Kindness champion explores how people can die well

Dr William Wan posing with businesswoman Carrie Chan, 54, and Mr Charles Wu, 67, a freelance actor, during the book-signing session at the 11th edition of The Straits Times Book Club yesterday. During the event, Dr Wan spoke with The Straits Times tr
Dr William Wan posing with businesswoman Carrie Chan, 54, and Mr Charles Wu, 67, a freelance actor, during the book-signing session at the 11th edition of The Straits Times Book Club yesterday. During the event, Dr Wan spoke with The Straits Times travel writer Lee Siew Hua about his new book, Through The Valley, and on the grace of ageing and dying well. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

When he turned 61 a decade ago, Dr William Wan made a bucket list.

The first item on it was skydiving.

That same year, as he and his wife drove past an airfield in Nebraska in the US, Dr Wan decided to take the plunge. The next thing he knew, he was jumping out of a rickety plane 12,000 feet (3,700m) in the air.

"All my doctor friends told me, 'If you die, we won't be there at your funeral,'" he recalled. "But it's that desire to live and feel and be excited about the fact I'm living."

Speaking at the 11th edition of The Straits Times (ST) Book Club yesterday, Dr Wan strove to answer the age-old question of how to die well.

About 300 people gathered at the National Library to hear him discuss his new book, Through The Valley, with ST travel writer Lee Siew Hua.

"We are an ageing society," said Dr Wan, 71, the general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement.

 
 

"But I don't want people to go away thinking this book is just for people who are older. The day we are born, we start to age. We should start thinking about how we have a limited window of living and how to make the best of it."

He spoke of overcoming the fear of dying, how to help someone through grief, and the importance of leaving a will or a lasting power of attorney, in the event of something happening to a person.

Pastor Victor Wong travelled with his wife from Kuala Lumpur to attend the session after spotting Dr Wan's book at a Popular bookstore. He said he found the talk apt and insightful.

He asked Dr Wan how he envisages his own funeral. Dr Wan said he wants to spend his last days being eulogised by friends and family while he can still hear them. "When the moment comes, I can close my eyes with fantastic memories of those around me telling me how I made a difference in their lives."

The book club runs every last Wednesday of the month. At the next session, on March 27, professors Tommy Koh and S. Jayakumar will discuss their book Pedra Branca: Story Of The Unheard Cases with ST opinion editor Chua Mui Hoong. Readers can register at str.sg/oaSe

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2019, with the headline 'Kindness champion explores how people can die well'. Print Edition | Subscribe