Dr. Gloria Horsley talks with Dr. Andy Ho at the 2015 Association for Death Education and Counseling conference. As a researcher in Hong Kong, Dr. Ho notes that there are still a lot of superstitions in the Chinese culture. This means that some generations, especially the middle aged, avoid talking about death altogether. However, older generations are becoming eager to discuss their wishes and plans—but are met with deaf ears. “You’ll never see a Chinese family buy a house right next to a cemetery,” says Dr. Ho. The roots of superstition are deep.
This also means that younger generations aren’t equipped with the knowledge and information they need to properly care for aging parents, or to take care of matters after a death. To avoid talking about death and dying isn’t the answer. However, when behaving this way is the cultural norm, this can be a tough barrier to surpass.
Making Death “Normal”
“I think the curtain between life and death is easily removable,” he says. Like it or not, we’re very connected to death. There are also many rituals to honor ancestors, including visiting graveyards. Dr. Ho says it can be difficult to help some people through the grieving process, but it’s been improving in recent years.
“They (older people) are actually very open to talk about death and dying,” says Dr. Ho. However, younger generations can think that talking about death can accelerate the process. This puts a barrier between those who want to make death plans, and those (often adult children) who want to avoid the topic. Encouraging open talks is critical, and Dr. Ho says interventions are key. “What is life and death really about?” he asks. The education process needs to start from a very young age.