Exhibition on death offers life lessons

Organisers want to get rid of the stigma surrounding the subject

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 May, 2014, 4:14am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 May, 2014, 4:14am

The organisers of an exhibition about death want to teach its visitors about life, and open up discussion on a subject that is often avoided.

The public can get a close look at coffins, learn about organ donation, take a "headstone picture" at a photography booth and read up on different religious funeral rites.

There's even a mocked up convenience store where paper effigies of food - traditionally burned as an offering to the dead in this part of the world - can be purchased. But they carry a message, encouraging people to take each other out for some real food while they are alive.

Counselling services are also provided for anyone who is grieving for a lost loved one.

The aim is partly to get people talking about death, but more importantly to encourage appreciation of the living, said Josephine Lee Yuk-chi, deputy chief executive officer at the St James' Settlement NGO, which helped to organise the exhibition spanning three floors at Chai Wan's Youth Square.

"The stigma around the subject of death has decreased a lot in the last decade, but some people - not the elderly but actually their children - still don't want to talk about it," said Lee. "In learning about death, we hope we will all learn to treasure people around us more while they're living."

St James' Settlement started a service 10 years ago to help elderly people on social welfare and with no families to prepare for their funerals. Lee said the response was overwhelming, so they expanded to begin helping single elderly people in general.

Lam Wo, 80, who visited the exhibition yesterday, said he had already given permission for his body to be used for research at Chinese University after he dies.

"Death is a mandatory passage in life - living and dying are all part of it, so I am not scared," said Lam, whose wife died last year after suffering from a long illness. "I don't have family so I'm very fortunate to have signed up with St James' Settlement to arrange everything for me."

Lam, who lives in public housing in Kwai Chung, said the topic had become less taboo in recent years, but many of his friends' children still felt uncomfortable talking about it. "If I get sick, I'd rather die immediately," he said. "Long life is not that important. It's about living it well."