Bringing the Funeral Industry to Life: Angjolie Mei, Founder & MD of The Life Celebrant

As life celebrants, they strive to celebrate and commemorate how you lived and leave your life, by providing customised and meaningful funeral planning and preplanning services for individuals and families, and to do so with thoughtfulness, integrity and compassion.

The Life Celebrant started in 2010 and since grown to become an industry leader in providing bereavement services in Singapore. But the road to success for Angjolie was challenging, she had to learn the basics behind of the funeral industry after the passing of her father. LadyBoss caught up with Angjolie Mei of The Life Celebrant!

Q: Tell us about more about the services you provide at The Life Celebrant.

A: The Life Celebrant is a boutique funeral company providing personalised and customised bereavement services. We are the only funeral company to provide CaseTrust backed pre-arrangement services. TLC is also the first funeral company to provide our trademarked brand of Decedent Care Spa Services and we term it ‘Showers of Love’. TLC is the only funeral company with both a certified and an award-winning Funeral Director and Funeral Celebrant.

Q: When did you started TLC and how has it grown since then? 

A: TLC started in 2010, we have since grown to become an industry leader in providing VIP bereavement services and we are also well known for our innovative solutions in the full range of cradle-to-grave pre/post bereavement services. Over the past few years, we have been invited to do many seminars at National Library, associations, corporations, hospices and hospitals to speak on topics regarding embalming, funeral, will-writing, trusts, LPA and pre-funeral arrangement.

Q: What were you doing before TLC?

A: When my dad passed away in 2004, I had to immediately assume the role as the head of the household. My mum and I continued to manage my dad’s business, Ang Yew Seng Funeral Parlour. However, my mother was reluctant to have me in this dying industry at such a young age as she was concerned of my future. She believed I should put my University Degree to good use as compared to a Funeral Directing job.  So, she forced me to look for another job. I went into financial advisory as I wanted to learn all about financial planning to be financial literate.

My dad did not leave us a will, much less any inheritance. I was doing pretty well in financial sector, achieving 3 years of MDRT but my heart kept calling out to me to return to the bereavement industry. So, after getting my mum’s blessings to start my own company in 2008, I travelled around half the globe to see and learn what other countries’ funeral cultures are. It really opened my eyes and I came to a realisation that Singapore has a 3rd world funeral industry in a 1st world country. That sped up my desire to bring changes to the local industry.

I had to learn everything from scratch, I will shadow the funeral team in everything they did, going to the mortuary to claim the deceased’s bodies, even in the middle of the night, observing embalming process, carrying caskets and so forth.

Q: How has your clients’ demands change over time?

A: Many years ago, the market was funeral company-centric, families took the advice of funeral directors because they do not have much experience handling funerals. Whatever package, whatever price quoted by funeral directors ultimately became the families’ decision.

These days, family members are more tech savvy and because of the overall uplifting of the entire industry, consumers are wiser and more informed when making funeral arrangements. People also start planning earlier for their own funerals; we are also going around giving talks and seminars to increase the awareness for such taboo topics. I also speak with youths, those doing their diplomas in social services or those doing their specialist diplomas in palliative care. I get invited to medical conferences too, and I share with healthcare professionals on the continual transition from healthcare to palliative care to end-of-life care. We are all angels in that sense.

Q: What are the trends you see in funeral services?

A: I see a lot more customisations and personalisation, people are choosing meaningful funerals to remember their departed. It used to be entered around religious rituals, where the family follow whatever the ‘sai-kong’ aka Taoist Priests prescribes. Families are choosing to go simple and more elegant compared to the complicated and noisy Taoist rituals, Buddhist funerals are becoming more accepted now. Families are also burning less paper offerings, it used to be a massive offering of paper house and cars and aeroplanes etc., now with more environmentally conscious family, they are choosing more secular and non-religious ceremonies.

Q: What are the misconceptions being in the funeral business?

A: Most people I spoke with have the belief that death is a faraway topic, and that they have a long way to come before planning for their funerals. When faced with a chronic illness or a sudden and acute situation of a loved one, most people choose to live in denial, hoping that they can prolong the lives of their loved ones.

We get invited to speak about ACP (Advanced Care Planning), AMD (Advanced Medical Directive) and the various instruments that make up a living will. We hope by spreading the correct message, more people would be open to talk about end-of-life issues. People tell me “if I die I want to do this and this”, my reply to them is “the topic is not IF we die, the topic should be WHEN we die”, because death is the only certainty in life.

Q: What were the challenges you faced starting TLC? How did you overcome the challenges and obstacles?  Who are you thankful for your success?

A: My greatest challenge when I first started in the funeral industry in 2004, was being a female funeral director in the male-dominated industry, especially as a younger woman. I have never had the chance to follow my father to work prior to his death. It was never in his mind to groom me to take over his business.

So, I had to learn everything from scratch; I will shadow the funeral team in everything they did; going to the mortuary to claim the deceased’s bodies, even in the middle of the night, observing embalming process, carrying caskets and so forth. I wanted to make changes to the company’s practice, but it was challenging for the older and experienced staffs; they would not listen to me, neither would they adhere to my commands.

I realised it was important to earn the trust from my staffs; it was important to walk the talk. When I start TLC in 2010, it was crucial that I learn every aspect of the business, from the point where we transfer the deceased from the hospital/home, to our care centre, to the operations, to the set-up, to the embalming process, to funeral celebrant, all the way to the funeral ceremony on the funeral day. Trust is two way. Trust is earned over time, it is never an entitlement.

There are challenges every day. Hiring manpower was a big challenge when I started TLC.

It is not easy being a Funeral Director, most people have the misconception that it is an easy job with easy money. I can personally vouch that being a Funeral Director is a TOUGH JOB! Because we are helping families when they are at the lowest points in their lives, everyone is emotional and everybody wants a say in how the funeral should be conducted, families have disagreements and as Funeral Directors, we become counsellors/ mediators/ peacemakers etc. And It is important for Funeral Directors to possess empathy and compassion in our industry. There is no rewind button when it comes to funeral, that is why it is crucial funeral team should make it a pleasing experience for the family.

I want TLC to become a super power in the local bereavement scene. We can only bring about concrete changes that will impact the entire industry, when we become a major player.

Q: Who are you thankful for your success?

A: I am thankful to my mum. If she did not insist that I find another job when I was 24 years old, I would not be who I am today. She has embraced all my imperfection and love me unconditionally (even though she never expresses it! haha). She is always my wonder-woman!

I am very blessed to meet different mentors along my journey; those who have guided me and those who continue to guide me in my life. And of course, to my late dad, whose name I still ride on today, who has inspired me in so many ways.

And my family members and my partner, who are always so supportive of what I do!

Lastly, a big shout out to my TLC family, who believes in me, who never hesitate to go the extra mile for the families we served, who never complain about missing their meals with me, who never grumble for not getting enough sleep when we get busy. I love them lots!!!

We are TLC family serving families with TLC.

Q: What motivates you personally?

A: Moments where family members come forward and hug me; and tell me how thankful they are;

Moments where family members and I shed tears together;

Moments where family members share little secret about their departed with me;

Moments where family members call us God Send Angels who have helped them through their toughest time.

Q: What is your vision for TLC?

A: I want TLC to become a super power in the local bereavement scene. We can only bring about concrete changes that will impact the entire industry, when we become a major player.

I would like to see TLC playing a major role in persuading and helping our Government to professionalize this industry and be the one of the leading funeral services in the world, just like our Singapore Airlines.

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