Edited by: Neo Shi Wei
Written & Photos by: Felicia Chua
As the sun slowly set beneath the clouds and the night took over, the NTU-USP lounge was bustling with activity. Students gathered around warm pizza and cold drinks in a comfortable and intimate setting. The mood was light, yet the focus group discussion topic of the night – Death – seemed somber. Last Monday marked the very first time ‘Death Café’ was held in NTU-USP (As part of an Incubation Hub Project). Luar Shu Qi, a year 4 Psychology student, was the organizer of the event and she explained that the idea of the Death café was originally founded in East London and has now spread to many other parts of the world. Its purpose was to increase the awareness of death amongst people to allow them to appreciate life itself. She said: “I was inspired by Prof Andy’s module last semester called The Last Dance, where he taught about life and death and the importance of living with no regrets – I wanted to bring the Death Café into USP.”
The question on why the students chose to attend this discussion was passed around the table. The general consensus was that it was a subject not usually broached upon, but seemed like an insightful and extremely relevant discussion topic. Goh Hua Zhen, a year 4 WKW Communication Studies student, said: “I’m doing a final year project on death journalism and through research, I have understood the importance of having dialogues on death that the government has with the people. This discussion today may be less of a grand scale but one more person educated in this aspect is better than none.”
As I listened to the reasons why other students chose to attend the Death Café, I asked myself if there was a greater reason why I was here instead of simply covering the event. I realized that being part of this discussion and gaining new perspectives on one of the things most people fear the most, would be what every human alive desired. We are so often too scared of the topic and the word ‘death’ that we do not know how to face it, and this event was a good opportunity to do so.
The discussion table was filled with a constant stream of questions and opinions.For example, questions such as what is a good death and what comes after death incited a variety of response among the students. Elyse Yap, a year 2 Communication Studies student, said: “A good death would be if everyone else I love dies before me, and no one will grieve for me or be left behind.” It was an interesting response as personally, I would be more afraid of my loved ones dying as I would have continue living while grieving for them. Low Zhi Hong, a year 4 Aerospace Engineering student, said that he would want to let his loved ones know what he wants to say to them before he dies, and not leave anything important unsaid.
Professor Andy and his wife, Miss Geraldine, came halfway through the discussion. Psychology Prof Andy, taught the module Death and Dying in NTU and he had great interest in this topic. Miss Geraldine worked in the social service sector. She interacted with young children who had contracted fatal illnesses and the elderly whose days were numbered. Both of them were open to communication in this topic and felt that it was a genuine and heartwarming discussion to have – not a morbid one. Prof Andy said: “Death puts many things in perspective. Knowing and acknowledging that we can die will let us appreciate time and people more – we learn to re-prioritise and live fuller.”
We continued exploring funeral traditions such as the grandeur of Taiwanese funerals where the casket will be driven across the town and performances will be held (like a Singapore Chingay Parade) as well as types of burial such as sea and land. We even explored unique forms such as space burial and carving one’s ashes into a diamond. I think that it would be pretty cool to be remembered and kept as a diamond!
What I learn the most from the session was that the way we approach death is all about our mindset. Death ultimately takes away the time we have with the people we cherish, however, time is always given before it is taken – with infinite time, nothing would be treasured the way we do now. Miss Geraldine said: “With my job, I am constantly facing life and death and seeing death take away the people in the world. However, it does not make me fear death but instead, see it as the most important discussion we should have with the ones we love when we are still alive.”