Leaving a funeral without shedding a tear is enough to make anyone think they’re heartless. After all, celebrating a lost loved one and confronting death with a shovel is emotionally exhausting. Well, in South Korea, people are starting to take a different approach to funerals.
South Koreans have found a strangely morbid — and fresh — way to approach burials and ceremonies. And while the reason behind the process is sound, people across the world can’t help but dismiss the way Koreans are grappling with the idea of the end…
Are you in the market for a free funeral? Well South Korea’s Hyowon Healing Center offers them, complete with wooden coffins. They’re not exactly conventional, though. They’re only for the living.
New York Post
Since 2012, the Seoul-based wellness center has been offering these free services, which are fittingly called “living funerals.” But at these unusually lively remembrance ceremonies, you wouldn’t be the only guest of honor.
They’re mass services, as they honor the (ongoing) lives of several people at once. All together, more than 15,000 people have partaken in these ceremonies, all united with one similar purpose.
“Once you become conscious of death, and experience it, you undertake a new approach to life,” said 75-year-old living funeral honoree Cho Jae-hee. As an elder, Cho participated as part of a “dying well” program, which, we must say, is shockingly blunt.
But not all living funeral guests of honor are oldies; pimply teens, exhausted retirees, and everyone in between have succumbed to the inevitable final chapter for a day. Mortality really finds ways to haunt us all.
Bill & Ted 3
With their anticipation to pose for gloomy funeral portraits, announce their final wishes, or act out death in cozy, wooden coffins, these entombment ceremony honorees wished to accept the concept of death with open arms to grapple with the struggles of life. The effects are interesting.
University student Choi Jin-kyu was always one to compare himself to others, viewing them as competition. But when he viewed the world from the inside of a dark coffin, he realized just how stifling that mindset was.
“When I was in the coffin, I wondered what use that is,” the 28-year-old scholar explained. To counter his unproductive competitive nature, he relayed that he planned to start his own business after graduation. Though inspiring, how does this relate to the notion of mortality?
Considering South Korea ranks 33 out of 40 countries listed in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Better Life Index, South Korean youths grow up with anxious, pessimistic feelings pertaining to entering the unsteady, over-saturated work force.
Quality of Life Conference
Though a questionable future (especially a potentially economically-dry one) is upsetting to think about, Dr. Yu Eun-sil of Asan Medical Center’s pathology department believes that “It is important to learn and prepare for death even at a young age.”
While Americans love to gorge on trendy K-pop, and indulge in the hydrating world of Korean skincare, our giddy perception of life in South Korea is anything but accurate. In fact, South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.
You can imagine how that statistic makes death a delicate subject in the country. But Dr. Yu, who wrote the book on death — yes, he actually wrote a book on death — doesn’t think it should be so touchy.
According to Jeong Yong-mun, leader at the Hyowon Healing Center, their mission not only aims to get people to appreciate their lives while they still have them, but also to seek forgiveness and harmony with family and friends.
Françoise Huguier / Agence VU
“We don’t have forever. That’s why I think this experience is so important; we can apologize and reconcile sooner and live the rest of our lives happily,” Jeong Yong-mun explained. The sooner we rid ourselves of our inner demons, the better.
Françoise Huguier / Agence VU
Jeong has had the opportunity to work with those who were contemplating suicide during these phony funerals. “I picked out those people who have asked themselves whether … they can actually commit suicide, and I reversed their decision,” Jeong explained.
“I want to let people know that they matter, and that someone else would be so sad if they were gone. Happiness is in the present,” Jeong continued, tears forming in the corner of his eyes.
To put things in perspective, suicide has been the number one cause of death for South Korean teens and youths since 2007. So Jeong’s emotional response to the state of his country’s quality of life as a whole wasn’t unwarranted.
While these peculiar funerals seemed gimmicky at first, throwing on a burial shroud and meditating for 10 minutes in a wooden bed for the dead, which probably feels like a lifetime (pun intended), offered more intimate soul-searching than initially anticipated.
