Funerals certainly require a lot of planning, from what music is played to what is worn planning for the day is surrounded with such uncertainty, especially when the deceased has left little clue as to what they want. In South Korea however, many have taken the somewhat bizarre step in rehearsing their funeral while they’re still alive and kicking. The new practice has followed rising suicide rates in the country, allowing people to feel the sombre mood of a funeral for half an hour before emerging, feeling as if they have been reborn. For the cost of around £30 people can be the star of their very own funeral rehearsal with glossy adverts in South Korea enticing them with the promise that a fake death will make them realise life is worth living.
Before their funeral ‘warm up’, those planning to die for 30 minutes write out their will in a dark candle-lit room before leaving last messages to family and friends. The would-be deceased are then led to the ‘death experience room’, a room filled with coffins and pictures of deceased celebrities, it is then that the participant is dressed in a traditional hemp death robe. Following this, the person selects a coffin while the participant’s wills are read out one by one, the ‘dead’ is then lowered into their chosen coffin. A man wearing a traditional South Korean death messenger’s outfit then hides their eyes and wraps their wrists before placing a flower on the chest of each person, the attendants then close the coffin lids, banging each corner with a mallet in order to simulate the lid being nailed shut. Dirt is then thrown on top of the lid to further inforce the realism of the occasion, simulating burial. The attendants then leave the room for five minutes – however due to smoke and mirrors this is said to feel like being trapped for 30 minutes. Upon their return the attendants lift the lid and proclaim: “Now, you have shed your old self. You are reborn to have a fresh start.” The popularity of the funeral rehearsal in South Korea has led to some of the country’s biggest companies in industries such as car manufacturing and insurance, sending their workers to experience death.
Another theory around why these mock funerals have gained such popularity in South Korea is the way in which they are seen by friends and family as opposed to in the west where people tend to be more concerned about their own opinions on themselves. Kim Gi-ho, program director and owner of Beautiful Life, one of the companies providing a death experience for the living, said of the company’s offering: “Unlike westerners, Koreans are most concerned with their families and how they’re viewed by their peers. In the west, people are more individualistic and can enjoy more personal freedoms. This puts a lot of pressure on Koreans to live up to their surrounding expectations. When we are mindful of death, it takes us to a higher point. When we have one day to live, life is very short. Time slows down. We see our lives from a greater vantage point and this allows us to discern what is important and what is not. If you want to really experience this kind of death, you have to start preparing a week before. You have to think about your death constantly and completely empty your life. Clean your room, throw out your food, and organise everything as if you were never coming back. Watch your funeral, imagine everyone there. Imagine yourself in the coffin. Let death be your teacher, dying be your mentor. Most people focus on meaningless things, Their minds are limited by this big cloud that is our daily lives. In the coffin, they will see their lives moving slowly. They can examine what their purpose is. They can see, clearly, what is and isn’t important to them.”
This feature was first published in the November 2018 issue of Funeral Service Times