One of my former interns and death studies students, Krista
I've been teaching a class on traumatic death and loss at Arizona State University for several years. When I first proposed the new course, the only death-related course on campus was one that had a gerontological focus. I actually took that course to experience it. The deaths of children weren't discussed. Even in a death course, this epidemiological microcosm remained the last taboo.
There were concerns that my course would not be well attended; that it would repel rather than attract students. Yet, during the first offering of this class, we met and exceeded the cap of 30 students. Then, another ten enrolled. The first course of its kind would bring 47 students to the new death studies course.
Years later and registration remains the same. This Spring, I will meet between 45-50 students wanting - yearning - to learn. We could have easily enrolled 60 or more students based on the demand, but the classroom will not accommodate that number. In fact, I have a waiting list in my office now.
I have never experienced such enthusiasm for a topic as I have for this course. It's an academic course, indeed. We explore Worden and Rando and Kastenbaum and Kubler-Ross. We discuss evidence based practice relative to psychosocial care. The course includes cultural competency, ritualization in the historical context, and both epidemiological trends and etiology. Yet, the most meaningful part of the course includes some self-awareness exercises. Very few students come to this course without having experience some profound loss. They come to share, to discover, to confront, and to heal. They often develop an increased understanding of their own experiences of loss that leads them to something profound. And these profundities invariably help these students become better counselors, social workers, nurses, doctors, or just human beings. Death studies is more than a course about death. It's a course about life.
And many express to me, at the end of the semester, their gratitude, noting that the simple act of confronting death has, indeed, helped them to really live again.
And so it is. And so it is.