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At the end of the moving, macabre two-and-a-half-hour ceremony, Jeong makes an uplifting closing statement to the honorees. “Now, you have shed your old self. You are reborn to have a fresh start!”
The New York Times
Though many impacted participants wipe away somber tears, the emotional experience only brings joy. After a few moments of recouping, the liveliness returns to them, as they often bask in the silliness of their obligatory coffin selfies.
The New York Times
Though the coffin-laying practice can feel so far-fetched or foreign, it’s a practice that’s been slowly spreading to every corner of the world. A Dutch university toyed with the idea as a way to help out their students.
Many college kids deal with anxiety and sleep deprivation, all in relation to striving for excellence while making time for fun. Well, Nijmegen’s Radboud University gets that, and officials offer some deliciously morbid coping mechanisms.
Freaks and Geeks
While other schools have relied on the use of therapy dogs and special quiet spaces to counteract these common health and wellness issues among college students, the Dutch university offered the stress-relieving powers of a cold, hard grave.
Living With Yourself
Radboud University’s bizarre alternative therapy, hilariously named the “purification grave,” aims to provide an earthy meditation space for students overwhelmed with exam stress.
Behind the student chapel lies the famous purification grave, which appropriately hosts a sign that reads “stay weird” and contains a cozy blanket and a yoga mat. Afterlife is so relaxing, isn’t it?
While Radboud had conducted similar deathlike projects in 2009 and in 2011, social media helped skyrocket this go-around to new heights, or depths in this case. The weirdness got people talking.
Believe it or not, the grim reaper responsible for the health-conscious crypt has a method to his madness. John Hacking, a staff member at the student chapel, initiated the project in hopes of getting students to further appreciate life on Earth.
“The end of life, death, is a taboo, difficult for students… death is very difficult to talk about, especially when you are 18, 19, 20 years old,” John said of his motivation. This bonkers grave takes staying grounded to a whole new level.
“In society, people are empty inside, sometimes. What have you to do? Consume, work, and nothing else. When there’s no other meaning, there’s emptiness in your life,” John continued.
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So how did an ominous open grave gain momentum as the hottest new meditation spot with stressed out college students? Well, mysterious promotional campus posters stating “memento mori,” which is Latin for “remember you will die,” really got the ball rolling.
The near-death experience can be booked for a minimum of 30 minutes and a maximum of three hours. Three hours is quite a while to ponder about mortality if you ask us.
Understandably, the grim meditation chamber went viral; how could it not? With a wild premise and cryptic advertising, the grave’s burgeoning viral status made it difficult for students to actually book a reservation.
Studentenkerk Nijmegen / YouTube
These morbid meditation sessions became a hot commodity, as the waiting list rapidly grew. Apparently, these curious, stressed-out scholars were knocking each other over (and knocking on death’s door) to get a spot on said list.
The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy
“Me and my housemate were planning on going a week ago, a week and a half ago, and we found that there is a waiting list to actually get into the grave, so it’s quite popular,” student Sean McLoughlin explained.
Another Radboud student, who wound up partaking in the cadaverous project, was delighted by its uniquely earthy qualities, finding the experience profound rather than simply macabre.
Ruptly / YouTube
“I’ve never been so close to nature before. Normally when I meditate my thoughts go all over the place; I think about school and work, or anything. In the grave you really think about life, death, what it means, and what’s important in life,” she said.
Ruptly / YouTube
“When you realize that life isn’t endless, and that we are all going to die at some point, you think ‘What do I want to do in life? What do I think is most important? What does my heart feel?'” she continued.
Ruptly / YouTube
To further push the philosophical experience, there are no phones or books allowed in the grave. You are supposed to spend time with your mind, your body, and the earth only. Who knew immortality was so strict?
Whether you think Radboud’s death chamber’s just a hole in the ground, or that it’s a weighty exploration of mortality, you won’t truly know its impact until you rest in its metaphorical arms. As it’s been said, “six feet of earth makes us all equal.”
Even if you were to appreciate the purification grave’s intellectually morbid intentions, that doesn’t necessarily mean it would relieve your stress; and that’s okay! Everyone has their own methods to finding inner and mental peace, and some need those stress relief methods most while flying.
