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


HONG KONG — Before she became a funeral planner, Connie Wong was a flight attendant for a Hong Kong airline. The sudden end of a profession she had cherished for six years brought its own form of grief, she said.

It was one in all many such losses experienced by residents of the Chinese territory. Hong Kong’s economy began deteriorating in 2019, when a proposed extradition law set off months of fiery street clashes between protesters and police. Then, through the coronavirus pandemic, harsh and consistently evolving restrictions that hewed closely to the mainland’s “zero Covid” policy upended entire industries. Quite a few businesses were forced to shut, 1000’s of individuals left the town, and a few of those that remained have needed to reinvent themselves.

When Cathay Dragon, an arm of Hong Kong’s flagship carrier, Cathay Pacific, shut down in 2020 as travel 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.

“Some people lost their relations. Some emigrated. Others lost their health — and never just their body health, but their mental health also,” she said recently. “It’s not only Hong Kongers, but the entire world is experiencing this. It’s hard to face. I’ve lost my job. But life will at all times bring alternatives.”

At Cathay Dragon, Ms. Wong, 35, had often asked to be assigned to flights to Kathmandu, Nepal, so she could volunteer there at a children’s home and animal shelter. The pursuit of something similarly fulfilling led her to use last summer to be a life celebrant at Forget Thee Not, a Hong Kong nonprofit organization that tries to make dignified funerals reasonably priced to families in need.

She meets several times per week with families, in an airy room decked with flowers. As she helps them plan ceremonies, she suggests writing notes with memories to depart on or contained in the coffin, as a approach to show gratitude or let go of grudges as they are saying farewell. For the funeral of a 4-year-old, Ms. Wong decorated the seats with cutouts of the girl’s favorite cartoon character.

In some respects, Ms. Wong’s previous job experience turned out to be transferable, she said. Much as she had once found ways to placate passengers facing flight delays, she was now finding workarounds for people in far greater need.

The adjustment was challenging. After her first few funerals, images of the grieving families replayed in her mind at night. She could barely eat from the stress, and her hair began to fall out. In November, she took sick leave, which lasted for months. Her bosses asked her to reflect on whether this was the suitable job for her.

Ms. Wong returned in April, as Hong Kong was facing its worst outbreak of the coronavirus. Hospitals were strained beyond capability, and 1000’s of older people died of Covid-19. She plunged right back in. When relatives couldn’t attend funerals in person after testing positive for Covid, she arrange livestreams and narrated the rites.

There are some days when she longs to be flying again. But she says she has found a more far-reaching satisfaction in helping struggling families process a loss.

“The impact of Covid pushed us to face reality,” she said. “Now we have to regulate.”

Though the pandemic all but grounded the aviation industry, Mandi Cheung’s day job as a security guard at an aircraft engineering firm was unaffected. But he quit in March to turn out to be a cleaner at a quarantine facility for Covid patients.

It was a likelihood to make “quick money” as he saved as much as emigrate to Britain, he said. The six-day-a-week cleansing job paid about $3,000 per 30 days, roughly $1,000 greater than his security job had.

At the height of the Covid outbreak this 12 months, Hong Kong’s hospitals and quarantine centers faced a big overflow of patients. Mr. Cheung’s quarantine camp near the Tsing Yi port, which has nearly 4,000 beds, was one in all eight unexpectedly constructed facilities. The experience was more harrowing than he expected.

Mr. Cheung, 35, was not allowed to drink water or use the toilet while wearing personal protective equipment. He cleaned up toilets and used rapid test kits day-after-day, worrying about taking the virus home. His mother would let him in just after he sanitized his entire body on the door. (Because the variety of infections plateaued and pandemic fatigue set in, she stopped caring, he said.)

“Resources were really lacking — the distribution of labor was unequal,” he said. “I used to be full of resentment as I worked. I kept telling myself that it could just be for just a few months.”

Within the meantime, he had kept taking additional jobs. In May, he put in six-hour shifts at a coffee shop in his neighborhood after working overnight on the quarantine facility.

Mr. Cheung had intended to work on the quarantine center for five months, nevertheless it closed in June because the variety of “V.I.P.s,” as his team leader told him to seek advice from patients, dwindled. He plans to work full time on the coffee shop until he leaves Hong Kong.

Before the pandemic, Mr. Cheung ran a nocturnal coffee operation called NightOwl, nevertheless it was difficult to sustain financially under Covid dining restrictions. He hopes to open the same business in the future, after emigrating. But he can be inquisitive about latest experiences.

“Ultimately, I might be exploring a latest world,” he said.

As an in-flight service manager for Cathay Dragon, Connie Cheung, 57, had reached the best rung of her profession ladder. Ms. Cheung, who just isn’t related to Mandi Cheung, joined the airline, then called Dragonair, greater than three many years ago as a flight attendant. She had recently 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 decided to take a series of presidency courses in postnatal care, learning the best way to perform breast massages and boil hearty herbal soups. She began training to be a pui yuet, or nanny, for infants and a carer for brand new moms, and in 2021, she began her second profession.

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

She and a friend, Wing Lam, 48, one other in-flight service manager turned postpartum nanny, trade tips about the best way to manage germophobic moms and grumbling grandparents. They joke about how their sleek suitcases have been replaced by metal carts, which they haul from the subway to wet markets to purchase groceries for the meals they cook for his or her clients.

When she lost her airline job, Ms. Cheung had been making roughly $4,500 a month plus advantages, like health care. Now, she makes about $3,300 a month. Ms. Lam, for her part, misses the joys of managing a plane crew, despite the stress and uncertainties that got here with every flight.

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

Ms. Lam holds out hope that the airline will rehire senior staff. But within the meantime, she plans to make use of her in-flight managerial experience as a nanny agent, matching carers with parents. She has begun training people who find themselves latest to the industry, including former flight attendants.

Ms. Cheung is staying the course. Her calendar has filled up as clients have referred her to other expectant moms. While the work is unstable — she’ll get no requests one month, then several the subsequent — she hopes it’s going to soon pay for family vacations.

She said she could see herself caring for babies for the subsequent 10 years: “I actually have found my latest direction in life.”

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