Leave no trace behind

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Leave no trace behind


My wife and I are different in many ways. We have different personalities, tastes and values. I find it amazing that men from Mars and women from Venus live in harmony on Earth. Nevertheless, we have one thing in common: our perspective on life and death.

Humans are mortal, and a life always ends in death. Life and death are the two sides of a coin, and living a life is the journey toward death. You may find life just as vain as the fast-evaporating morning dew, but transience makes life only more precious. Death is familiar and easy just like taking off the heavy coat that has been weighing on you. Just like a guest staying for a moment, there should be no trace after death. My wife and I have complete agreement on what dignified death should be.

So whenever we have a chance, we pledge to each other and ask our children that when we die, we’d like our bodies to be cremated and the ashes be scattered at sea. We don’t want our remains to be stored in an urn. We don’t want a natural burial or have our names carved on a tree. We would also turn down the cumbersome rituals on our birthdays or anniversary of death. We’d appreciate it if they think of us when they drink coffee the mother used to love or alcohol that the father used to enjoy every now and then. But ultimately, we really don’t want them to feel obliged.

Still, I am a little concerned because scattering ashes at sea may be a violation of the law. I don’t want the surviving family to break the law to grant my wish. Fortunately, the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs concluded that it is not illegal to spread ashes in the sea. A study on the toxic properties of human ashes showed that there is no risk of causing marine pollution. As long as ashes are scattered in waters at least 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) away from land and not close to fish farms, the ritual is approved.

The cremation rate went up from 33.7 percent in 2000 to 67.4 percent in 2010. In metropolitan cities, including Seoul, the rate is as high as 80 percent. The ashes from cremation can be kept in a cinerary urn to be placed at a columbarium or to be buried in a cemetery. It can also be buried under a tree or plant in a natural burial. As the cremation rate goes up, we will have a shortage of facilities to house remains just as full cemeteries create a serious problem in Korea.

In Japan, burial at sea, a form of eco-friendly burial, has become more popular in the last 20 years. Korea has water on three sides, making burial at sea a convenient option. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, 27.4 percent of Koreans preferred their remains to remain in nature after cremation. In order to improve the burial culture in Korea, the powerful and wealthy should set an example by opting for a burial at sea instead of an extravagant grave.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Bae Myung-bok
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