South Koreans Take Part in ‘Living Funerals’ to Improve Lives

    22 November, 2019

    Thousands of South Koreans have taken part in "living funeral" services in an effort to help improve their lives.

    The experience is designed to simulate death for individuals seeking to increase their knowledge about their current lives.

    More than 25,000 people have completed mass "living funerals" at the Hyowon Healing Center in Seoul since it opened in 2012.

    "Once you become conscious of death, and experience it, you undertake a new approach to life," said 75-year-old Cho Jae-hee. Cho took part in a living funeral that was part of a "dying well" program offered by her local community center.

    The event was attended by many people from the area, both young and old. During the program, people are asked to lie down in a closed coffin for about 10 minutes. They can also write a will and take funeral pictures.

    University student Choi Jin-kyu also took part in a "dying well" event. He told Reuters news agency the experience helped him realize that, too often, he considers others as competitors.

    "When I was in the coffin, I wondered what use that is," the 28-year-old said. Choi added that he now plans to start his own business after finishing school instead of trying to enter the highly-competitive job market.

    Participants get into coffins during a
    Participants get into coffins during a "living funeral" event as part of a "dying well" program in Seoul, South Korea, October 31, 2019. Picture taken on October 31, 2019. REUTERS/Heo Ran

    The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, has rated South Korea 33 out of 40 countries on its Better Life Index. The index considers many measures of personal well-being, including housing, income, employment and health.

    Many younger South Koreans have high hopes for education and employment. But such hopes can be ruined because of economic conditions.

    Professor Yu Eun-sil is a doctor at Seoul's Asan Medical Center who has written a book about death. "It is important to learn and prepare for death even at a young age," she told Reuters.

    In 2016, the World Health Organization reported South Korea's suicide rate was 20.2 per 100,000 people. That is nearly double the worldwide average of 10.53.

    Hyowon Healing Center began offering living funerals to help people see the value in their current lives. The experience can also help people seeking forgiveness and better relationships with family and friends, said Jeong Yong-mun, the head of the center.

    Jeong said he is pleased when people are able to reconcile at a family member's funeral. But he is saddened that the connection could not happen sooner.

    "We don't have forever," he said. "That's why I think this experience is so important - we can apologize and reconcile sooner and live the rest of our lives happily."

    I'm Bryan Lynn.

    Reuters reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.

    Would you consider attending your own "living funeral?" Write to us in the Comments section, and visit 51VOA.COM.


    Words in This Story

    simulate v. create conditions or processes similar to something that exists

    conscious adj. know that something is present or happening

    undertake v. begin work on something

    coffin n. a box in which a dead body is buried

    will n. a document that gives instructions about what should happen to a person's money and belongings after they die

    reconcile v. restore friendly relations with others