Professor Jung Hyun-chae, who serves as a director of the Korea Death Society, has been giving lectures on death and speaking in public about death across the country since December 2007. His audience includes those who take master’s or doctorate programs, medical conferences and those who are high school alumni in their 70s. Recently, he opened a course on death at the Seoul National University Medical School. He will have lectured 470 times this month.
― I heard you read obituary every morning.
“Right. I am reading it because I want to find a good example of death. The news of death in Korea is mostly about one’s worldly achievements during lifetime. I would like to read a story about how a person prepares for death and finishes life before or at the end of life, but it’s really difficult to find such an obituary.”
― I believe we Koreans tend to refrain from thinking about death. Why do you think so?
“I think it’s because of Confucianism, which has been deep-rooted in our society since it was adopted in the Joseon Dynasty. There is no afterlife in Confucian ideas, so only this world matters. In our culture, death has been often described as the death angel coming to take one’s life.”
― How should we prepare for our own death?
“You should talk more about death with your family. Things may be different for each family, but it would be better to make time to review your life, write a will, or find pieces of music or paintings you like. Then you will have a better understating of your family members.”
The Seoul National University Hospital, where Professor Jung works, is busy all day. On my way back, I saw people passing by the cancer ward, who looked tired and weary. Then I was reminded of his words: “I may be criticized for saying this as a physician, but I would like to put a big note on the entrance to the hospital that says ‘a man ages and dies.’” What he meant is we all should be able to accept death in a more positive way.
Kwang-Pyo Lee email@example.com