Let's talk about death over dinner: Social campaign Dying To Talk tackles taboo topic

One of the participants of the Dying To Talk campaign, teacher Sazali Abu Othman had a heartfelt chat on camera with his 11-year-old daughter Daria.
One of the participants of the Dying To Talk campaign, teacher Sazali Abu Othman had a heartfelt chat on camera with his 11-year-old daughter Daria.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - "How do you want your funeral to be like?" might not seem like the most palatable of dinner table questions - but it can offer plenty of food for thought.

Four families found this out when they took part in a campaign by students from Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

The campaign, called Dying To Talk, saw participants speak about death with their family members over dinner at home.

These conversations have been documented in a video series which was launched on Facebook on Saturday (Feb 1) as part of a month-long campaign to get more people to talk about and plan for death.

Their candid dinner table conversations often took an emotional turn as family members opened up and shared their feelings with one another.

One of the participants was teacher Sazali Abu Othman, 45, who had a heartfelt chat on camera with his 11-year-old daughter Daria.

He told her about how his father's death nearly 30 years ago hit him hard only days later, when he smelled his clothes in the closet.

Daria, who was moved by this revelation, said: "It made me wonder, 'Would this also happen to me?'" adding that her father did not usually talk about emotions or "serious stuff" like this.

She admitted that the conversation was at times "awkward", because "usually I only express my feelings to my friends".

Mr Sazali responded: "I realised that she's a serious girl."

Over at the Yeo family, who also took part in the campaign, the conversations were similarly candid and heartfelt.

Madam Low Siew Luan, 70, who has been married to remisier Yeo Gun Tong, 64, for 30 years, said in the video: "My husband seldom praises me. He's a man of few words, so it was a shock to me (to hear) that he really appreciated me. That really touched my heart."

Madam Low, who is a retired civil servant, also spoke about her battle with three cancers in the session that included their two daughters and son-in-law, whose ages range from 24 to 30.


Dying To Talk was conceived by Nanyang Technological University students (from left) Yeo Zhi Yi, Janice Ng, Hazel Tan and Lynn Chan. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Dying To Talk was conceived by four students from NTU's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information working on their final-year-project.

One of them, Ms Lynn Chan, 23, said: "We see a lot of families that have been broken apart because of things that had not been clarified by the person who had (died). Things such as inheritance, or something as simple as how the funeral should be like, for example if it should be a Christian or a Taoist one."

She added that the group was inspired by the international Death Over Dinner movement, which gets people to talk about end-of-life questions before it is too late.

The students have also come up with a "Dabao Conversation Kit", a guide for people who want to broach such topics at home.

This kit, which resembles a cardboard food box for takeaways, contains cards with conversation prompts such as "How would you spend your last six months if you were diagnosed with a terminal illness?" and "What is your favourite memory of your family?"

Other cards invite people to write their own eulogy, draw their own coffin or write a letter to their 70-year-old self.

The kit can be posted to members of the public on request, while a digital version can be found here.

Dying To Talk is supported by the Ang Chin Moh Foundation, which was founded in 2012 by Mr Ang Ziqian.

The foundation has helped start public education campaigns about dying, death and funerals in collaboration with various groups.

These range from the Die-Die Must Say campaign, which roped in getai hosts, to the Talk Of A Lifetime conversation cards, which encourage people to sit down with their loved ones to talk about their lives. There are more projects in the pipeline.

"End-of-life conversations should be normalised," said Mr Ang, 39.

"This (Dabao Conversation Kit) helps open up conversations - conversations which are open, honest, and can strengthen relationships."

Asked what he hopes will change in the landscape, he said he would like to see schools do more to discuss death and dying with their students to help them understand the importance of time and relationships.

Having funeral service halls across the island within residential estates would also allow the community to support the bereaved better, he added.

• For more information, go to Dying To Talk's website or Facebook page