Category Archives: Death Education

A Date with Death

A Date with Death

By Rachel Chiu and Edwin Chan

Reposted from The Nanyang Chronicle .

As part of psychology module The Last Dance, 38 students participated in a funeral simulation on 19 Sep.

Thirty-eight bodies lay side-by-side and motionless on a cold, hard concrete floor, each covered with a white sheet. These rectangles of white were spread out across the foyer of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences building, a picture of calm and stillness.

Passers-by did a double take and stopped to silently observe the peculiar spectacle, while sombre music played in the background and eulogies were read aloud.

Amid the sea of white, boxes of colourful crayons were strewn on the ground and pairs of shoes were placed next to the bodies, waiting to be worn again. This was not a mass funeral in process.

The “dead” were students taking part in a 30-minute funeral simulation held on 19 Sep. Known as “I Died Today x NTU”, the event was a part of The Last Dance, a psychology module under the School of Social Sciences (SSS) that deals with death, dying and bereavement.

The module aims to encourage students to have conversations about death and mortality, which are often heavy, taboo topics in Singapore. Its funeral simulation, which was introduced last semester, aims to provide students with an immersive experience of death.

Breaking the stigma

“We do not talk about death enough due to its stigma in our culture,” said Dr Andy Ho, an assistant professor at SSS’ psychology department.

Dr Ho introduced the module in 2015 because he believed that it would ease students into the difficult topic and help them be more comfortable with discussing death openly.

If people do not think about or discuss death, they are often at a loss and do not know how to cope with their grief when a loved one dies, he said.

The 13-week course gives students a platform to discuss death through lectures, class presentations and experiential learning.

Although the module started three years ago, Dr Ho introduced the funeral simulation only last semester because he finally had a bigger team to assist him in carrying it out.

He introduced the “physical experience” to enhance his students’ understanding of the topic, he said.

“This immersive experience is good for students because normally in the classroom there is no spiritual and physical engagement. The simulation allows them to express what’s on their mind, and hopefully it will translate to a deeper level of learning,” Dr Ho added.

During the funeral simulation, students lay down on long sheets of canvas paper, which represented their graves, while teaching assistants traced outlines of their bodies.

The students were encouraged to imagine the thought process they would have if they knew death was rapidly approaching, and express their thoughts by drawing within the outlines.

Final-year SSS student Oh Jarrad Gjern, 24, took the opportunity to reflect on his life. His drawings were inspired by his loved ones because they were the people he would miss the most if he were to die, he said.

“I drew a group of people, who are close to me, where my heart is located on the canvas sheet. The purple flower at the centre of my drawing represents my girlfriend as she loves both flowers and the colour purple,” he added.

While some students reflected on happy moments in their lives, there were others who focused on sad ones.

Ng Jing Xi, 24, was one of them. When sketching on his canvas, the final-year SSS student thought about regrets and unresolved questions that he would have if he died.

His body outline was divided into three sections: an orange one where he drew flowers, a blue one where he drew a heart, and a red section where he scribbled the word “why” repeatedly.

The bold orange represented the bright side of life and the flowers were achievements he had “planted”. Meanwhile, the heart symbolised the loved ones he was leaving behind and the colour blue illustrated his sadness at having to do so, he said.

“This red part represents frustrations, stemming from many questions like ‘Why am I leaving the world so early?’ and ‘Why did I have so little time to do what I wanted to?’ ” Ng added.

“I want to remove as many ‘whys’ as possible but I’m sure there will always be regrets left behind,” he added.

A cathartic experience

Despite the morbid topic, students like Oh found the experience to be enlightening.

Although the idea of simulating death was slightly uncomfortable, he was excited to participate in the funeral simulation and approached it with an open mind, Oh said.

“During the simulation, I realised that my death would not cause much disturbance to the world. This was comforting as I felt at ease knowing that my death would not burden others,” he added.

Besides the funeral simulation, students discuss issues such as palliative care and government policies related to death during the module’s lectures and class presentations. They also learn how to manage attitudes towards death.

These discussions have helped students such as S. Priyalatha, 23, change their mindset about death.

She is now able to have open discussions about death with her family, while tackling the topic with sensitivity, the final-year SSS student said.

“Conversations about death don’t always have to be sad. When you know what your family members want for their funeral rites and how you are going to be sent off, everyone will have proper closure,” she said.

The class has also helped her come to terms with the deaths of children whom she interacted with when she interned at the Children’s Cancer Foundation.

“It really affected me but this module opened my eyes to the topic of death, and how it happens to young children too. We always celebrate birth, but we often overlook death although it might happen at any time,” she added.

The module also allows students to reflect on their priorities and find their purpose in life, said Dr Ho.

Since death happens to everyone, we should all be prepared to deal with it, he added.

“If we want to drive a car, we can take driving lessons. If we want to fly a plane, we can take flying lessons. But we all die in the end, so why is there no one to help us deal with these emotions?”

I Died Today 2018

Due to the overwhelmingly positive feedback from last year, IDiedTodayxNTU is back for a second run. This year 38 participants experienced their living funeral at the foyer of the School of Social Sciences on 19th September. Details of our first run can be found here.

We would like to acknowledge and thank Zao Bao Sg for their reporting and coverage.

English Translation by Ms. Choo Ping Ying and Ms. Hilary Ma:

38 NTU students and professor experienced “Death”

To encourage dialogue about death, 38 NTU students, inclusive of third year and fourth year psychology students and a Master student, encountered an experiential activity of a living funeral together with their professor.

