Testing death before it comes

Some friends of ours recently told of us of their marital disagreement over what happens to them when they die: cremation or burial. It might seem strange for a pair in their late 20s to have this discussion, but posing the possibility might come sooner for some rather than later. Their discussion included theological questions over whether God intends to raise physical bodies from the grave or whether it doesn’t matter and cremation is more environmentally friendly. Average date night conversation, you know?

It’s difficult to discuss matters of death without recognizing the question of the afterlife, but stories on anticipating death sometimes overlook the obvious. You might say we have a ghost in this Reuters piece on how people are taking a test run with death. The otherwise interesting article centers on a “well-dying” course, with the motto “Don’t take life for granted.”

This isn’t just a piece about picking out your coffin and leaving your dying wishes to your children. The reporter links the phenomenon to the country’s issues with suicide.

Suicide is a big issue in South Korea. Among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries, South Korea is ranked among the highest in the suicide ranks, with the rate rising sharply after the Asian financial crisis hit in 1997 — and still climbing.

Online suicide pacts, the suicide of K-pop celebrities and even the suicide of a former president show the negative side of rapid economic development and a highly competitive atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the story does little to explore how the country’s religious leaders–likely Buddhist or Protestant based on the religious population–would respond to such an idea. Perhaps I am more sensitive to the idea because of my friend Rob Moll’s recent book on dying focuses on the idea that Christians need to better prepare for death. But I’m curious how the seminar director handles religious questions, especially if it’s a gathering of people of different faiths.

While some see the mock funeral as a way to reflect on life and prepare for death, many skeptics question whether death simulation can prevent suicide and blame some entrepreneurs for using this as a commercial event.

…But Kang says participants in the well-dying course don’t suffer from depression.

“Rather than preparing for death, the program makes them think about life,” Kang said, adding participants come away wanting to lead fuller lives.

As the death rehearsal ends, the grim mood is over. Participants are glad to be back from the dead and start to clap and sing a song called “Happy.”

The idea of a group of people singing and clapping to a song called “happy” kind of sounds like a kids’ birthday party. It’s an interesting song choice, because although those who are highly religious most likely would not welcome death via suicide, many don’t necessarily fear death. Perhaps this seminar is filling a void for nonreligious people who want to prepare for death but don’t see religion as the way to do that.

It’s a short piece where you can’t expect the reporter to explore every angle, but it raises interesting follow-up questions about faith and possibly preparing for an afterlife.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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  • George

    group of people singing and clapping to a song called “happy” kind of sounds like a kids’ birthday party

    It does to a native English speaker, but remember that the impact/nuance of that word is being filtered through its use in Korean media and culture. Based on my experience in the Japanese/English equivalent, I’d bet that the Korean participants hear a different meaning than you.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    George, great point. I don’t want to diminish that it might translate to us the same way, but I do think the point is still there that they definitely see coming back to earth is happy.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Just an aside, but apropos of proper planning.
    There was a story I saw somewhere in the media the other day about a young person who was cremated. After the cremation the family was going through the young person’s belongings and found a paper that had a list of body parts the deceased wanted donated to help other people out.
    Too late!


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