The course will consist of a series of lecture presentations followed by class discussion of the topics at issue. Students are required to participate at least in the online discussions. Attendance is most advisable because the assignments will cover material presented in class which is not located in any texts. Students must present explanations of absences. There may be guest lectures and discussion leaders representing such various perspectives on death and dying as psychology, nursing, religion, anthropology, etc...The character of the class will hopefully approach a median between that of a purely detached academic presentation and that of an intense group therapy session.

There may also be film presentations and poetry readings.

Special projects designed and undertaken by students may also become an integral part of the course.

This course will be as interesting and as challenging and as meaningful as the students and the instructor working together will make it.

This course develops both practical and theoretical approaches toward death. It helps all involved to gain some further knowledge of what one can do when a life threatening and incurable illness or accident strikes oneself or a loved one. It also assists one to realize that the most practical thing to have in the face of our inevitable end is a theory of life which acknowledges the finite nature of the human experience. This is perhaps the most important yet paradoxical lesson of this course, namely that focusing on death leads one, indeed it forces one, to focus on life. The meaning of our death is quite likely to depend on the meaning of our life and what is true of death's meaning is as true of its quality and style.

Peter Koestenbaum1 has written that death reveals us to ourselves as individuals and as finite. This insight has considerable consequences for those of us who would be wise about our end. As he points out, we realize that:

  1. Man cannot escape death. He must construct his life with the clear realization of that fact. He must accept the fact that he has been condemned to death. Then he can start living. He will neutralize fear.
  2. Once he has recognized death, the individual is on his way to becoming decisive.
  3. By remembering death, man concentrates on essentials.
  4. Through the awareness of death an individual achieves integrity.
  5. The person who knows he will die finds meaning in life.
  6. Death makes man honest.
  7. The realization of death leads to strength.
  8. To accept death means to take charge of one's life.
  9. The thought of death helps one to assume a total plan for life.
  10. Awareness of death breaks the stranglehold of failure.

Peter Koestenbaum, The Vitality of Death: Essays in Existentialist Psychology and Philosophy (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishers, 1971).


Elizabeth Kubler-Ross with Laurie and Joseph Braga has written (2) that:

There is no need to be afraid of death...our concern must be to live while we're alive--to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes from living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are...Death is the key to the door of life. It is through accepting the finiteness of our individual existence that we are enabled to find the strength and the courage to reject those extrinsic roles and expectations and to devote each day of our lives--however long they may be--to growing as fully as we are able...It is the denial of death that is partially responsible for people living empty, purposeless lives; for when you live as if you'll live forever, it becomes too easy to postpone the things you know you must do. You live your life in preparation for tomorrow or in remembrance of yesterday, and meanwhile each today is lost. In contrast, when you fully understand that each day you awaken could be the last you have, you take the time that day to grow, to become more of who you really are, to reach out to other human beings.

Death: The Final Stage of Growth (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1975)


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