Death 101: Courses In Coping - News, Weather & Sports

Death 101: Courses In Coping

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – With shows like Law & Order, Hannibal and CSI it seems not a night goes by television doesn't serve up the bloody details of an autopsy. But primetime obsessions and pre-med requirements aren't the only reason college students are flocking to courses dealing with death. Many see them as a way to work through their own feelings of loss.

Twice Gage Donohue has had to figure what to say after a suicide. First her father took his own life, then her daughter took hers.

“I'm not gonna blame my daughter, but I gotta blame somebody,” she said.

In the 22 years since her daughter’s death she's channeled her grief into counseling future counselors as part of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

This day she was speaking to a University of Louisville graduate-level class in social work.

As she handed out bags of coping stones, symbols of the stages of mourning, graduate student Ellen Darnell asked everyone to take a second, for her friend.

“Because I just learned last night, that one of her friends committed suicide,” Darnell said.

Reality bites. Often.

Grad student Claire Pitman said, “Since I was 15, I've had six friends that were killed instantly in car accidents. And I've had family members who have died.”

Fellow grad student Taylor Portsmouth explained, “I thought I would just learn about how you would counsel somebody else. But what I've come to understand is that if I can't understand my own grief how can I help somebody else?”

“The whole body of knowledge related to death and grief has changed,” said UofL Professor Dr. Barbara Head.

But being more direct doesn't make it less difficult, she said.

She pulls from popular culture: including Nicole Kidman's The Rabbit Hole, about a couple's struggle to deal with a child's death in a car wreck.

“Even if it's on television, we distance ourselves. We don't deal with the reality that we're going to die,” she said.

It's why many of the courses put death right in front of you by taking trips to mortuaries and cemeteries. Then ask you to put your reactions in writing using journals.

“Some of them have made me cry, when I remember all the things I've gone through,” Darnell said of the journal entries.

By learning more about living wills and last wills and testaments Portsmouth said, “I'm forced to look at, what if I have six months to live? How would I handle this situation? What would I do?”

During the 90 minutes Donahue spoke to the students she used a timer to create a distraction only to reveal, “How many times this timer went off? Six. That's how many people took their life while we were sitting here today.”

“I don't think it's morbid fascination. I think it's trying to help others,” she said. “I think it's going to be more of, from this generation onward, if this continues there's not going to be as much ‘watching it.’"

Instead more people will face, and help others face, final consequences.

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