Dying: The Final Stage of Living

November 1, 2004

Department of General Studies
Spring Semester 2003

“Dying: The Final Stage of Living”

PROFESSOR: Dr. Kathryn D. Marocchino

COURSE HOURS/LOCATION: Thursday: 19:00 21:50 PM, in CLS 102

REQUIRED TEXTBOOK: The Last Dance: Encountering Death and Dying by DeSpelder & Strickland, Mountain View: Mayfield Publishing Company, 2002 (6th edition)

REQUIRED ACTIVITIES: Ten (10) hours of mandatory community service through Vallejo’s Kaiser Permanente Hospice Program (dates and hours to be determined and coordinated through Kaiser)

PREREQUISITE: English Composition EGLI 00 (may be taken concurrently)

OFFICE HOURS: W/Th: 11:00 13:00 and T/W/Th: 14:30 17:00 (by appointment) in the Community Service Learning Center (located in the CEL in the new Lab Building)

OFFICE TELEPHONE: (707) 654 1227 (or leave message)

HOME TELEPHONE: (707) 557 8595 (or leave message)

KAISER VALLEJO HOSPICE: (707) 645 2106 (Jeanette Sanchez, Social Services Coordinator)

In this course, students learn to view death and dying, the final stage of growth, less as an adversary and more as a defining part of life. By reflecting on medical, cultural and religious responses to death in general terms, they are taught to understand and articulate the emotional and spiritual needs of the dying as human beings go through the process of daily living. Furthermore, by becoming involved in a meaningful way in 10 hours of mandatory community service revolving around the terminally ill, students develop skills for both living and dying, gradually coming to an awareness of death and thereby, to an awareness of “how” to live. By assisting others in the process of facing death (through the course’s unique service learning component), students are given the opportunity to rethink the meaning and purpose of their own lives and to move through positive resolution of the process of dying toward self-fulfillment.

This course seeks to present, in an introductory fashion, some of the basic principles underlying death education as well as meaningful community service. Ernest Morgan, in stating the case for such education, argues that it “relates not only to death itself, but to our feelings about ourselves and nature and the universe we live in. It has to do with our values and ideals, the way we relate to one another and the kind of world we are building. Thoughtfully pursued it can deepen the quality of our lives and our relationships.”

Grief and death are experiences shared by all humanity and as far as we know, Homo sapiens is the only species that lives in the anticipation of death. We are the only ones who have special beliefs that give meaning to death and rules instructing us how to die and how to cope with our loss when death strikes those we care for. Technically speaking, people must come to terms with the idea of death in order to have healthy experiences in life and the main objective of this course is to help students do this in the most effective manner. By being confronted with the emotional reality of death, not only through personal experience but through community service with the dying, course participants are gradually led to explore the finer aspects of this biological and existential fact of life affecting every human being.

A major component of this course is also the mandatory requirement of 10 hours of community service, to be performed through the Kaiser Hospice Program in Vallejo, under the supervision of the Bereavement Coordinator. Students will be assigned to work directly with terminally ill hospice patients or with the families of the deceased, and they will be mentored throughout the process by Kaiser hospice volunteers who will train and tutor them in proper hospice procedures.

At the conclusion of the course, which has a workshop/seminar format, students will be expected to develop a more positive attitude about death and to learn that the reality of death gives life a sense of finiteness which makes real meaning possible. By learning how to deal with issues in death and dying, students will be able to come to terms with their own anxieties and defense mechanisms. Ultimately, students’ attitudes toward death can be changed in a positive direction through this unique learning experience. The reflection papers and oral presentation required during the semester will allow students to summarize their response to the exigencies of the class and to demonstrate their understanding of the lessons to be learned. Furthermore, through their community service requirement, students will gain a better understanding of what it means to work with the terminally ill and their families.

Students’ performance will be evaluated on the basis of their participation in all workshop/seminar activities, as well as on a mid-term reflection paper and a final reflection paper (the latter also consisting of an oral presentation), and the successful completion of their community service. Final grades in this course will consist of a) Active participation in all class activities (15%); b) Mid term reflection paper (10%); c) Final reflection paper & oral presentation (15%); and d) Mandatory community service (60%).

Students will be expected to attend all class sessions; read pertinent assignments in the textbook; actively participate in all discussions; prepare their mid term reflection paper, final reflection paper and oral presentation in a manner consistent with course requirements; and successfully complete their community service. Students will also be expected to participate in one or two specialized field trips during the course of the semester and will also be taught to familiarize themselves with all available on line death education resources (such as GriefNet, ADEC, etc.) which they can put to use in preparing their mid term and final reflection papers.

ALL RULES AND REGULATIONS GOVERNING THE CORPS OF CADETS concerning attendance, dress and conduct will be adhered to. Attendance is taken at the start of each class session and students are expected to be on time. If a student fails to “officially” drop a course or has three consecutive class absences (corresponding to one three hour class session), and does not notify the professor of his/her intent to continue the course, he/she will be dropped administratively with a grade of “U”, which is treated like an F. Students will be allowed to miss only ONE three-hour class session during the course of the entire semester. Furthermore, community service hours will be regularly logged by the Kaiser Hospice Program Bereavement Coordinator in order for students to gain credit for their service learning. Students must log a minimum of 10 hours. As far as dress is concerned, students will NOT be required to wear their uniforms when they are asked to participate in a field trip or when they are attending either a Kaiser Hospice Training Session or a Kaiser Hospice Bereavement Dinner (appropriate casual attire will be required for those evenings). They must wear their uniforms during all other regular class sessions, however.

