By Jared Shuff
Nothing leads to an existential crisis quite like the concept of death.
The only thing certain about it is that it happens to all of us at some point. Since death is inevitable – as far as we know – it would probably be best to learn as much about it as possible. “Be Prepared,” as the Boy Scouts of America like to say.
Death and Dying is a class taught at Hutchinson Community College by Charles Kerschen, who specializes in teaching religion and philosophy. He has taught the class for nearly 14 years, practically since he started working at the college.
Enrollment has risen in the class through the years. Originally only teaching two sections of the class a semester, Kerschen now teaches three sections a semester, with about 20-30 students in each class.
“I teach more of that class than I do any other class,” Kerschen said.
Kerschen said there are many reasons why students should take Death and Dying. Some take it because it’s an interesting topic, and some take it just for him. He believes it should be a required course for some students.
“I think anybody that is in the medical profession or studying for the medical profession should be taking the class. I think that should be obligatory,” Kerschen said.
Unresolved issues, past events, and the loss of loved ones are a few other reasons he named when it came to students enrolling in Death and Dying. It gives them a way to understand the dying process.
Baylee Maskil, a third-year HutchCC student from Sterling, took the class last semester. She was surprised by just how involved the class was.
“It was very interesting with the different activities we did and movies we watched,” Maskil said.
Students write stories and eulogies, watch death-related movies, and even visit an actual morgue. Maskil enjoyed watching movies like “Seven Pounds” and “Schindler’s List” in the class, explaining how they showcased death in different ways.
In one activity, students create their own terminal disease, and then write a letter about the disease that they are dying from. Topics can get very intimate and emotional. One student reached out to thank Kerschen for teaching the class.
“I had one student that contacted me through Facebook,” Kerschen said. “She had taken the class back in 2008. At the time I didn’t know, but she was undergoing chemo for cancer. She had recovered from that and she just wanted to reach out.”
Students in Death and Dying also study the end of life through a religious and philosophical perspective. Kerschen makes sure not to put one view of death over another. There isn’t one correct philosophy for everyone, because it all depends on where the person is at in their life.
“Death is an intimate subject matter for each individual, and you just have to be there for the person and hold their hand or give them a hug and not dictate to them what should be or shouldn’t happen,” Kerschen said.
Maskil thought the class taught a valuable life lesson about death. She gave high praise for the course, as well as a warning for those considering adding it to their schedule.
“I would definitely recommend it to other students. It’s a nice class to help you understand death. It may be slightly morbid, but overall a great learning experience,” Maskil said.
By: Jared Shuff