ST Book Club: Dr William Wan on ageing gracefully and dying well

Dr William Wan speaking with Straits Times journalist Lee Siew Hua about his new book, Through The Valley, on the grace of ageing and dying well at the 11th edition of The Straits Times Book Club on Feb 27, 2019.
Dr William Wan speaking with Straits Times journalist Lee Siew Hua about his new book, Through The Valley, on the grace of ageing and dying well at the 11th edition of The Straits Times Book Club on Feb 27, 2019.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Dr William Wan speaking with Straits Times journalist Lee Siew Hua about his new book, Through The Valley, on the grace of ageing and dying well at the 11th edition of The Straits Times Book Club on Feb 27, 2019.
Dr William Wan speaking with Straits Times journalist Lee Siew Hua about his new book, Through The Valley, on the grace of ageing and dying well at the 11th edition of The Straits Times Book Club on Feb 27, 2019.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - When he turned 61 a decade ago, Dr William Wan made a bucket list of things to do before he dies.

The first item was skydiving.

That same year, as he and his wife drove past an airfield in Lincoln, Nebraska, Dr Wan decided to take the plunge. The next thing he knew, he was jumping out of a plane 12,000 feet (3.7km) 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 Book Club on Wednesday (Feb 27), Dr Wan strove to answer the age-old question of how to die well.

About 300 people gathered at the National Library Building to listen to 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 in the long term and the importance of leaving documentation such as wills and lasting power of attorney in the event of something happening to you.

Pastor Victor Wong travelled with his wife from Kuala Lumpur to attend the session after spotting Dr Wan's book in Popular bookstore.

He said he found the talk "apt and insightful".

He asked Dr Wan how he envisages his own funeral.

Dr Wan replied that 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: The Story Of The Unheard Cases with ST Opinion editor Chua Mui Hoong.

Readers can register at str.sg/oaSe.