HPU’s Death and Dying course prepares students for life

By Courtney Wilmoth, HPU senior

BROWNWOOD – December 14, 2012 – The name is sure to get attention – “Death and Dying.” Then one may wonder what a class called Death and Dying is like – perhaps morbid, definitely somber, maybe even depressing. Even so, Howard Payne University’s 8 a.m. class this fall reached the maximum enrollment and even had a waiting list.

Lynn Humeniuk, associate professor of sociology and chair of the criminal justice program, teaches the class. She points out that the required textbook is titled Death & Dying, Life & Living. Students look at life every day during the class. They examine trends and processes of how and when dying occurs within ethnicities and around the world.

Humeniuk can remember the first time she was asked to teach the class in 2001.

“I was not happy about it,” she said. “I thought no one would talk.”

More than 40 students enrolled in the class, and before long Humeniuk was having them raise their hands so everyone could have a chance to speak. This was her seventh semester to teach the class, and she passionately believes every student should take it.

Her goal for the class is to prepare students to cope with sudden as well as anticipated death. No matter the career a student chooses, Humeniuk also seeks to relate the material in ways that will apply to a student’s career path.

Students are required to write journals, based on topics provided by Humeniuk.

“I learn a lot about my students through their journals,” she said.

Senior communication major Molly Marriott of Corpus Christi decided to take the class because she heard from her peers that it was interesting. She soon found the journals to be beneficial.

“It’s a good way to learn a lot about ourselves and how we would handle things,” Marriott said.

A number of guest speakers shared their own experiences with death. They included parents of children lost to suicide, automobile accidents and fires, as well as while traveling abroad. The class also heard from a couple who is dealing with a brain tumor and people who work in hospice care. Students visited a funeral home and volunteered at Greenleaf Cemetery in Brownwood during the semester, completing tasks such as distributing flags to veterans’ graves, trimming weeds around tombstones and assisting with office work.

Junior criminal justice major Daniel Taylor of Florence enjoyed the Greenleaf Cemetery project.

“I felt it allowed me to do something meaningful for others who have passed before me,” he said.

Along with the traditional lectures, guest speakers and volunteer work, Humeniuk shared her own personal stories about death and encouraged students to maintain healthy lifestyles. She regularly presented students with preventive measures to take care of their own bodies, discussed the value of nutrition and encouraged students to keep others safe, using videos that address texting and driving.

Humeniuk says issues of eternal life do come up in class, and she is thankful to work at a Christian university where conversations like this can happen. Students learn from each other, and honesty and respect are valued during class discussions.

“You’re going to get three hours of credit,” she said, “but you’re going to get a lot more than that.”