Obituaries that give closure

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Two students were brought together. A doting husband found comfort. A daughter grieved. A veterinarian was honoured.

None of the stories is connected. Those in the stories knew each other not. But they all came to the same place to search for solace: An online obituary

It started four years ago when Jackson Liaw, 34, a material coordinator, set up a website each for Singaporeans (Death.sg) and Malaysians (Death.my).

“In 2010, my search for information on my deceased grandparents, or at least their obituaries, was unfruitful.  After a long time, I came to realise that there was an information void about dead people.

“I wanted to fill this vacuum at no cost,” he said.

Across both Malaysia and Singapore, there are now 14,000 death notices on Liaw’s site.

Back to the stories of solace.

In his online obituary, two students – complete strangers – of Dr Ratnam Alagiah met. One of them posted his email on Liaw’s obituary site, after learning about their teacher’s death.

A daughter wrote to her father on Liaw’s site after he uploaded her father’s obituary: “Appa, I miss you so much. I lost the person who cares and loves me the most. It is so lonely. Appa, I still couldn’t accept that you have gone, but Appa like you have always told me that you will always be my angle to guard me forever.”

A grieving husband left a note to his late wife: “I am in Canada today. Dear, I miss you so much and nothing can fill the void. We looked forward to this trip together. It is so unfortunate that I am here alone.”

A eulogy for a family vet was there too: “Dr Yeoh saved my family dog that was swelling and bleeding in his mouth. Today, my dog’s health has taken a turn for the worse, so my dad decided to put him down since no one could save him like Dr Yeoh could. He was the best family vet.”

TISG: Where do you find these death announcements?

Liaw: I gather them from the mainstream newspapers. I also get them from unindexed electronic copies, which still have not found their way to the mainstream search engines in Singapore. Some of the death notices come from family             members who have contacted me.

The details on Death.sg and Death.my are accurate. This is because the notices have been published by mainstream newspapers, or their families have confirmed them online.

TISG: How does Death.sg benefit the public?

Liaw: According to the Singapore’s Department of Statistics, 18,852 deaths were recorded in 2013.  That figure translates to an average of 52 deaths per day.

Death.sg is currently averaging around 30 per cent of that figure by publicising the official announcements made by family and friends daily.  With this information readily available on the Internet (which includes social network sites), users from local or foreign countries would have accurate and faster access to this data.

But most importantly, the sites give family members or friends of the deceased who are located in different countries a chance to express their thoughts for their loved ones on the website. People get a chance to express their condolences on the website. It is a closure for many people.

TISG: There is an obituary in most newspapers. How is Death.sg different?

Liaw: The site serves as an online extension of the obituaries that are found in newspapers. The demise of celebrities or prominent individuals is normally easy to be found in the media, but not for everyone else, especially estranged friends or family members. Death.sg is the search engine for every one.

If Death.sg builds up more momentum, and receives interests from individuals or groups to help with this public service cause, we hope to make the obituary services in Singapore more accessible and very affordable to the lower income group.

An obituary that is 15 cm wide and 2 column long in The Straits Times costs $1444.50 a day and in Lianhe Zao $1300.05.