Dr Judith Wester introduced everyone to the first ‘Life Lesson’. Hold on a minute… surely we were here to learn about death and all the gruesome things associated with it- I was expecting morbid talks, counselling, gory details, crying and yet the workshop was being called ‘Life Lessons’.
It was a surprising start and straight away we adjusted to the fact that we were going to be thrown a curve ball and have to start rethinking all we had previously expected. This wasn’t a ‘death lesson’ it was a ‘life lesson’ and that is exactly what we were experiencing. During the day we all learned what a ‘Thanatologist’ was – someone who studies death from a socio-cultural perspective; and an explorer of the important things we all need to be aware of as a part of life. I watched as the group were invited to learn about different cultures and the different ways death was represented throughout history.
I also watched the facial expressions of the group light up as they became instantly interested in what was being said. They were keen and eager to listen. This wasn’t a normal lesson as they might experience in school – this was teaching of a nature that delved into a topic unspoken about – automatically intriguing and without any judgement, bias or presentation of opinion. The whole day encouraged participation in activities that allowed self-expression, questions that could be asked freely and all possible answers were explored. I listened to different concepts of what constitutes death, and each person had alternative thoughts and views. I learned throughout the day, without having to ask, about individuals life experiences and I soon realised I was surrounded by young people who in different ways throughout their lives had all faced difficult scenarios and in some way had dealings with death in their young lives already. I was amazed by the way in which they were opening up to the group about personal experiences without reflecting morbidly or sad in any way, but presenting their views and thoughts on life scenarios in a calm and mature way to the group. They were listening to one another and asking questions and enjoying the whole process of interacting.
I wondered how it could be that a lesson about death could actually be bringing enjoyment and happiness to a group – And yet it was. I observed throughout the day shy, quiet, individuals who were self-assured that all they knew initially was all they needed to know. However, they gradually began to question their current understanding and became expressive and willing to share and explore different opinions. The day ended with the group keen and eager to learn more. Somehow, I knew they would all turn up for the next day.