How a Flight Attendant Became a Funeral Planner in the Covid Era

HONG KONG — Before she turned a funeral planner, Connie Wong was a flight attendant for a Hong Kong airline. The sudden finish of a profession she had cherished for six years introduced its personal form of grief, she stated.

It was one in every of many such losses skilled by residents of the Chinese territory. Hong Kong’s financial system started deteriorating in 2019, when a proposed extradition regulation set off months of fiery road clashes between protesters and police. Then, throughout the coronavirus pandemic, harsh and continuously evolving restrictions that hewed carefully to the mainland’s “zero Covid” coverage upended total industries. Numerous companies have been compelled to shut, 1000’s of individuals left the metropolis, and a few of those that remained have needed to reinvent themselves.

When Cathay Dragon, an arm of Hong Kong’s flagship provider, Cathay Pacific, shut down in 2020 as journey got here to a halt, Ms. Wong was amongst 1000’s left jobless. Accustomed to working red-eye flights, she couldn’t sleep at night time.

“Some people lost their family members. Some emigrated. Others lost their health — and not just their body health, but their mental health also,” she stated not too long ago. “It’s not just Hong Kongers, but the whole world is experiencing this. It’s hard to face. I’ve lost my job. But life will always bring alternatives.”

At Cathay Dragon, Ms. Wong, 35, had typically requested to be assigned to flights to Kathmandu, Nepal, so she may volunteer there at a kids’s house and animal shelter. The pursuit of one thing equally fulfilling led her to use final summer season to be a life celebrant at Forget Thee Not, a Hong Kong nonprofit group that tries to make dignified funerals reasonably priced to households in want.

She meets a number of instances a week with households, in an ethereal room decked with flowers. As she helps them plan ceremonies, she suggests writing notes with reminiscences to go away on or inside the coffin, as a technique to present gratitude or let go of grudges as they are saying farewell. For the funeral of a 4-year-old, Ms. Wong embellished the seats with cutouts of the woman’s favourite cartoon character.

In some respects, Ms. Wong’s earlier job expertise turned out to be transferable, she stated. Much as she had as soon as discovered methods to placate passengers going through flight delays, she was now discovering workarounds for individuals in far better want.

The adjustment was not straightforward. After her first few funerals, photos of the grieving households replayed in her thoughts at night time. She may barely eat from the stress, and her hair started to fall out. In November, she took sick go away, which lasted for months. Her bosses requested her to mirror on whether or not this was the proper job for her.

Ms. Wong returned in April, as Hong Kong was going through its worst outbreak of the coronavirus. Hospitals have been strained past capability, and 1000’s of older individuals died of Covid-19. She plunged proper again in. When family members couldn’t attend funerals in individual after testing constructive for Covid, she arrange livestreams and narrated the rites.

There are some days when she longs to be flying once more. But she says she has discovered a extra far-reaching satisfaction in serving to struggling households course of a loss.

“The impact of Covid pushed us to face reality,” she stated. “We have to adjust.”

Though the pandemic all however grounded the aviation trade, Mandi Cheung’s day job as a safety guard at an plane engineering agency was unaffected. But he stop in March to grow to be a cleaner at a quarantine facility for Covid sufferers.

It was a probability to make “quick money” as he saved as much as to migrate to Britain, he stated. The six-day-a-week cleansing job paid about $3,000 monthly, roughly $1,000 greater than his safety job had.

Updated 

July 22, 2022, 6:42 p.m. ET

At the peak of the Covid outbreak this yr, Hong Kong’s hospitals and quarantine facilities confronted a massive overflow of sufferers. Mr. Cheung’s quarantine camp close to the Tsing Yi port, which has practically 4,000 beds, was one in every of eight unexpectedly constructed amenities. The expertise was extra harrowing than he anticipated.

Mr. Cheung, 35, was not allowed to drink water or use the toilet whereas carrying private protecting gear. He cleaned up bogs and used speedy check kits day-after-day, worrying about taking the virus house. His mom would let him in solely after he sanitized his total physique at the door. (As the variety of infections plateaued and pandemic fatigue set in, she stopped caring, he stated.)

“Resources were really lacking — the distribution of labor was unequal,” he stated. “I was filled with resentment as I worked. I kept telling myself that it would just be for a few months.”

In the meantime, he had stored taking further jobs. In May, he put in six-hour shifts at a espresso store in his neighborhood after working in a single day at the quarantine facility.

Mr. Cheung had meant to work at the quarantine heart for 5 months, nevertheless it closed in June as the variety of “V.I.P.s,” as his staff chief informed him to discuss with sufferers, dwindled. He plans to work full time at the espresso store till he leaves Hong Kong.

Before the pandemic, Mr. Cheung ran a nocturnal espresso operation known as NightOwl, nevertheless it was tough to maintain financially below Covid eating restrictions. He hopes to open a related enterprise sooner or later, after emigrating. But he’s additionally interested in new experiences.

“In the end, I will be exploring a new world,” he stated.

As an in-flight service supervisor for Cathay Dragon, Connie Cheung, 57, had reached the highest rung of her profession ladder. Ms. Cheung, who shouldn’t be associated to Mandi Cheung, joined the airline, then known as Dragonair, greater than three many years in the past as a flight attendant. She had not too long ago prolonged her contract after reaching 55, the retirement age for cabin crew.

She was caring for her grandson and her daughter-in-law when the airline shut down in 2020. She determined to take a collection of presidency programs in postnatal care, studying how you can carry out breast massages and boil hearty natural soups. She began coaching to be a pui yuet, or nanny, for infants and a carer for brand spanking new moms, and in 2021, she started her second profession.

“Now I’m a beginner again,” Ms. Cheung stated.

She and a pal, Wing Lam, 48, one other in-flight service supervisor turned postpartum nanny, commerce tips about how you can handle germophobic moms and grumbling grandparents. They joke about how their smooth suitcases have been changed by steel carts, which they haul from the subway to moist markets to purchase groceries for the meals they prepare dinner for his or her purchasers.

When she misplaced her airline job, Ms. Cheung had been making roughly $4,500 a month plus advantages, like well being care. Now, she makes about $3,300 a month. Ms. Lam, for her half, misses the thrill of managing a airplane crew, regardless of the stress and uncertainties that got here with each flight.

In May, Cathay Pacific despatched recruitment emails to 1000’s of laid-off workers, asking them to reapply — for entry-level positions.

Ms. Lam holds out hope that the airline will rehire senior workers. But in the meantime, she plans to make use of her in-flight managerial expertise as a nanny agent, matching carers with mother and father. She has begun coaching people who find themselves new to the trade, together with former flight attendants.

Ms. Cheung is staying the course. Her calendar has stuffed up as purchasers have referred her to different expectant moms. While the work is unstable — she’ll get no requests one month, then a number of the subsequent — she hopes it would quickly pay for household holidays.

She stated she may see herself taking good care of infants for the subsequent 10 years: “I have found my new direction in life.”

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