First ‘death festival’ in Malaysia

Chuo Siong speaking about My Death Fest which will begin tomorrow.

WHEN the late Datuk Choo Ching Hwa retired from the political scene in the 1980s, two critical community functions caught his attention – ageing and death care.

About 30 years ago, he started with the more difficult one – death care – with the opening of Xiao En Memorial Park in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur.

This year, Xiao En is presenting and sponsoring the inaugural My Death Fest. Ching Hwa’s son and Xiao En managing director Frank Choo Chuo Siong said the event was his father’s legacy with the aim of educating Malaysians on the importance of advance planning, so that they can leave this world in dignity and their loved ones can have proper closure.

Together with seven other initiators, the two-day affair which will highlight the options available to the public, also seeks to dispel some of the misconceptions surrounding death and funerals.

Unlike funeral conventions in the United States where the intention is to impart innovative techniques relevant to the industry and develop a better network, Malaysia’s first death festival aims to educate the public, similar to life and death care festivals and exhibitions promoted in Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia.

Chuo Sing said everyone had to partake in at least one funeral service in their lifetime, hence the service needs to be relevant to grieving family members, by providing a dignified send-off.

“Everyone will experience the death of family members, one time or another,” Chuo Sing said. He added that at times, the death of someone close could raise discord or disharmony, caused by differing beliefs within immediate family members.

“Differences in religion can also cause friction, for example, which form of ceremony to adopt to mark the death of the deceased.”

This service is mostly aimed at the community, with the role of minimising discord and confusion upon the death of loved ones.

But how does one address the masses on life and death? Chuo Sing said one avenue was through My Death Fest.

“We started with student visitation and education — what we call ‘life education’ — when these students return home, they will spark their parents’ interest in the subject and perhaps start conversations on what they have learnt.”

My Death Fest which will be launched by Deputy Women, Family and Community Minister Hannah Yeoh, will feature talks on various topics ranging from embalming and wills and trusts, to funeral rituals of different cultures and live music performances.

There will be more than 30 craft booths with workshops, talks, interactive exhibits and community information booths on numerous topics, including “death”.

Eleven speakers will be at the event, from the United States, Hong Kong and Australia.

The festival will also feature workshops on effigy-making and booths by the National Cancer Society Malaysia, Malaysian Association of Paediatric Palliative Care, Academy of Silent Mentor, Xiao En’s own counselling team and more.

Chuo Siong hopes death care will be regarded as a respectable trade.

My Death Fest will be held from tomorrow to Sunday at Xiao En Centre in Cheras. Admission is free and open to all.

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