Donna and I went back to college last week, taking a course at the Kenyon Summer Seminar entitled Grave Matters: The Languages of Death and Dying. The course was taught by Royal Rhodes, Donald L. Rogan Professor of Religious Studies. Our Kenyon graduate daughter had told us that he was one of the most popular teachers on the campus.
Roy led us into discussions of topics related to death and dying that most of us try to avoid until they must be discussed. Humans have always felt rage against death — as we learned from the Epic of Gilgamesh. But the only answer to death’s inevitability is to live our lives as fully as we can. Thinking about death and confronting its reality can help us do this.
Our readings, in addition to Gilgamesh, included Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, In Memoriam (or parts of it, anyway — we only had a week); Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor; and Margaret Edson’s W;t, a Pulitzer-prize winning play which portrays the journey of a brilliant professor undergoing devastating treatment for advanced ovarian cancer. We read many short poems, epitaphs, and obituaries, as well as William Sloane Coffin’s sermon on the death of his young son, Alex, in a car accident. A Frontline show on the Lynch funeral home in Michigan was difficult to watch, but we did it. You can see the production here for yourself. We visited the Kenyon College cemetery and discussed the meanings of its design and monuments.
Now that we’ve had a few days to reflect on our experience, we realize that we should be dealing more with death and dying topics here at Commonsense for Seniors. Thanks to Professor Rhodes for inspiring us, and for letting us use the title Grave Matters for our new category, Look for posts on everything from green cemeteries to advance directives in the months ahead, We also hope to get into some of the more profound topics, such as the treatment of death and immortality in various religions.
We hope our discussion of Grave Matters will be a dialogue involving our readers and not just the two of us. A few of you, dear readers, have sent us comments by email, but no one has yet pushed that Leave a Reply link at the top of each post. Who will be the first to get the dialogue started?