Manchester University
Oak Leaves

November 8, 2019

Professor Gilliar Curates VIA about Death, Grief, Living with Chronic Illness

Erin Hickle


On Halloween night at 7 p.m. students, faculty and community members gathered in the upper JYSC for a VIA put together by Professor of English Beate Gilliar. “Death and Other Endings” brought the participants and audience together for a discussion and collaboration of stories from different people in the community and their experiences with death.

The VIA began as MU campus pastor Rebekah Houff joined the room in prayer. She then opened the discussion by sharing the resources that are available on campus to those who are struggling in any kind of way. Houff also gave some tips she has learned throughout her time in dealing her own grief and that of others. Some of those tips included taking a deep breath, not denying any emotions, and dealing with grief in one’s own, safe way. She went on to share a personal story of her grandparents and how the conditions of their death affected her emotionally and mentally.

Kelly McKee and Joe Egner of McKee Mortuary spoke next. They both talked about they deal with death as it connects with their job. They said how thankful they were to be able to assist families during their time of grief, and both agreed that once they chose their line of work, it has affected their lives and the lives of their families due to the emotional challenges and the sometimes inconsistency in work schedule.
Both of them graduated from Manchester, McKee having grown up in the North Manchester community, so they have deeper connections within the community. They spoke on how some of the deaths they deal with are connected to them through their connections made during their times here. McKee and Egner also stressed the importance of being present when dealing with death or when dealing with someone who has experienced death. Checking in with friends and family is also just as important.

Next to speak was Daisy Schmidt, another graduate of MU and current hospice social worker. She shared how it is hard to prepare for the end of our own lives and the lives of others. Schmidt also provided common myths people have about death, one of which was that if one is not there when a loved one dies, then that person has let their loved one down or shown a lack of love. She stated that this is not true. The timing of death is a mystery, and no one can ever really know when or where it will happen. She also shared advice on preparing for death, how to speak and be present with others when dealing with grief, and reminded the students that death is the one thing we all have in common.

Mark Spalding, a former adjunct instructor at MU and current tutor at Ivy Tech Community College, shared his personal experience of death as someone who was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Spalding has undergone numerous surgeries and an extraordinary 123 chemotherapy treatments. He told some of his stories that Gilliar had made into a booklet to share with those in attendance. Spalding said that cancer has brought him to understand certain aspects of his life, brought people into his life and made them important in his story, and if he had to do it again, he would still choose the cancer. It reminds him of his first experience with death and has taught him that life itself is not static.

As the VIA came to a close, Gilliar reminded the audience of the importance of these hard conversations and situations and of the many ways everyone can safely and healthily deal with them. She ended the event by dedicating the night to her late mother.