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December 19, 2013

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New funeral service prepares for a touching farewell for the departed

Taking its clue from a hit Japanese film, an eight-member team of undertakers are offering “Bath for the departed” service at the Shanghai Baoxing Funeral Parlor before they are taken to their final resting place. They clean the corpse, dresses them and prepare the bodies in front of family members and relatives.

“This is to give company to a person to finish the last part of his or her journey. No mistakes are allowed,” said Xu Jiaping, a 21-year-old Fujian native.

The bodies are wiped clean, hair washed, dressed up, nails and makeup done and even cleaning the wounds are some of the services provided by the team. The price ranges from 800 to 2,500 yuan, depending on the service, items included, quality of lotion and other materials used and service duration, which ranges from 30 to 70 minutes.

Currently, a standard funeral procedure includes basic body cleaning, dressing and makeup. The body is then taken for cremation after a farewell ceremony attended by relatives and friends. The cleaning procedure is much simpler and is usually not done in front of relatives.

Professional training

Demands from relatives for greater services have been on the rise since the 2008 Japanese movie Okuribito (Departures) became popular in China. The movie deals with morticians who prepare the dead in a subtle way.

The eight-member team — four men and four women — are all below 30 years of age. The service was first started in October after the team received professional training from their Japanese counterparts, mostly about etiquette during the procedure of the bath service. “Every person has a story, even the departed ones,” said Xu.

The team has provided 30 services in the past two months. “Some of those who attended the service spoke in Shanghai dialect which I could not understand. But I could tell they were very moved by the whole procedure, which made me emotional,” Xu said.

Xu is the youngest among the eight. She graduated from a technical school in Fuzhou, Fujian Province, majoring in techniques and management of funeral and interment. After spending two years in the industry, she still maintains a strong interest in the profession.

“It’s a job I like, to see a person off in such a meaningful way. I’m glad I can comfort those who have lost their beloved,” Xu told Shanghai Daily.

Despite the lack of support from her family members she said she would carry on with her current job because she believes in the work she is doing.

Another team member Zhou Changqing spoke how emotions took over him during a service last month. Zhou said he couldn’t stop his tears while giving a bath to a 7-year-old boy who had died of brain damage. The boy’s relatives were very emotional during the service, making him feel that he was also a member of the family.

“The service has been well received,” Zhou said. “Sometimes, we can think of details that even a family member may not think of.”

Zhou is a 27-year-old Shanghai native. He has been working in the makeup section since 2008 after completing his military service. “The job is stable and my family and friends have been understanding.”

The body is put on a specially designed bed during the bath. Two staff members use shower nozzle to clean the body. Only a small portion of the body — the head and shoulder — can be seen by the family while other parts are covered.

However, not everybody is  sold to the idea.

“Personally, I cannot accept it,” said 58-year-old Zhan Huifen. “It makes me sad, and I don’t think services like cutting nails are necessary. If you want to be good to a relative, you should treat him or her well when the person is alive. The service sounds more like a show to me.”

But Liu Qi, in her 30s, is more accepting.

“The service is necessary as the body needs a thorough cleaning. The prices they are charging sounds reasonable, but it needs approval from all the family members and relatives.”

According to Zhao Xiaohu, manager of the funeral parlor, relatives who could not say farewell to the departed, or families who follow traditions will require their services.

For a person who liked being neat and clean in life, or those suffered from illness or other incidents before their death, their family members are more likely to choose the bath service, the manager said.



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