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Gen Z Speaks: I was surrounded by death while growing up. It taught me to appreciate life

It’s been close to three and a half years since I dove into a career path within the death care industry.

Rachael Tay, 23, is a corporate development manager at Casket Fairprice.

Rachael Tay, 23, is a corporate development manager at Casket Fairprice.

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It’s been close to three and a half years since I dove into a career path within the death care industry.

For as long as I could remember, my childhood was filled with hearing conversations about funerals and death.

As a child, I never really understood why people were always so curious about this industry or why they thought it was special or interesting.

I would wonder why parents would shield their children’s eyes from a void deck wake, or take a long detour to avoid passing by a funeral.

My parents, who run the funeral company Casket Fairprice as the family business, would do the opposite.

They would deliberately slow down their footsteps when passing by a wake, just to take a peek at what others were doing, with me tagging along behind.

They called it “market research” and it was a common occurrence for a younger me.

In my mind, the idea of embalming the deceased and laying a person to rest did not feel out of the ordinary. I didn’t even realise that not many my age felt the same way.

As a kid, I would stand there observing bereaved families grieve over their loved ones. The concept of death, loss, grief and mortality was something that I registered early on in life.

It was this awareness at a very young age that made me seek something different and meaningful in life, but I was only able to fully understand death and mortality and how it relates to life after I began a career in the funeral industry.


Prior to starting my unconventional career, I also had an unconventional education path as a school dropout.

Two weeks after starting school at my dream secondary school, I dropped out of the formal education system in favour of homeschooling.

Why? I craved the freedom of choice from a young age. 

I wasn't naturally gifted in the areas of mathematics and science, but I had an interest in the study of economics and business, which were post-secondary courses.

Yes, I recognise that it is important to get a grasp of fundamentals, but a younger me was laser-focused on what I knew I wanted to pursue in life.

Thus, I embarked on a homeschooling journey, where I had the freedom to decide what I wanted to do with my time. 

Needless to say, my decision to quit school was met with the dismay of many friends and relatives, who were afraid that I would fall behind in the rat race and turn out to be a failure.

I somehow managed to do well enough to enter university a month after I celebrated my 15th birthday, pursuing a Bachelor in Business Administration at Singapore Institute of Management (SIM)-University at Buffalo.

At the same time, I had the opportunity to work part-time as a customer service officer in a hair salon along Somerset.

One of my favourite things about the job was the sense of satisfaction I got through serving customers and seeing them leave the salon with a smile. It was through this job that I knew that I wanted to work in a customer-oriented industry, in a place where providing customers with contentment and peace of mind comes first.


Around that time, I was helping in the redesign and content creation for Casket Fairprice’s website. I remember spending hours just researching and reading up on the ins and outs of the funeral industry.

Only through that did I come to realise that funerals are also for the living — it is a profession where good customer service plays a crucial role.

At a time when bereaved families need the most support, the funeral operations team makes the biggest difference in making them feel taken care of, composed and at peace with the choices that they made.

I was also touched by the reviews left by customers who expressed gratitude to the funeral operations team. I could really feel their sincerity and appreciation for the team who were there for them when they needed it the most.

I suppose this is where the seed was first sown. 

For as long as I can remember, I've been searching for significance and direction in my work. Joining the funeral industry thus offered the opportunity to bring relief to the lives of grieving families and their loved ones. What could be more fulfilling than that?

I wanted to know more, discover more and do more for those who are on this journey and for those that are supporting them. I was passionate about wanting to serve this community.

Some might say it’s a calling, but for me it just felt right. It felt like a natural path to go back to my roots and to embark on a career that I had passion for.

When I first started out, I was mostly learning and understanding about the operations behind every funeral arrangement. 

But the journey has not been an easy one.

As part of my first few years in the business, I’ve helped to transfer bodies at the hospital, take activation calls in the wee hours of the night and even acquired an embalming certificate.

Today, I’ve undertaken a more backend role, where I develop, grow and bring the company and my team to greater heights.

As a funeral service provider, I know that while it is important for us to organise a dignified funeral service for departed loved ones, it is also our job to soothe the minds of the living.


The thing about seeing death and grief so much is that it makes you self-reflect and puts things into perspective. 

At the end of the day, life is short and most things are not a big deal. I’ve learnt to take things in my stride and go with the flow.

Why sour relations over something trivial? Why let egos get in the way? Outside of work, I’ve become more “cincai” (Hokkien slang for doing as one pleases), and stopped being so uptight about things.

Since starting work in this industry and hearing several stories of our departed clients, I’ve come to realise that one of my biggest fears is that at the end of my life, I will come to regret not prioritising the things that matter.

Having regrets is a huge burden to carry, and one example is that we often fail to appreciate the people we have around us until it’s too late. 

I see this play out frequently in funerals, with loved ones expressing their regrets of not spending enough time with the deceased, making amends for a past wrong, or saying the words that were left unsaid. 

It's sad to hear these stories, but it serves as a very important reality check.

Being surrounded by death has made me more aware about the fragility of life. But there’s a difference between constantly living in the fear of death and accepting your mortality — one is crippling while the other is liberating.

For me, it’s the latter. I feel that if we become more in touch with our mortality, we cease being lured away by life’s distractions and focus on what really matters.

We get caught up in the many “side quests” of life that we fail to prioritise the people, dreams and goals that matter.

And for me, what’s most important right now are the happiness and wellbeing of my loved ones, discovering new experiences and being able to serve the community.

Since then, I’ve been able to grow, learn, and develop through the path I took. Looking back, there are many wonderful lessons I’ve learnt over the years that I wouldn’t trade for anything else.



Rachael Tay, 23, is a corporate development manager at Casket Fairprice.

Related topics

career Funeral Death

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