In a dimly lit room, people dressed in burial shrouds lay backwards into their coffins. They’ll stay there, crying silently, thinking about their past and loved ones they’d leave behind. They each hug a picture of themselves, draped in black ribbon. As they look up, the boxes are banged shut by a man dressed in black with a tall hat. He represents the Angel of Death. This is the end – for now.
This ceremony is a mass fake funeral and in South Korea they’re a new way to ease the stress of life with an aim to also lower the high suicide rate in the country. There’s a deep set societal tension, particularly among young South Koreans, over competitive college entrance exams, job hunting, long working hours and a widening inequality. The mock funerals are part of a “well-dying” trend in which people learn to die well and a sign that the country, which was once one of the world’s poorest post-Korean War, is now affluent enough to think about quality-of-life issues.
Before they climb into their coffins, they listen to a lecture on life and death, watch a TV documentary on a woman dying of a cancer saying farewell to her family, and write their own wills.
Hyowon Healing Centre, run by a regular funeral service company, began giving free mock funerals in late 2012. It has attracted about 15,000 visitors, from middle school students to elderly people who want to know what their deaths will be like and how to prepare for them.
The sessions are being paid for by employers for their employees who are overworked and excessively stressed. A intriguing and macabre idea but perhaps simply getting to the root problem would be more relieving and life-affirming.