Manchester University
Oak Leaves

October 25, 2019

‘Sweet Life and Other Dying Matter’ VIA Encourages Students to Think Critically about Life and Death

Chloe Leckrone


A VIA titled “Sweet Life and Other Dying Matters” will be held in the upper level of the Jo Young Switzer Center on Thursday, Oct. 31, and will teach students about death, as well as encourage them to think about how they want to be remembered.

The VIA was organized by Beate Gilliar, professor of English, and is connected to her First Year Seminar course titled “Death and Other Endings.” Gilliar chose to research the topic of death because she believes it should be brought to the forefront of people’s minds. “Everyone should learn how to engage and discuss a topic that is usually taboo,” she said.

Indeed, Gilliar has long been interested in the subject of death. She has noticed differences in the ways death is discussed in the United States as opposed to other parts of the world. In her hometown, located in Germany, death was brought into the public eye via a museum. She also loves visiting cemeteries and has done so since she was young. One of the first cemeteries she visited was in East Berlin when the wall was still standing. She found it to be a nice space to contemplate when sad, as well as a place full of stories.

“They cultivate the legacy of persons,” Gilliar said. “These are just spaces for continued living by commemorating the legacy of their lives.” Gilliar took that fascination with death and brought it to her “Death and Other Endings” class, which she is currently teaching for the second time. Students of the class learn about death rituals and visit funeral homes, among many other activities. Gilliar wanted to include “other endings” because there are many things that happen in life that can signify “endings” other than death.

Her class discusses being diagnosed with a sickness, learning about the impending or sudden death of someone close to you, ending a relationship to name a few topics. The VIA will run from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and will feature a panel of speakers who will discuss experiences dealing with life and death. The panel includes Kelly McKee and Joe Egner from McKee Mortuary in North Manchester, Daisy Schmidt, a social worker who will speak about grieving and hospice, Rebekah Houff, University pastor who will represent Counseling Services, and Mark Spalding, a friend of Gilliar’s living with cancer.

“Sweet Life and Other Dying Matters” is just one event on the topic of death that will occur on campus in the coming weeks. Along with the VIA, there will be activities throughout the week and into November that relate to death, including a digital image series put together by students of the corresponding FYS class.

On Oct. 31, from 9:30 to 9:50 a.m. in Funderburg Library, Spanish Professor Arturo Yañez will speak about the significance of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and Archivist Jeanine Wine will tell stories that celebrate people from Manchester’s past.

There will also be an initiative called “How Do You Want To Be Remembered?” where people can record what they hope to leave behind once they are no longer alive. According to Gilliar, “Sweet Life and Other Dying Matters” is an important VIA to have on campus. “Students should embrace the gift of life more by recognizing that death does not need to be the enemy,” she said.

She hopes that by the end of the event students will not be as fearful of death and will be moved by the stories they hear from the panel. “I wish for everybody to learn how to embrace the stories of their own by listening to the voices all around,” Gilliar said.