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Talking about death in Singapore

According to a recent survey, half of Singaporeans have talked about death or dying with their loved ones, even though few are comfortable with it. It is a difficult conversation, but there are signs that the taboo surrounding the subject of death is lifting.

SINGAPORE: According to a recent survey, half of Singaporeans have talked about death or dying with their loved ones, even though few are comfortable with it. It is a difficult conversation, but as the country grapples with a greying population, there are signs that the taboo surrounding the subject of death is lifting.

A Lien Foundation survey found that seven in ten Singaporeans think there is a need for national conversations about death and dying. This shows attitudes about this traditionally taboo subject are changing -- for the better, said the foundation's CEO Lee Poh Wah.

He said: "We live in a modern world which is death-denying and also death-defying. Death has become a stranger. But what the survey suggests is that there is anxiety, but not avoidance. People want to know more about the subject matter and discuss about it."

For those who are uncomfortable, the most common reason given by the respondents was that they simply do not know how to broach the subject.

Mr Lee said: "There needs to be more openness and candour in medicine and media... more dialogues with leaders coming forward to engage their constituencies, from the medical, to the political, religious and social spheres. But at the individual level, I think we can initiate such conversations with our parents. Don't dodge the difficult conversation."

More Singaporeans are showing interest in services like advance funeral planning and will-writing, said Darren Cheng, a grief counsellor and funeral director at Direct Funeral Services.

The Wills Registry has also seen the number of people depositing information on wills increase every year, from 8,258 in 2009 to 14,647 in 2013.

Mr Cheng said that taking this practical approach does not just make financial sense.

He added: "Sometimes we just go through life, we're too busy with life, we don't really take a step back and reflect, is this what I want my life to be? Talking about death helps people see, is this how my life is going to be like? Is this how I want it to pan out? How can I make a change?"

Thinking about death, experts said, is really about planning for life. 

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