, and eking out a living are already hard aspects of married life. Not to have a common faith on which decisions are guided by is akin to driving an Axia on a 4x4 trail. It’s not impossible, but it takes a lot more effort, ability and skill than if one were driving a vehicle suited for the course. And the chances of breaking an axel are much higher. Add to it a co-pilot who doesn’t speak the same language, and you are right and royally buggered.

That is why I needed a contingency plan. I had made my marriage bed and laid in it, but I needed to ensure my funeral bier was in good order. I am grateful that the relationships I have cultivated with the members of my BEC assure me of the prayers and support my family would need to send me heavenward.

My mother’s funeral was a test run of sorts. With one text to my BEC group, the well-oiled machinery began running. As most BECS are often largely made up of elderly folk, death is a regular occurrence. Call us boring or staid, but we Catholics know exactly what to do when death’s dark shade settles on the people in our community. By the afternoon of my mother’s wake, my closest BEC friends had gathered to pray for my mother, and support me.

The Bangsar Baru BEC that I grew up in, whose matronly women members loved and coddled me, also showed up, despite some members being even older than my deceased mother. Women once so stout and steady came with canes and walkers, turning up on arthritic legs to hold me and comfort me because I no longer had a mother to do it. Friends from the Church of the Holy Rosary where I had been a lector for the morning Masses swooped in to organise music, and prayers, taking the burden of administration off my shoulders.

Every step of the way, from funeral parlour to cremation, was marked by the presence of one or another BEC friend. Possibly the most significant moment was when my mother’s casket was being wheeled into the incinerator. Somehow Kenny Nunis, one of the few, constant male members of BEC St Joseph, was at my side, and it was he who put a hand on my arm when I made an instinctive move to rush towards the coffin one last time. No words, but the kindness in the touch of this man who I rarely communicated with out of prayer meets, brought me back to a semblance of control.

As I continue to play whatever part I can in my BEC, as a parent in my teen’s catechism class, it is my hope that when I no longer have breath in me to console those who mourn me, that my Catholic community will be the consolation and strength of those I leave behind.

(Karen-Michaela Tan is a poet, writer and editor who seeks out God’s presence in the human condition and looks for ways to put the Word of God into real action.)

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