Seeking new zest for life, South Koreans give 'death' a try

Participants at a mock funeral lying down in their coffins at the Hyowon Healing Centre in Seoul on Oct 22, 2016.
Participants at a mock funeral lying down in their coffins at the Hyowon Healing Centre in Seoul on Oct 22, 2016. PHOTO: NYTIMES
Participants are first told to write their wills, as part of the mock funeral process.
Participants are first told to write their wills, as part of the mock funeral process. PHOTO: NYTIMES
After their wills are written, participants then move into the coffins, where they are given time to contemplate their lives.
After their wills are written, participants then move into the coffins, where they are given time to contemplate their lives. PHOTO: NYTIMES
The participants are sealed inside their coffins for 10 minutes, leaving them encased in utter darkness.
The participants are sealed inside their coffins for 10 minutes, leaving them encased in utter darkness. PHOTO: NYTIMES
After 10 minutes, the coffins are opened and participants are told to sit up.
After 10 minutes, the coffins are opened and participants are told to sit up. PHOTO: NYTIMES
Many participants have said they feel strangely refreshed as they emerge from the coffins at their mock funerals.
Many participants have said they feel strangely refreshed as they emerge from the coffins at their mock funerals. PHOTO: NYTIMES
It takes a few minutes for participants to readjust, but soon they are chatting, laughing and taking selfies with their coffins.
It takes a few minutes for participants to readjust, but soon they are chatting, laughing and taking selfies with their coffins. PHOTO: NYTIMES

SEOUL (NYTimes) - Did you ever wonder what it would be like to be at your own funeral? Some South Koreans aren't waiting to die to find out.

It's become a trend in recent years to act out a mock funeral service as a way of better appreciating life.

The Hyowon Healing Centre in Seoul runs one such programme, with financial backing from a funeral service company. After an instructional lecture and video, participants are led into a dimly lit hall decorated with chrysanthemums, where they sit, often tearfully, beside caskets and write their last testaments. Then they put on burial shrouds and lie down in the coffins.

A grim-looking man dressed in a black robe, "the Envoy from the Other World," hammers the lids closed. The participants are left encased in utter darkness for 10 minutes - which can feel like an eternity.

"There was not a single ray of light coming in, and how I cried in the dark, suffocating coffin!" a recent participant wrote in a blog post.

Mr Jeong Yong Mun, director of the Hyowon programme, said 15,000 people had gone through mock funerals at the centre since 2012. The programme is free.

Some participants had terminal illnesses and wanted help preparing for the end; others had suicidal impulses that they wanted to dispel. Businesses send employees as part of a motivational programme.

At the end of the 2½-hour session, Mr Jeong tells the participants: "Now, you have shed your old self. You are reborn to have a fresh start!"

It takes a few minutes for them to readjust, but soon they are chatting, laughing and taking selfies with their coffins.

Mr Jeong says he keeps an eye out for the few morbid souls who seem to feel a little too "comfortable in the coffin".

But most participants say they feel strangely refreshed afterward, gaining a new perspective on the things that matter in life, like family.

"I feel my heart pumping," one participant wrote in a blog post, where she confessed to having thought about suicide before the mock funeral service. "I am alive!" she wrote.