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People, Miscellaneous

A Farewell Ceremony, Two Years and Seven Months Late

At the memorial service held at Mandai Crematorium Service Hall, there was no solemn grief full of tears. Instead, it was brimming with a sense of calmness and peace. For the children and grandchildren of the late Tzu Chi volunteer Echo Ong Pei Leng, the day was a “farewell” after two long years. Among the crowd present at the ceremony, three young adults with white roses unexpectedly appeared. They had deliberately come to pay tribute to Echo and convey their gratitude to her children.

At the memorial service, three students from Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS), are seen taking turns to offer flowers to their Silent Mentor Echo Ong Pei Leng.

At the memorial service held at Mandai Crematorium Service Hall, there was no solemn grief full of tears. Instead, it was brimming with a sense of calmness and peace. Before the body was sent for cremation, Tzu Chi volunteer Echo Ong Pei Leng’s children and grandchildren stepped forward one after another to offer colourful and beautiful bouquets to Echo. To them, the day was a day they “bid goodbye” to the late Echo after two long years.

Echo Ong passed on due to lung adenocarcinoma on November 26th 2019. When Echo was alive, she signed the “Organ Donation Pledge Form" to donate her body to NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine as an educational tool for learning body anatomy. In the third year following her death where the anatomy class had been completed, Tzu-Chi Foundation (Singapore) organised a memorial service for her on July 15th 2022.

To the medical students, these body donors are respectfully known as their “Silent Mentor”. Apart from family members and volunteers, staff and medical students at NUS School of Medicine also attended the memorial service. Everyone came forward to offer flowers to the “Silent Mentor”. The ambience at the site was solemn yet touching.

Deng Jia Xuan, an NUS Medical student who was about to enter her second year, made reference to “Mary’s room”, a thought-experiment story, in an interview after the ceremony. She said that the Silent Mentors have demonstrated anatomical knowledge through their donation of flesh and blood. That is akin to bringing them from a black-and-white room to a colourful world, guiding students into the field of Medicine.  

“I memorised all the branches of the abdominal aorta and also the dermatomes on the skin, yet nothing compared to actually cutting open and revealing each layer of skin, bone and muscle one by one.”

The late Echo Ong (left) was full of enthusiasm and extremely friendly. During her lifetime, she volunteered as a team lead for the reception team at Tzu Chi and forged good affinities with Dharma Masters and participants in various events.

During her lifetime, the kind-hearted Echo enjoyed doing good and helping others. She was a registered bone marrow donor who eventually matched her bone marrow with a patient and successfully made a donation. After she fell ill, as a person who is not disturbed by the issue of life and death, she signed up to become a donor when she learnt about the body donation programme.

Deputy CEO of Tzu-Chi Foundation (Singapore), Tan Chai Hoon, gave a speech on behalf of the executive team at the memorial service. Respectfully addressing Echo as “Teacher Echo”, he thanked her for her willingness to part with her physical body to nurture the students. This way of continuing the brilliance of her life was deeply touching.

Tan Chai Hoon also revealed that Echo was the first Silent Mentor among the Tzu Chi volunteers who agreed to donate their bodies after death to the NUS Medical School. He said, “Teacher Echo is our role model. Let us learn from her and let people see living Bodhisattvas in this human world.”

The decision to donate one’s body may be particularly difficult for Chinese who care about the concept of having “a whole body” and “to be buried and be at rest” after death. However, Echo’s three children gave their full support to their mother’s decision. Two years and seven months after Echo’s body was donated, being able to “see” their mother again made them sad and choked on their tears, but at the same time, gratified that their mother’s wish was finally fulfilled.

Not only had the children fulfilled Echo’s last wish, but they also signed the “Organ Donation Pledge Form” with the hope of continuing the spirit of giving selflessly by becoming a Silent Mentor who imparts the knowledge of complex anatomy of the human body and let life continue forever. Echo’s eldest daughter, Faith Yew, said, “If you can do something meaningful even after your death, then carry on.”

Faith Yew, the eldest daughter of Echo Ong (front row – fourth from the left), said that the three siblings concur with the concept of body donation after death, and are following in their mother’s footsteps by signing the “Organ Donation Pledge Form”.

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