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Death and Dying: A Must Take Course with an Exciting Twist

January 22, 2018

Student Op-Ed – Gero 406: Death and Dying: A Must Take Course with an Exciting Twist

Undergraduate students' perspective 

GERO 406: Death and Dying is a course offered by the SFU Gerontology department which provides an in-depth understanding of the process of dying from a wide range of cultural perspectives. Halfway through the term our class was lucky enough to be joined by a class of continuing studies students. This proved to be very deeply enriching for our learning. It was both our first time talking openly about death and dying, as well as working so closely with an older group. The unique insights and lived experiences of the older students enhanced the end-of-life discussions that we were able to have. It feels great to say that our oldest classmates have brought life into a seemingly morbid academic environment. Because we feed off one another during our group work - where we discuss the readings and concepts with both younger and older students - our gerontological learning process feels effortless. After seeing how our continuing studies peers have incorporated personal work and familial experiences into our analyses of assigned readings, there is no doubt that the teachings of previous Gerontology courses, that advocated for senior involvement in youth-dominated workplaces and settings, have a point. The work ethic, encouragement, progressive views, and open-mindedness towards social issues of our continuing studies peers has convinced us that the most rational thinkers at our university are from an age group who are not always as strongly represented in undergraduate classes. Because of the professionalism of our group, as well as the grace and maturity with which discussions on death are conducted, we always leave lecture with smiles on our faces. Speaking with our continuing studies peers before lectures begin is often a highlight of our week; and the best part is, you can tell they are just as eager to ask us about our lives. It’s their enthusiasm and spirit of the older students that makes discussions on death so much less intimidating for us younger students.

Continuing Students' perspective

As former educators, what we notice first and foremost is the level of genuine and inclusive engagement that grows out of a tone of warmth and respect that Dr. Sharon Koehn has cultivated. The abundance of course materials enriches our understanding of the most important journey we seniors will soon be taking and it is most reassuring to be studying alongside this generation of compassionate young scholars who will be shaping the ethic of care available to us. The framework Dr. Koehn has provided for the interpretation of the research materials is fundamental to our collective understanding of the central issues and it deepens the questions that arise. As elders, we have lived into this 21st century, often to find that a discussion of life's endings can narrow our circle of friends and upset our relatives. Thus, we are most grateful for the gift of acceptance into genuine dialogue which might once have been silenced or banished to the closets of our minds.

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