Prior to the event, the students prepared their self-eulogies. These eulogies were read to them by facilitators at their living funeral. As a symbol of their passing, the students were then fully covered with a white cloth, where they solemnly reflected on their experience.

A husband feeling heartbroken as his wife read his eulogy

Shaik, a 33-year-old Master’s student in gerontology invited his wife to read his eulogy as he participated in the experiential activity. As he listened to his wife read his eulogy in tears, he felt heartbroken and sorrowful as there was nothing he could do to comfort her in that moment. “I have known my wife for nine years and we are married for two years. She broke into tears as she read my eulogy, drenching my paper coffin with her tears”, he added.

“I’m usually comfortable with death-related conversations, but this activity has strengthened my relationship with my wife. Through this activity, my wife and I have learned that even though we are married, we need to be comfortable with living alone as well. We cannot foresee our death, so we need to cherish our family and the people around us,” expressed Shaik.

Dr. Andy Ho, an assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University, developed and organized this experiential activity for two consecutive years.

He highlighted the necessity to embrace the inevitability of death and understand death as a natural process of life. To address death taboos, he aspires to encourage dialogue and awareness through public education.

“People often perceive discussions about death as taboo and inauspicious. However, embracing death provides us with the opportunity to engage in self-reflection,” emphasized Dr. Andy Ho.

Experiencing peace in the face of death

Wong Su Ting, a 22-year-old psychology student in her fourth year, revealed that her father had passed away two years from an illness at the age of 67. Since then, she was fearful approaching the topic of death, but was able to find peace encountering her own mortality at the living funeral.

“I took a leave of absence to care for my father to spend quality time with him prior to his passing. Back then, I found death horrifying. I was terrified and I felt alone. However, as I face death again at the living funeral, I experienced peace instead and I am not longer afraid of death,” Su Ting recounted.

Su Ting continued, “What can I do to ensure that I find peace in the afterlife? Taking part in this living funeral reminds me that I have goals which I want to achieve and I will work towards those goals henceforth.”

The need to live life with no regrets

Tan Jun Hao, a 25 year-old psychology student in his fourth year, aspires to be a clinical psychologist working with terminally-ill seniors. He realized that he rarely spent time with his family due to school commitment, and had yet to fulfil his aspirations. He shared, “I have yet to realize many dreams and I will have regrets if I were to leave the world now.”

According to Jun Hao, the idea of his own mortality has never crossed his mind. During the immersive process of IDiedTodayxNTU when he was covered with a cloth and heard his eulogy, he began to deeply reflect on significant people and life events.

“The experience was immersive. I wish I can die with dignity and great joy. I included a quote in my artwork, ‘to lead a fulfilled life’. It serves as a reminder to myself that I should live with no regrets,” concluded Jun Hao.

Asst Prof Andy Ho receives prestigious award from ADEC

Asst Prof Andy Ho Receives Prestigious Award from ADEC

ADEC Academic Educator Award.jpg
Asst Prof Andy Ho (right) receiving his award at the 40th Annual Conference of the Association for Death Education and Counseling from Dr Romona Fernandez

Congratulations to Assistant Professor Andy Ho from Psychology on his Academic Educator Award from the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC)! Asst Prof Ho, who was conferred the award at the 40th Annual Conference of the Association for Death Education and Counseling, is the first Asian recipient of this prestigious award. It is given to individuals who possess expertise in the field of dying, death and bereavement as demonstrated by advanced academic degrees, professional honors, awards and other major contributions.

Expressing his honour and humility for receiving the award, Asst Prof Ho said that he will continue to push forth the boundaries of Death Education and Thanatology Research. He will also further develop his life’s work in supporting and improving the lives of those facing loss, dying, death and bereavement.

“This award goes to all the patients and families that I have served, as well as to my family, my team, my mentors and teachers who have guided and supported me throughout this most inspiring and rewarding journey,” he added.

Awardees of this award must also have Excellence in Academic Teaching in Thanatology as demonstrated by judgement of peers, development of teaching materials, new courses and student evaluations; Scholarly Abilities as demonstrated by publication records and membership on editorial boards of academic and professional journals; as well as Continuing Growth as demonstrated by keeping abreast of changes and being at the cutting edge of developing ideas for the field.

I Died Today: An Intimate Encounter with Mortality

I Died Today: An Intimate Encounter with Mortality

“I Died Today: An Intimate Encounter with Mortality” is an integrative experiential learning encounter that provides participants with the unique opportunity to reflect upon their own mortality and the meaning of life via a series of innovative and immersive activities. Through writing their own eulogies, taking part in their own living funeral, and engaging in an paint-brush autopsy, participants experienced firsthand how it is like to be ‘dead’, helping them to contemplate on the inevitability of death, and in turn bringing greater awareness and connectedness to their sense of spirituality and aliveness.

Participants laid down on symbolic paper “coffins”, covered from head to toe in white sheets. A short meditation on impermanence was carried out to prepare participants for reflective work. Next, accompanied by the live music of a violinist, participants experienced ‘being dead” while facilitators quietly read out their pre-written eulogies beside them. Participants were then “resurrected” and invited to use different art materials to express their cognitive and emotional processes while experiencing “death”. This integrative experiential learning encounter ended with a small group discussion where participants shared their experiences with each other. This event also served as a performance art exhibition that drew crowds of students and public to take interest in and engage in dialogues with the event facilitators about mortality and death awareness.

We would like to acknowledge and thank Media Corp Channel 8 (Hello Singapore) and Good Death for their reporting and coverage.