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

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HONG KONG — Earlier than she grew to become 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 sort of grief, she mentioned.

It was certainly one of many such losses skilled by residents of the Chinese language territory. Hong Kong’s financial system started deteriorating in 2019, when a proposed extradition legislation set off months of fiery road clashes between protesters and police. Then, in the course of the coronavirus pandemic, harsh and continually evolving restrictions that hewed carefully to the mainland’s “zero Covid” coverage upended whole industries. Quite a few companies had been pressured to shut, 1000’s of individuals left town, 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 evening.

“Some folks misplaced their members of the family. Some emigrated. Others misplaced their well being — and never simply their physique well being, however their psychological well being additionally,” she mentioned lately. “It’s not simply Hong Kongers, however the entire world is experiencing this. It’s onerous to face. I’ve misplaced my job. However life will all the time convey alternate options.”

At Cathay Dragon, Ms. Wong, 35, had usually requested to be assigned to flights to Kathmandu, Nepal, so she might volunteer there at a kids’s house and animal shelter. The pursuit of one thing equally fulfilling led her to use final summer time to be a life celebrant at Neglect 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 per week with households, in an ethereal room decked with flowers. As she helps them plan ceremonies, she suggests writing notes with recollections to go away on or contained in the coffin, as a option 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 lady’s favourite cartoon character.

In some respects, Ms. Wong’s earlier job expertise turned out to be transferable, she mentioned. A lot as she had as soon as discovered methods to placate passengers dealing with flight delays, she was now discovering workarounds for folks in far better want.

The adjustment was not simple. After her first few funerals, pictures of the grieving households replayed in her thoughts at evening. She might 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 replicate on whether or not this was the best job for her.

Ms. Wong returned in April, as Hong Kong was dealing with its worst outbreak of the coronavirus. Hospitals had been strained past capability, and 1000’s of older folks died of Covid-19. She plunged proper again in. When kin 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. However she says she has discovered a extra far-reaching satisfaction in serving to struggling households course of a loss.

“The influence of Covid pushed us to face actuality,” she mentioned. “We now have to regulate.”

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

It was an opportunity to make “fast cash” as he saved as much as to migrate to Britain, he mentioned. The six-day-a-week cleansing job paid about $3,000 per 30 days, roughly $1,000 greater than his safety job had.

On the peak of the Covid outbreak this yr, Hong Kong’s hospitals and quarantine facilities confronted a big overflow of sufferers. Mr. Cheung’s quarantine camp close to the Tsing Yi port, which has almost 4,000 beds, was certainly one of eight swiftly 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 bathrooms and used speedy take a look at kits on daily basis, worrying about taking the virus house. His mom would let him in solely after he sanitized his whole physique on the door. (Because the variety of infections plateaued and pandemic fatigue set in, she stopped caring, he mentioned.)

“Assets had been actually missing — the distribution of labor was unequal,” he mentioned. “I used to be crammed with resentment as I labored. I stored telling myself that it will simply be for a couple of months.”

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

Mr. Cheung had supposed to work on the quarantine middle for 5 months, but it surely closed in June because the variety of “V.I.P.s,” as his crew chief instructed him to seek advice from sufferers, dwindled. He plans to work full time on the espresso store till he leaves Hong Kong.

Earlier than the pandemic, Mr. Cheung ran a nocturnal espresso operation referred to as NightOwl, but it surely was tough to maintain financially beneath Covid eating restrictions. He hopes to open the same enterprise in the future, after emigrating. However he’s additionally inquisitive about new experiences.

“In the long run, I will probably be exploring a brand new world,” he mentioned.

As an in-flight service supervisor for Cathay Dragon, Connie Cheung, 57, had reached the best rung of her profession ladder. Ms. Cheung, who will not be associated to Mandi Cheung, joined the airline, then referred to as Dragonair, greater than three many years in the past as a flight attendant. She had lately 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 sequence of presidency programs in postnatal care, studying tips on how to 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 new moms, and in 2021, she started her second profession.

“Now I’m a newbie once more,” Ms. Cheung mentioned.

She and a buddy, Wing Lam, 48, one other in-flight service supervisor turned postpartum nanny, commerce tips about tips on how to 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 cook dinner for his or her shoppers.

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 fun of managing a airplane crew, regardless of the stress and uncertainties that got here with each flight.

In Could, 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. However within 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 shoppers have referred her to different expectant moms. Whereas the work is unstable — she’ll get no requests one month, then a number of the following — she hopes it’ll quickly pay for household holidays.

She mentioned she might see herself caring for infants for the following 10 years: “I’ve discovered my new path in life.”

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