If a student is having a problem with any aspect whatsoever of the class, has questions or is finding it emotionally difficult to cope with the often difficult issues that this course covers, he/she is strongly urged to see the professor as soon as possible and talk it over. It is the student’s responsibility to seek extra help as needed and additional help, encouragement and counseling will always be given outside office hours, by appointment. Good luck for an excellent spring semester in a very innovative and exciting class!


100 93 = A 92 90 = A 89 86 = B+ 85 82 = B 81 78 = B
77 74 = C+ 73 70 = C 69 66 = C 65 62 = D+ 61 58 = D
57 54 = D 53 0 = F

Parameters Points (10 out of 10):

-Coherence of thought process
-Appreciation for loss (people and pets)
-Emotional impact of physical death(s)
-Personal interpretation of death experience(s)
-Grammar and mechanics
-Style of writing
-Relevance of conclusion to overall paper
-Depth of reflection (lessons learned)
-Overall quality of paper

Total = 100


Week 1 (January 9)

Attitudes Toward Death: A Climate of Change

  • Introduction to the class and to the service learning component of the course
  • Students are encouraged to express their feelings about death and dying in general, and about their own death in particular (Personal Death History questionnaire filled out)
  • Students are assigned Chapters 4, 5, 7, 10, and 11 in The Last Dance to prepare for their Kaiser hospice work (to be completed by February 13)
  • Students view VHS videocassette Death: The Trip of a Lifetime (Part 1)
  • Reading Assignment for Week 2

Week 2 (January 16)

Perspectives on Death: Cross Cultural and Historical

  • Students are administered their TB tests in the Student Health Center in preparation for their Kaiser hospice work (tests must be read after 48 hours)
  • Students are given The Caregiver’s Handbook
  • Students view VHS videocassette Death: The Trip of a Lifetime (Part 2)
  • Reading assignment for Week 4

Week 3 (January 23)

Kaiser Hospice Training Session

  • Students visit the Kaiser Vallejo Hospice Department, where Jeanette Sanchez (Social Services Coordinator) will provide a training session, outline the hospice work students will be doing through Kaiser, and explain Kaiser policies and procedures
  • Students view VHS videocassette Hospice A Shared Experience or The Last Spring: Stories of Hospice

Week 4 (January 30)

Learning About Death: The Influence of Sociocultural Forces

  • Students participate in class activities on death and dying
  • Students view VHS videocassette Death: The Trip of a Lifetime (Part 3 and Part 4)
  • Reading Assignment for Week 5

Week 5 (February 6)

Survivors: Understanding the Experience of Loss

  • Students view VHS videocassette Understanding Death: The Death Bed
  • Students are introduced to GriefNet and other on line death resources in the CC
  • Students review chapters 4, 5, 7, 10 and 11 in The Last Dance for next week’s midterm test
  • Reading assignment for Weeks 8 and 9

Week 6 (February 13)

Kaiser Hospice Bereavement Dinner

  • Students take their midterm test on chapter 4, 5, 7, 10 and 11 in The Last Dance
  • Students participate in a Kaiser Bereavement Dinner at The Olive Garden (Vallejo) to interact with grieving support group members (coordinated by Jeanette Sanchez)

Week 7 (February 20)

Kaiser Hospice Training Session

  • Students visit the Kaiser Vallejo Hospice Department, where Jeanette Sanchez (Social Services Coordinator) will provide another training session on hospice care

Week 8 (February 27)

Last Rites: Funerals and Body Disposition

  • Guest Speaker: Dale Suess, Cemetery Historian, addresses the class on the funeral industry and on the sociocultural/historical significance of cemeteries, markers and urns
  • Students view VHS videocassette on “stellar” cremation Mid term reflection papers are due Reading Assignment for Week 12

Week 9 (March 6)

Last Rites: Funerals and Body Disposition

  • Students are given a tour of Skyview Memorial Lawn (which houses funeral home facilities, a columbarium and a cemetery) by Director Edward Wilkes, who will also discuss the essentials of mortuary science

Week 10 (March 13)

Kaiser Hospice Bereavement Dinner

  • Students participate in another Kaiser Bereavement Dinner at the Fum Bistro (Napa) to interact with grieving support group members (coordinated by Jeanette Sanchez)

Week 11 (March 20)

Kaiser Hospice Training Session

  • Students visit the Kaiser Vallejo Hospice Department, where Jeanette Sanchez (Social Services Coordinator) will provide another training session on hospice care

Week 12 (March 27)

Beyond Death / After Life

  • Guest speaker: Reverend Mary Mocine of Vallejo’s Clear Water Zendo will discuss Buddhist views of the afterlife
  • Students view VHS videocassette Beyond Death
  • Reading Assignment for Week 13

Week 13 (April 3)

The Law and Death

  • Guest speaker: Attorney Keith Graham discusses wills and the legal implications of medical decisions in regards to a person’s last wishes
  • Students view VHS videocassette On Our Own Terms: Dying in America

Week 14 (April 10)

Risks of Death in the Modern World

  • Students are given a tour of the Solano County Coroner’s Office in Fairfield by Coroner Investigator James Burton

Week 15 (April 17)

The Path Ahead: Personal and Social Choices

  • Students give their oral presentations to the class and turn in their final reflection papers
  • Students are invited to attend the Kaiser Hospice Appreciation Dinner on April 25
  • Students receive their certificates of completion for their hospice community service
  • Students are asked to choose a “comfort reflection” and share it with the class, if they wish
  • Students fill out course evaluation forms
  • Time permitting, students will view a VHS videocassette on a death related theme

School: California State University - Maritime Academy
Professor: Kathryn D. Marocchino
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