When you plan a vacation that requires serious traveling, there are plenty of stressors. Packing can be brutal, getting time off work is sometimes tough, but neither of these are as bad as dealing with a super busy airport.
Of course, after the chaos of checking luggage, finding your terminal, and weaving through the bustling human labyrinth, you find yourself soaring peacefully through the blue sky. However, that peaceful feeling doesn’t ring true for every passenger.
While some people love gazing out the window at the pillowy clouds around them, others are just plain terrified something will go wrong. Even though thousands of flights a day make it to their destination safely, these concerns are understandable.
When plane crashes occur, they’re serious. You’re in the sky, after all, so a plummet down to Earth usually results in serious injuries, if not deaths. But, airplane travel is technically the safest way to get from one place to another.
Think about it… traveling by subway or car might seem safer, but subways are always whizzing past each other and dozens of other drivers are around you on the highway. When you’re in the clouds, it’s literally blue skies.
The people who work at airports are well aware some passengers are terrified of the whole ordeal. Instead of just bushing it off like it’s not their problem, many places have enacted ways to get those nervous heart rates down.
Introducing service animals to airports was an enormous help to anyone panicking at the terminal. Imagine sitting there, playing out tons of awful scenarios in your head, when suddenly, an adorable dog wagging his tail comes right up to you!
Instead of thinking about your impending doom, you’re petting a fluffball who’s so happy to see you the stress melts away. Many airports around the world have been on-boarding these canine companions to ease exactly this type of internal tension.
One of the busiest airports in the United Staes is San Francisco International Airport, and when you have a lot of people coming and going at all times, that also means you have a lot of fear passing through the doors. That’s where the Wag Brigade comes in to help.
The airport’s Wag Brigade is the group of people and dogs whose job it is to walk through the building and approach anyone looking intimidated about their journey.
All of the animals wear little jackets that say “Pet Me!” so people know they can approach them without fear of aggressive behavior. Now, nearly all of the animals are dogs, but the brigade has another employee helping, and she’s a pleasant surprise to everyone.
She’s a spotted Juliana pig named LiLou! Just like her canine cohorts, LiLou travels with her trained handler and helps panicky travelers calm down before they take off.
LiLou’s owner, Tatyana Danilova, loves the fact that her little porker is put to great use at the airport. The San Francisco SPCA was working for a while to expand the types of animals on the Wag Brigade, and once they met Lilou, they were sold.
As you can imagine, LiLou gets tons of attention during her once-a-month workday. People, of course, love the dogs that roam the airport, but a pig wearing a skirt who also does tricks?! That’s something else.
Right on LiLou’s Wag Brigade trading card, it lists all the tricks Tatyana taught her to perform, including greeting people with her snout or a little hooved wave and even putting on live musical performances!
That’s right! If you think you’ve seen it all, guess again. LiLou has a favorite toy piano traveling with her around the airport. She loves to rub her hooves on it, playing songs for eager audiences.
Adults love getting nuzzled by LiLou, but sometimes she intimidates children; most of them have never seen a pig in real life. But, once they spend more than a couple of minutes with her, they always end up enjoying her company.
Although Tatyana and LiLou only visit the airport once a month, she hopes the shifts become more frequent. “It brings positive emotions to me seeing that we can do something good for the community and bring more smiles in some unconventional way,” she’s said.
LiLou even has her own Instagram account so people can check out awesome photos of her wearing different costumes and posing like a model! She’s the first certified pig in the San Francisco’s Animal Assisted Therapy Program, but other states have their own species, too.
The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport has miniature horses who calmly mosey around with their handlers. One definite way to calm nerves is to “horse” around with nervous travelers to take their minds off the flight.
Maybe the San Francisco International Airport will one day expand the animals to miniature horses also, but until they do, they have a loyal squad of dogs and one dedicated pig working hard to ensure everyone travels with a strong peace of mind. Kind people are helping the travel process, too.
