“Singer Hyunmi’s death is not lonely because…” Korea’s No. 1 personal effects organiser shares her philosophy on preparing for death
All deaths are eventually lonely. But the thought of being left for days and days after a solitary death is horrifying. It’s even worse when you think of the decay that begins as soon as life leaves the organism. In the face of this natural law, the prestige and dignity of human beings become insignificant.
According to an announcement by the Ministry of Health and Welfare on the 18th of last month, there were actually 3378 such cases in Korea in 2021 alone. This is a 40% increase from five years ago. It was also reported that there are 1.53 million people at risk of lonely death, with middle-aged men in their 50s and 60s being the most vulnerable.
These announcements reminded me of the person who first introduced the Japanese neologism “loner” to Korea. Kim Seok-joong (53), the CEO of Keeper Korea, is often referred to as “Korea’s first relic organiser. I travelled to Busan on the 22nd to meet him. He told me he had two lectures scheduled in Seoul in a few days, but couldn’t make time for an interview that day.
Kim is currently working on creating a digital archive of the deceased. This was prompted by the bereaved families of a former principal who asked him to take care of their belongings, such as awards and commendations he had received over the course of his life, and detailed career data, which they were very happy to see organised in a memorial archive. Busan=Young-ah Seo Reporter email@example.com
The awards and plaques that the recently deceased principal had carefully collected during his lifetime are organised in a memorial archive.
Keeping in touch with acquaintances = Preventing lonely deaths
The Keeper’s Korea office located in the Pukyong National University Entrepreneurship Centre. It is a space for photographing and analysing memorabilia. He started by talking about Hyun-mi, an elderly woman who was found dead in her home in early April.
According to reports, she had been communicating with acquaintances until the previous evening, but was found collapsed the next morning by a visiting fan club president. “I’m glad she didn’t die in solitude,” he said.
“A few years ago, Hyun-mi and I appeared together in an entertainment programme (broadcast in May 2019) on the topic of loneliness, and I advised her that to avoid loneliness, an elderly person who lives alone should have many acquaintances around him or her who communicate with him or her on a daily basis, and she was very sympathetic to that, and she practised it well, so even though she was lonely at the end, she was able to avoid loneliness.”
Legally defined, a loner’s death is “a death in which a person living alone, cut off from those around him or her, dies alone, such as a suicide, and his or her body is found after a period of time (at least three days).
In contrast, in late April, a 66-year-old woman he was hired to sort through her belongings was found in a state of meltdown three days after her death. The deceased, who lived alone with her children out of the country, was found lying in bed and the heating was on throughout the apartment.
-To prevent lonely deaths, I suppose the most important thing is to make everyday connections, like in Ms Hyunmi’s case.
“Absolutely. However, I am troubled by the increasingly distorted view of lonely deaths and deaths in the media, which are often used as sensationalised material for ‘special clean-up teams’ to clean up gruesome scenes. When we think of lonely deaths, images of bizarre scenes and stench come to mind first. It is important to empathise with the loneliness of the dead and feel heartbroken, but there is no social meaning if they stay here.”
-An expert member of the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Lonely Death Prevention Working Group. The government has proposed measures to prevent lonely deaths, such as assigning neighbours to act as gatekeepers. Is this effective?
“We should do what we can at the administrative level, but it can’t be more effective than people themselves establishing contacts with their neighbours.”
Thrifters, scavengers, and scavengers are hard to come by
We are on the verge of an ultra-elderly society, and the proportion of single-person households is growing. The number of lonely deaths is bound to increase. An unprepared death, or a death that is met with dismay, is more likely to lead to loneliness. In this regard, Kim says we need to connect loneliness with end-of-life organisation.
End-of-life organisation is about preparing for your death and beyond. It’s a time to reflect on the life that has passed, and to sort out what to keep and what to discard안전놀이터, so that the bereaved can recall the traces and meaning of the deceased’s life. An organiser can help with this after death.
“When a person dies, they leave behind a house’s worth of belongings. The role of an organiser is to preserve the dignity of the deceased and convey their wishes. I categorise the things the deceased left behind into things to keep, throw away, and turn into money, and guide the bereaved family to make those decisions. I also provide a record of the deceased’s life so they can commemorate it, and comfort them in the process, which takes some time.”
There’s also a reason why it’s been difficult for the practice to take root in South Korea. In our reality, the home of the deceased usually has to move on quickly. When inheriting a house, for example, the bereaved want to quickly empty and dispose of the contents, and the process of carefully selecting memorabilia is seen as a hassle. It also costs nearly twice as much as a regular move.
That’s why there are a lot of thrift stores and waste companies that have recently popped up in Korea. They go through the deceased’s belongings at once, selecting only the most valuable items and throwing away everything else. If it doesn’t bring in money, it’s just trash to them, whether it’s memories, academic or artistic value, or information.
Photographing the deceased’s belongings to create a digital archive. Courtesy of Keepers Korea
In his late 30s, the death of a beloved employee changed his outlook on life.
Kim, who runs a trading company between Korea and Japan, has a story about how he became an organiser. In 2006, his beloved employee in his 20s died while on holiday.
While he was in shock and struggling to cope, he stumbled upon a documentary about Japan’s first company specialising in moving belongings. “We help you move to heaven,” was the company’s catchphrase. On a whim, I went to visit Daichi Yoshida, the CEO of Keepers, who was featured on the programme.
At that time, the issue of lonely deaths was becoming more prominent in Japan, and funeral fairs and the end-of-life industry were taking off. He was convinced that it would be a viable business in Korea. After three years of travelling back and forth between Japan and Korea, in 2010, he founded the