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Dying for a better life: South Koreans fake their funerals for life lessons

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SEOUL: 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.

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"Once you become conscious of death, and experience it, you undertake a new approach to life," said 75-year-old Cho Jae-hee, who participated in a recent living funeral as part of a "dying well" program offered by her senior welfare center.

A participant poses for a funeral portrait. (Photo: Reuters/Heo Ran)

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 Jin-kyu said his time in the coffin helped him realise that too often, he viewed others as competitors.

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"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.

Participants stand next to coffins during a "living funeral" event. (Photo: Reuters/Heo Ran)

South Korea ranks 33 out of 40 countries surveyed in the Organisation 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.

Participants get into coffins during a "living funeral" event. (Photo: Reuters/Heo Ran)

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 Yong-mun, who heads the healing center.

Jeong said he is heartened when people reconcile at a relative's funeRead More – Source