Why Are Singaporeans Scared Of Dying?


Singaporeans have a voyeuristic streak to find out what we can about people who recently died.

From 4D numbers to age to who is going to take care of the children/run the business, Singaporeans will actively share what they have learnt about the deceased and collectively grieve for those whose stories they’ve read.

Things changed for Singapore after Lee Kuan Yew passed away and we grieved as a nation, obsessively consuming information about him as a father, a pioneer leader and a politician.

However we don’t really think or talk about our own deaths or the act of dying. The closest many come to doing so are researching whether the government takes back our unused CPF, how much death benefit our dependents receive and making a will.

To talk about death or incapacitation is (to the superstitious) an act of hastening it and cursing those who have the ill-fate to be around in the conversation. It’s not considered a good or auspicious thing to talk about the final journey of those who are still living. Euthanasia is illegal, and pulling the plug on a family member causes extreme consternation within the family.

I’ve wondered how I will go when my time comes. Will I get to see my grandkids, enjoy retirement and visit each of the 7 continents with my husband before blissfully dying a painless death in my sleep surrounded by loved ones?

Will my life be taken away in a heartbeat or will my dying be a slow, long drawn-out process where my organs shut down one by one?

According to CNN, our bodies begin to decline at age 30. We then go through a gradual state of degradation till we are killed by external or internal forces.

If my death were a quick one, would I have adequate succession planning to help my family move on with minimal disputes?

If my death were a slow one, would I have enough resources to support my medical and home care or hospice bills? Will my children visit me often or only when they are obliged to do so?

Death and dying can be such a taboo that residents are uncomfortable with a nursing home built near their flats, friends don’t plan for wills or Lasting Power of Attorney, nursing homes and hospices are topics to be avoided unless absolutely necessary to talk about, and lonely elderly are an invisible problem chucked to the government and VWOs to handle.

It’s only recently we’ve begun conversations on active ageing, working after retirement and catering to the older generation’s needs. In the past few years, our infrastructure and safety nets were upgraded with longer red traffic lights for senior citizen EZ-link holders, upgrading flats with support bars in toilets that elderly residents can hold, and rolling out a Pioneer Generation Package to reduce cost of living.

Yet we are simultaneously obsessed with anti-aging creams, losing weight to return back to our lithe figures in our pre-pregnancy and even dating phases, and nit-picking on celebrities who sin by looking their age.

We are definitely not ready for old age and the experience of dying one day at a time. The more we pretend this conversation never takes place, the harder it will be for us to mentally and emotionally cope in future.

This article first appeared on Jules of Singapore.

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Adrianna Tan

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