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At the end of the fall 2023 semester, Carthage students brought family members and friends to indulge in an evening of food and conversations about death. They embraced this hard-to-talk-about topic.

Professor Sandie Bisciglia ’94, who teaches the popular Religion Department course Issues of Living and Dying, decided to make the final exam more interactive. The result was the “Death with Dinner” event, which was held for the third time in December.

Students wrapped up the Carthage course Issues in Living and Dying by bringing family members and...

Prof. Bisciglia expressed the importance of these taboo conversations. As stated in the TED Talk presented at the beginning of the dinner, “100 percent of us will die one day.”

The class and its unique final give students pursuing a career in health care a deeper understanding of death and how to navigate it so they can provide the best care. It’s especially valuable for those who have to contemplate these difficult topics in their own personal lives.

“It’s so important to get parents and grandparents to talk about these things before it’s too late — making plans so they don’t have to be done while you’re still grieving,” Prof. Bisciglia said.

The participants also participated in a “letting go” exercise, writing down the people, possessions, activities, and personal characteristics that meant the most to them. To symbolize death and help the participants work through their feelings and emotions, the exercise ultimately required them to tear up those pieces of paper.

Nine questions were printed out and laid out on each table to start these tough conversations. The questions included:

  • What are some of the things you hope to do before you die?

  • Which of these would be a priority if diagnosed with a terminal illness?

  • Do you have a religious belief that would guide how you make medical decisions for yourself, your spouse, or another family member?

Throughout the night, Prof. Bisciglia emphasized that everyone should determine what end-of-life environment they want and choose the right person to place in charge of it.

“Who do you want to speak for you when you can no longer speak for yourself?” she said.