Shaina Murry was just one of hundreds of people waiting for her American Airlines flight at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Eager to return home to her husband and tired from her travels, she hurriedly found her gate and sat down. Then, she noticed something unusual.
Shaina Murry / Facebook
A man lay sprawled out on the airport floor. “It was clear something was wrong,” Shaina recalled later in a post on Facebook. “I just didn’t know what.” So, she rushed over to find out.
Ian / Flickr
Shaina asked the man, whose name was Will, a few questions. She never shared exactly what he told her, but after their conversation, she knew there was something she needed to do: call for medical assistance.
Then, Will shared something else with her. Over and over again, he told her he was “afraid he was going to miss his flight while waiting for the airport medical team to come assist him,” Shaina wrote. That’s when she realized exactly what was going on…
Will was autistic, Shaina determined, and the overwhelming stress of traveling alone had made him very uncomfortable. This realization “triggered me to switch gears,” she wrote.
Shaina Murry / Facebook
Most other people would have left Will waiting for the medical team, but not Shaina. Instead, she assured her new airport pal that all was well: she’d make sure he boarded his plane before takeoff—and she didn’t stop there.
Together, the duo called Will’s mom “to let her know he wasn’t feeling well and seeing the medical team at Dallas Airport,” Shaina said. Will’s mother explained that her son was indeed autistic, confirming Shaina’s hunch.
When the medical team arrived, Will, Shaina, and the staff at American Airlines discussed the best way to make sure Will was in good condition to continue with his flight. Unfortunately, they were concerned about his health—and his ability to remain in such a cramped space.
“The medical team said he needed to eat and have something to drink,” Shaina wrote, “and they were worried he would get sick again and didn’t know if he should fly.” Did this mean Will would miss his flight?
If your typical stressed-out, in-a-hurry traveler had been the one to first talk to Will, he might’ve ended up grounded. Shaina, however, was no ordinary traveler—and she wanted to make sure Will was safe. Although she was tired and eager to see her husband, Shaina was prepared to do whatever it took to get Will home safe.
“I worked with American Airlines and the medical team at Dallas,” Shaina said, “and told [them] I would change my flight, grab some lunch with him, and make sure he got on his flight okay.”
In response, American Airlines helped out by facilitating Shaina’s flight transfer free of charge. “American didn’t charge me a dime for the flight change,” she wrote. The airline took another above-and-beyond action, too…
Brad Loper / Dallas Morning News
Shaina added that American Airlines “even called me when [Will] and I were eating lunch together to let me know his gate changed.” Everyone with the power to help came together to make sure one frightened Will made his flight!
Finally, after a meal and pleasant conversation, Shaina walked Will to his gate. American Airlines took over from there, and the gate clerk “made sure he boarded safely to go see his Mom for Christmas.”
Just as Shaina (pictured with her husband here) promised, Will made his flight! Later, she beautifully reflected on her hectic day at the airport. “Today was not at all what I pictured it to be,” she wrote. “It has turned out so much better…”
Shaina Murry / Facebook
Her account of the day continued: “I had an amazing lunch with a wonderful young man from Louisville, Kentucky. While I don’t know him well, I know he has a heart of gold and a wonderful mother and sister, who he loves very much.”
There’s no denying it: airports are stressful. They’re loud, crowded, and at times they feel like a labyrinth no map can navigate you through. But Shaina sacrificed her easy traveling experience and spent more time in the chaos for a stranger. That’s pretty amazing!
Scott / Flickr
Of course, Shaina couldn’t have done it alone, and she acknowledged everyone who played a big role in getting Will on his flight. “American Airlines handled the situation with such professionalism and care,” she wrote. “The medical team [was] also just as amazing.”
Most importantly: Shaina acknowledged a truth everyone could stand to hear. “Every once and awhile we all need a little help. Regardless of disability, age, or social status. Thanks for making my day Will!”
Shaina Murry / Facebook
Although Shaina wouldn’t likely ever see Will again, the day she spent with him might have changed her whole life—and his. It just goes to show you that a little kindness and sacrifice can go a long way!
Shaina Murry / Facebook