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Dr. Bowe's Death Class, Death 101

Updated on March 8, 2014
Students opening up a cadaver
Students opening up a cadaver

Death. It happens to all of us. Rich, poor and in-between. You cannot take fame or fortune with you to the grave when your time on earth is over. Most young people have this reality tucked way in the back of their psyche- they know that the young can die, happens all the time. But, still, it is not really going to happen to them and they really do not worry about it until well into their 30's. I recall thinking that death happens to old people and it is uncommon for the young to die first. Youth gives the illusion of being invincible, virile and robust. Yet, in a second of texting while driving it ends like a light switch.

At Kean University, one popular class is Death in Perspective, or Death 101, taught by Dr.Norma Bowe. Students actually like it so much for its "reality" there is a long waiting list to get in. Students like it because it opens up the dialogue about death that those in their 20's know can happen but disbelieve it in the same thought. Students in the class are required to write goodbye letters to loved ones and compose their own eulogies and wills. They visit prisons to meet murderers, go to hospice to see what the end of life looks like, we mean, the end is weeks away at best. They watch a crematory do their scorching work, very nitty gritty stuff. They go to funeral homes to pick out their coffins. Heavy stuff for the 20's age group.

But worse, the class examines three corpses, naked cadavers on metal tables just like in medical school, but these students are not planning to be doctors. They review their history as to how they died, their physical damage that killed them-a drowning, a bullet hole or disease that ate away at their once healthy body. Sometimes, the expression of the dead person's face reflects the moment of death, usually horror or surprise. As the students gather around the metal table, a technician takes his razor sharp knife and opens up the torso to carve it up. Students that cannot stand the sight or smell scurry away and gag.

Bowe's class has put death in the spotlight. As a class in many universities, the topic of death is popular as a discussion but this class really makes an impact because it is more hand's on and students are personally involved instead of just out of a book. Her class has evolved over the past 14 years since it began and many students are so bothered by "death" that they seek psychological help on campus.

Bowe stated that many of the students that take the class have suffered from a death of family member, encounters that nearly killed them, or disease. The class does not go beyond death, as what happens after death or the white light some claim to see. It is just a nuts and bolts, in your face, grim, class.

Death can happen to anyone, anytime. In a second. Something for all to think about.


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