A Beginners Guide to Death


A Beginners Guide to Death

Today’s selection — from The Death Class by Erika Hayasaki. Learning about death:

“For much of the early twentieth century, talking openly and honestly about death was considered poor taste — especially inside classrooms. But by the 1960s, some scholars had come to believe that death education was as important as sex education, if not more important — since not everyone had sex.

Pioneers such as the psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross had begun dragging ‘death out of the darkness,’ as a 1969 Time magazine article put it, and the first college class on death was taught at the University of Minnesota in 1963. Others followed, and the burgeoning field soon came to be referred to as thanatology.

“By 1971, more than six hundred death courses were being offered across the United States, and five years later that number had nearly doubled. Now thousands of such classes can be found across disciplines from psychology to philosophy to medical science to sociology. Scholarly research journals focusing on death and dying have emerged, as well as textbooks and death education conferences. Some colleges offer degree and certificate programs with death, dying, and bereavement concentrations, and increasingly, as at Kean University, undergraduates can take such classes as general electives. …

“In 1985, two researchers from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette embarked on what would become a twenty-year study to solve this question: what kind of students take death education courses in college, and why?

“Sarah Brabant and Deann Kalich surveyed more than nine hundred students enrolled in Brabant’s Sociology of Death and Dying course and found that nearly 24 percent wanted to deal with their own grief issues; but, most startlingly, close to half of the students surveyed had ‘seriously contemplated committing suicide at some time in their lives.’ Even more distressing, 10 percent of the students said they had actually tried to kill themselves at one point.

“Norma saw all of this in sentences sprinkled through her students’ essays. Like this one from a student who had been homeless: ‘I used to pray every day until one day I lost hope and it felt like it was pointless.’ Or this one: ”After I was raped I wanted to curl up in a ball and die.’

“The professor referred students to the college counseling center on a regular basis. They called her in the middle of the night, in the early morning, during class, during lunch; they sent urgent text messages, knocked on her office door in tears, broke down sobbing with her in hallways. She kept a school mental health counselor’s phone number in her cell phone. But some students simply threw it away when Norma jotted it down for them. They didn’t want to talk to a stranger. They only wanted to talk to her.

“So Norma’s message was that happiness takes hard work. It should be approached like a series of homework assignments. She kept a small book in her office, A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen, which she often quoted to students from memory. This was one of her favorite lines: ‘Life is made up of moments, small pieces of glittering mica in a long stretch of gray cement.’ Quindlen went on, ‘We have to teach ourselves how to make room for them, to love them, and to live, really live.’ ”

About the author

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Jamie Elkon http://shrinkrap.co.za/

The author can be found rummaging through life looking for nourishment in the early hours of the morning. He is slowly going sane by using his actual life and relationships to wake up.He lives in Cape Town with his teenaged daughter, two bassett hounds named Thelma and Louise and Digit... the cat. He hugs trees, has experienced numerous dark nights of the soul, collects incorrect Chinese packaging and tracks curious things to their lair.