Monday, November 13, 2017

UIS students learn about death and grief in course

It’s one of the few experiences all human beings have in common, yet it’s one of the least understood.

A class at the University of Illinois Springfield aims to change that, and a recent visit to an area funeral home opened students’ eyes about death, dying and grief.

Seven students in UIS’ death and dying class and their instructor were given a tour of the funeral home last week, and the room displaying caskets and containers for crematory remains, or cremains, elicited the most interest.

Students learned how buried cremains could be used to grow a tree in a person’s memory.

They examined a biodegradable lamb’s wool casket for “green” burials and noted how its white surface felt like a heavy flannel coat.

Paula Staab Polk, the memorial home owner has hosted the death and dying class for 10 years.

The death and dying class participants were no strangers to the subject before they visited the funeral home.

Memorial Hospice clinical supervisor Deb Whitson had been a guest speaker. And Sangamon County Coroner Cinda Edwards spoke to the students several weeks earlier, something she has done for the past four years.

Edwards said she took the opportunity to talk to the class about the deadly opioid crisis and infant deaths that occur when they are co-sleeping with adults. “Child deaths are one of the hardest things, and you wouldn’t be human if it didn’t affect you somewhat,” Edwards said.

Carolyn Peck is an associate professor and human services department chair at UIS, and she has been teaching the death and dying class since shortly after she arrived at the school in 2002. “One of the benefits of offering a class like this, particularly in a gerontology concentration, is that students who are going to be working with older adults are going to encounter the death of clients,” Peck said.

“This class helps place the emphasis not only on the person who is dying but also their family members and what type of support they might need.”

“With significant loss, closure is a myth. The processing of that loss can be lifelong, so how could we possibly have closure on the death of a loved one who meant the world to us?” Peck said. “We need to acknowledge that it’s an ongoing process and that we’re probably not going to get over it, although over time we might be able to re-invest in other relationships and activities.” 

Staab Polk agreed. “Grief can be absolute, physical pain, but sometimes it’s better to turn and embrace the grief rather than run away from it,” she said.

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on November 11, 2017.

Read the entire article online.