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Beyond Borders: An Appointment with Death

A Parallel Planets piece by Jacintha Yap

Parallel Planets presents Beyond Borders:
An Appointment with Death
Story by Jacintha Yap

Mentioned: the strange space in between life and death, demimonde, and a candle in the pitch darkness

* * *

Do you believe there is a demimonde? 
A half-world, between what we know and what we fear? 
A place in the shadows, rarely seen but deeply felt? 
Penny Dreadful

Best before October 2046. We all have expiry dates. The knowledge that we will eventually expire is a truth that we have carried within ourselves since little. And from there, we will ascend or descend to “that place”, wherever that is. The transition is not unlike any other life processes; it is natural. Much like how a chrysalis reveals itself to be a butterfly, we eventually cease being alive.

In Daegu, South Korea, an unorthodox ritual known as the Living Funeral Therapy is practiced where people experience their own funerals. For thirty minutes, they are made to play the character of their corpse, living through the uncanny situation of death. Unceremoniously ignoring any proof that they were alive–be still, my heart– for a moment, they creep closer to the heart of death.

Each funeral lasts thirty minutes and they are all conducted in unison. In a small room, a mass funeral is taking place. Even in pseudo death, they have a choice. Before slipping into the silence of their coffins, participants choose the garments for their funeral photographs. Slowly, they bid goodbye to life. A white chrysanthemum flower is placed in their hands. There is a little poetry woven into this performance. The white chrysanthemum is symbolic of truth, candor and a loyal love. The truth is, death should not be this accessible. Were they swimming into unguarded territory? What truth were they prepared to face? Their eyes register the last rays of light before the lid is sealed shut.

From each corner of the coffin, a loud sound resonates, to simulate the sound of the coffin being nailed shut. The sound of hammering brings forth a certain realization amongst the participants. If they were truly dead, they should not be hearing any sounds. Death is a final erasure and in that moment, even in their own coffins, they were still not yet dead. They breathe deeply and remember once again that life is real and life is still theirs. As the realization settles itself into their being, the darkness around them suddenly feels all too jarring. It is an absolute darkness. It is all they see behind their eyelids and when they open their eyes. There is no getting used to pitch black just as there is no getting used to death.

Trapped in their coffins, breathing in the same stale air, they are suspended in a limbo— the strange space in between life and death; a demimonde of sorts where silence deepens and it is neither cold nor warm. Everyone fears the unknown and the biggest unknown force in life is death. The Living Funeral Therapy is not conjured as a means to counter that fear but as a bracket of time for us to dwell on the forces of life after death— something that we would not have the luxury of if we were to truly die. It transports you to a demimonde, a half world, where your soul wanders far from its body full of pretensions to be a cadaver.

This is a not a causal brush with death. Unlike the kind of near–death experiences most have heard or read about, this encounter is entirely orchestrated. This is a pre-arranged appointment with death.

For some, they start to see death as a crucible. Spending time in utter darkness, constantly waiting, waiting for something or someone. Does nothing really happen after I die? It is not a visceral awakening, not for everyone. Some souls linger in the darkness, not seeing the light. Is there no light? Are we so often lost because we expect a light? Death becomes a sad banality. Before the lid is closed, with a white chrysanthemum in their hands, they had come in search for truth, only to realize now that the truth is boring.  For all the fiction that we have been fed and the fragmented knowledge that religion has gifted us, death is prosaic and disappointing.

Some participants see the faces of their loved ones, appearing before them like ghosts in the confined spaces of their coffins. They try to walk the narrow paths of the dead only to see their regrets materialize themselves, phantasms haunting them. Outside of the coffin, life goes on. Outside of death, life continues for others. But, inside the confined spaces of their coffins, time does not quite pass and regrets pile. Time does not matter for the dead. Their thoughts gather and take weight. This is the weight of a ghost. Thirty minutes of death feels like an eternity. But there is a constant resounding thought in their head – if I were still alive... Perhaps, that thought is the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, the flickering flame of a candle in the pitch darkness of the night.

Eventually and suddenly, they are greeted with the harsh light of reality. They start to hear their own rapid heartbeats. They do not wake up to heaven or hell. Reality is the half–world between heaven and hell. The surge of oxygen that fills their lungs comes with the realization that they are alive again.

The play is coming to an end. The limbo has ended. They will reprise their original selves. They had been reborn again and this time, they will carry the mark of death.

“I suppose we all play our parts.”
“What’s yours?”
Penny Dreadful

Author's Note: The Living Funeral Therapy is backed by sound research and is approved by some of Korea’s largest companies such as Samsung and Hyundai, who had previously send their own employees to experience this novel concept. It also doubles as an anti–suicide measure in Korea where suicide rates are high, with about thirty people ending their lives daily. Images are from COLORS— 83.


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