The Final Path: On Dying and Grief

Report by Amelie Lucke (Bachelor‘s student Economics)

Between November 9th and 16th, 2021, seven Q+ students from seven different disciplines took part in an unusual seminar: "The Final Path: On Dying and Grief." It was forseeable that this course might become more than educational, but also very personal. Nevertheless, or perhaps just for this reason, we all decided to deal with these issues that are usually inaccessible and taboo in everyday life. In the space of eight days, we were facing four dense all-day workshops, which would lead from dying to burial rites to the bereaved’s coping behavior.

The first part focused on dying. The head of the pallitative care unit at University Medical Center Mainz Prof. Martin Weber explained the process of dying and spoke about his professional experiences with dying persons and their relatives. Next, Dr. Gertrud Greif-Higer, medical director of the ethics committee at University Medical Center Mainz, talked about the legal situation of people who wish to end their lives, and what options and limitations physicians have on the subject of assisted suicide. The ensuing conversation showed just how different the situations of affected persons can be.

Two days later we focused on dying and grief from a spiritual point of view. After a cultural-anthropological introduction on the topic of death in different cultures by Miriam Braun, we heard three talks from the perspectives of the Protestant theologian Prof. Ulrich Volp, the Imam Talha Taskinsoy, and the Rabbi Shlomo Raskin. Over the course of the day, we found parallels as well as significant differences between the three religions.

The following week we visited the Mainz central cemetery. Seeing the unfamiliar world of a crematory was a challenging experience for us, but it was worthwhile to learn about the cremation process without personal involvement. Sebastian Misar, employee at the Mainz crematory, gave us informative and always respectful insights into his work and that of his team. Next, Petra Müller, head of cemetery administration, and Ralf Biesenack, cemetery operating manager, gave us a tour of the various sections of the Mainz central cemetery and taught us much about processes, laws, and costs of different funeral types.

In the afternoon, we visited the Grünewald*Baum funeral home, which attracted attention in its early days more than 20 years ago, since the founders and their team eschewed conventions to better serve the needs of the deceased and their relatives. Kristin Witte, who has worked there for some time, explained their approach in a very authentic manner during a Q&A and tour of the facilities.

As expected, the first three days of the seminar had raised many questions, and it was concluded by a day with the grief therapist and secular funeral speaker Leila Haas. We gathered thoughts and issues that had occupied us during the past week, and were able to talk about many topics in a small group. Leila Haas related many of her professional experiences and helped us get a handle on these issues, leading the seminar to a successful conclusion.

I’m probably not just speaking for myself when I say that these workshops were very intense and raised a lot of thoughts that will stay with me for a while. But they also led me to take care of concrete things, such as making a living will and discussing the topic of funerals with my relatives. The most valuable thing I learned during this seminar? How important and relieving it can be to let death into your life.

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