South Kore­ans fake their fu­ner­als for life lessons

The Korea Times - - NATIONAL -

A South Korean ser­vice is of­fer­ing free fu­ner­als — but only to the liv­ing.

More than 25,000 peo­ple have par­tic­i­pated in mass “liv­ing fu­neral” ser­vices at Hy­owon Heal­ing Cen­ter since it opened in 2012, hop­ing to im­prove their lives by sim­u­lat­ing their deaths.

“Once you be­come con­scious of death, and ex­pe­ri­ence it, you un­der­take a new ap­proach to life,” said 75-year-old Cho Jae­hee, who par­tic­i­pated in a re­cent liv­ing fu­neral as part of a “dy­ing well” pro­gramme of­fered by her se­nior wel­fare cen­tre.

Dozens took part in the event, from teenagers to re­tirees, don­ning shrouds, tak­ing fu­neral por­traits, pen­ning their last tes­ta­ments, and ly­ing in a closed cof­fin for around 10 min­utes.

Uni­ver­sity stu­dent Choi Jinkyu said his time in the cof­fin helped him re­al­ize that too of­ten, he viewed oth­ers as com­peti­tors.

“When I was in the cof­fin, I won­dered what use that is,” said the 28-year-old, adding that he plans to start his own busi­ness af­ter grad­u­a­tion rather than at­tempt­ing to en­ter a highly-com­pet­i­tive job mar­ket.

South Korea ranks 33 out of 40 coun­tries sur­veyed in the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment’s Bet­ter Life In­dex. Many younger South Kore­ans have high hopes for ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment, which have been dashed by a cool­ing econ­omy and ris­ing job­less­ness.

“It is im­por­tant to learn and pre­pare for death even at a young age,” said Pro­fes­sor Yu Eun-sil, a doc­tor at Asan Med­i­cal Cen­ter’s pathol­ogy depart­ment, who has writ­ten a book about death.

In 2016, South Korea’s sui­cide rate was 20.2 per 100,000 res­i­dents, al­most dou­ble the global av­er­age of 10.53, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Fu­neral com­pany Hy­owon be­gan of­fer­ing the liv­ing fu­ner­als to help peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate their lives, and seek for­give­ness and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with fam­ily and friends, said Jeong Yong­mun, who heads the heal­ing cen­ter.

Jeong said he is heart­ened when peo­ple rec­on­cile at a rel­a­tive’s fu­neral, but is sad­dened they wait that long. “We don’t have for­ever,” he said. (Reuters)

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