Death Literacy on Campus

by Devorah Medwin

It’s hard to imagine why twenty something year olds would join in on a discussion about death - that is until the discussion begins. Talking with students at Columbia University on D2KDayUSA, death’s place in life becomes apparent.

"Death is part of life, and strange as it sounds, to keep on ignoring this topic only left me feeling less alive."  

Feeling “less alive”, not quite satisfied or just plain empty inside is a feeling familiar to many and partly responsible for the multi-billion dollar self-help industry. Happiness and contentment, we're learning, is an inside job, achieved not through outer richness, but inner enrichment. A relationship with death, it turns out, is a great tool for doing this kind of inner life affirming work.  

In our discussion, one student had a beautiful insight:

 “Part of relating to something is knowing it…and with this death thing, because we don’t have to think about it, it’s easy to deny, but the more you get cozy with death, we see death in an enriching role in life.  Maybe the more you can come to embrace death as a part of life, the richer life becomes.”

Whether we are conscious of it or not, just by the nature of its existence in our lives, we are  already in relationship and affected by death. Our denial, our ignoring, or “not knowing,” doesn’t change reality. The question is – are we willing to embrace a conscious, active relationship with our mortality? Experts agree, what repairs our feelings of emptiness and dissatisfaction is awareness. Recognizing the preciousness and impermanence of life is a great place to learn how to not sweat the small stuff!

Ram Dass, Eckart Tolle, Marianne Williamson, Oprah, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and countless other wise teachers have all said different versions of the same thing: To enrich life, be here now. Be present in this moment because that’s all we really have. Death, or our awareness of our own mortality, is the perfect factory installed tool to help us. D2KDayUSA and other initiatives are created to help us recognize the benefits of the tool we already have - knowledge of our own mortality.

Again and again we hear about the gift of illness, the life changing brush with death - but we don’t need to wait until something hits the fan to get this gift. It’s possible, as we experienced at the D2KDayUSA event, to have a shift in our lives just by shifting our awareness to the entirety of life - which includes death.

"I left today feeling like I had opened a part of my consciousness that I had been avoiding for way too long. I feel alive!”  

Isn’t that what most of us are looking for - at every and any age - to feel alive?!

Sitting on the grass in the courtyard of Columbia University a participant asked a very valid question, "When will death education become part of the curriculum?"

While we wait for Life 101 to be followed by Death 101, D2KDayUSA is a great way to start the conversation with family, friends and community. After all, death literacy is tuition free and can start at any time.

About:  Devorah Medwin is an End of Life Educator and Counselor, Playwright, Journalist