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Aging Studies

Facing the Fear: Studying End-of-Life Issues at Bellarmine University

Health Care Administration and Public Health

How does a house become “haunted”? Why do we embalm our dead when many other cultures do not? What is green burial and how does it differ from traditional burial? What do we mean when we discuss quality of life or talk about a good death? Why do different religions have different beliefs about practices and traditions surrounding the end of life and death? 

If you’ve ever expressed an interest in subjects like these, you may have been dissuaded from talking about them because they are “depressing” subjects. Many people find issues around death and dying difficult, but understanding these issues is at the heart of Bellarmine University’s Department of Health Care Administration and Public Health’s courses in Death, or End-of-Life Studies, where we believe that everyone benefits from open discussion of this defining event. In fact, research shows that avoiding speaking of death and dying makes our deaths more difficult, while learning about it allows us to approach both our deaths and our lives in richer and more fulfilling ways.  

Health Care Administration and Public Health (HCAPH) faculty teach three courses in End-of-Life Studies:  Death and The Corpse (IDC 101); Death, Dying, and Grief (HLTH 231); and The New Good Death (IDC 401). These courses are appropriate for students from every discipline, although students majoring in the health sciences, psychology, sociology, criminal justice, communication, theology, health humanities, aging studies, senior living leadership, public health, or health care administration will find these courses particularly useful in their future careers. 

Mummies, Memorials, and All Things Postmortem 

From Victorian death photographs to the modern headstone, students in the Death and The Corpse class (IDC 101) trace the origins of our attitudes and practices around death and dying and bring them forward to end-of-life issues we grapple with in culture today. Taught by Dr. Amy Tudor, through Bellarmine’s Interdisciplinary Core (IDC) program, this course takes students through the history of death in America, asking each person to examine their own attitudes about current medical and mortuary practices, as well as the depiction of death in the media and popular culture. In the end, the course will show students how facing the fear of death helps us all – both as people and as a culture – live better lives. 

If students are planning for a career in health care or psychology, they also have the opportunity to take part in the Galileo Learning Community (GLC), a unique living and learning community designed to prepare students for the specific challenges of their chosen career. Through the GLC, students can attend common classes and live in a residence hall with similarly minded students, as well as have access to special programming and co-curricular excursions. These may include visits to Bellarmine’s Gross Anatomy Lab or Louisville’s historic Cave Hill Cemetery, or guest speakers and experts from various health care fields speaking about their research, practices, and experiences. More information on this community can be found on Bellarmine’s Learning Communities website

What students are saying: 
“Death and The Corpse is an eye-opening class that will stick with you long after the course is completed. The class gives the students an expert look on the concept of death through different mediums and cultures that are different from our own…  Dr. Tudor creates an environment that brings humor and unifying discussions to balance out the harsher realisms that comes with the end of life.”  -- Will Catalano, Bachelor of Science in Senior Living Leadership major

The Puzzles of Aging, Dying and Grief 

Students can continue their end-of-life studies by taking HLTH-231, titled Death, Dying, and Grief. Housed within the HCAPH department, this class weaves in the study of such issues as aging, dementia, acute end-of-life issues, and senior living and hospice care, and is required for students pursuing the Bachelor of Arts in Aging Studies. Whether students simply want to follow their interest in end-of-life studies or pursue a career in gerontology, health care administration, senior living, public health, or hospice care, this course will give a foundation for understanding how we change as we age, how we approach our dying time, and how we grieve when those we love are gone.  

What students are saying: 
"After losing my Nana, I knew I wanted to take one of Dr. Tudor's death classes. I had a feeling the course would be able to help me understand death better -- and it did not disappoint. While Death, Dying, and Grief was not a happy class, it was a class that was compelling and insightful… I began to understand why I reacted the way I did when my Nana died and why [others in my family] still struggle with her death. [This class] helped me to understand death as a part of culture and not just a scary, shapeless thing that would eventually get us all. Funny how a class about death has taught me a lot about the living." – Tori Sobotka, Bachelor of Arts in English major 

“Adulting” and Death:  The New Good Death 

The New Good Death (IDC 401) serves as both seniors’ IDC Capstone Seminar and as a “boot camp” for dealing with death and dying in our modern age. In this class, students will come face-to-face with such current controversies as physician-assisted dying, the environmental impact of death, and the ethics of end-of-life treatment. Students will also leave the course with practical knowledge of advance directives, medical proxies, organ donation, burial options, and other practical end-of-life issues. Dr. Tudor is a certified End-of-Life Doula, and she teaches students “real world” tools and lessons that can help them better prepare to approach the end-of-life issues in their own lives.  

What students are saying: 
“The New Good Death offered me an amazing and inspiring perspective on death and dying and lead me to reflect critically on my own death. The diversity of topics in the course made me think critically about how intersected death is in our everyday life in some of the most unexpected places. Dr. Tudor’s instruction made the taboo-ness of mortality feel accessible and comfortable – my peers and I were encouraged to learn through the discomfort to make incredible discoveries!” – Anderson Reeves, Bachelor of Arts in Art Administration major 

Next Steps  

If students are interested in any of these courses, please contact Dr. Amy Tudor in the Department of Health Care Administration and Public Health at atudor@bellarmine.edu, or by visiting the HCAPH department website.  

Tags: Aging Studies , Health Care Administration , Health Care Administration and Public Health , Health Humanities , Public Health , Senior Living Leadership

About Bellarmine University

Bellarmine University is a vibrant community of educational excellence and ethical awareness that consistently ranks among the nation’s best colleges and universities. Our students pursue an education based in the liberal arts – and in the distinguished, inclusive Catholic tradition of educational excellence, the oldest and most rewarding in the western world. It is a lifelong education, worthy of the university’s namesake, Saint Robert Bellarmine, and of his invitation to each of us to learn and live In Veritatis Amore – in the love of all that is beautiful, true and good in life.