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Does Taking a Course on Death Quell Anxiety?
Reading time: 6 min.
Answer: You’d have to take the course to find out.
As a professor and someone who spent a large portion of her life going to school, I decide that the way to finally cure myself of death anxiety is to take a class on death. There are many, many to choose from. One Google search, and I’m flush with online courses about it.
Most aren’t what I’m looking for. The mortician classes are out. The Association for Death Education and Counseling offers courses for “thanatology professionals,” which don’t apply. Some classes are for those wanting to become a death doula, or end-of-life planner, which is far, far beyond what I was capable of. Many classes focus on the death of a loved one. Other courses promise an anthropological understanding of death in different cultures, an overview of philosophers’ views on death, or forensic knowledge about identifying the dead—none of which are quite right.
One course is titled The MOST Comprehensive Course on Death. I’m not a fan of the online-course monolith Udemy, the teaching platform it’s offered on, but I’ll receive a certificate upon completion.
The course entails sixty-three hours of lectures, which seems very, very, very long—a little the way death must feel. Over three thousand students have taken the course, which makes me feel less alone, which I don’t imagine death will be like.
The instructor’s name is Chris Bankes Sivewright. The headshot of him is black and white, cinematic. His hair is hippie-ishly shoulder length, and he has a white-grey beard, which is really more of a ten-o’clock shadow.
His tagline reads Best selling Instructor, author, actor…volunteer. “Best selling” should be one word, I don’t understand why bestselling and instructor are capitalized, and it isn’t clear if he’s a bestselling instructor or a bestselling author though it doesn’t really matter because everyone’s a bestselling something these days. The ellipses lend a bit of suspense though volunteer isn’t a shocking enough ending to justify them.
According to his bio, which is extensive, Chris has thirty-five years of teaching experience and has appeared in over eighty films. (In parentheses, it clarifies that some are corporate training or fitness videos lest we think they’re all major movies.) He’s been featured on “the BBC, Polish TV, The Times, The Telegraph and...The Sun.” (Again, the ellipses puzzle me.) He’s written plays and appeared in movies about death.
To say he’s an author is a gross understatement. He’s written over one hundred books on Amazon. He’s Udemy’s Stephen King or Joyce Carol Oates. I assume the books are all about death (and maybe acting), but I’m wrong. Most are economics or business or pop psychology/motivational books. I expect them to be those thirty-page pamphlets that self-published writers call books, but they’re not; they’re full-length works.
The course is rated four-and-a-half stars, which bodes well. In response to the one- and two-star reviews, Chris has taken the time to refute each reviewer’s criticism. He’s fierce, unyielding. He doesn’t just shut down each student; he presents meticulous evidence. He’s checked up on them, and none—not one—of the students completed the workbook exercises, watched the videos, or contacted the instructor about their dissatisfaction with the course. As a professor, who, at the end of each quarter, is required to receive feedback from her students and given no way to refute or respond to their claims, I’m beyond jealous of Chris.
The fact that he’s British worries me. Do the Brits see death differently?
On the upper right of the course homepage is an image of a man’s head and upper body. There’s a gash on his cheek, and he’s lying in a pool of blood. Is this the course’s way of indoctrinating students? Our first encounter with a corpse?
In the preview video, Chris looks tidy, wearing a smart tie and glasses that make him look authoritative. He starts by describing the course at length. We’re talking twenty minutes. The course will cover everything from knowing what to expect when we die to depictions of death in movies to whether we can be replicated and live on after death. Chris again counters the criticisms waged at him in the one-star reviews by reassuring us that he’s revised the course in response. To counter the claim that he talks about himself and his views too much, he’s brought in a second instructor—Peter—who has died since his videos were added to the course. Yes, died.
I pause before paying the $19.99-course fee and enrolling and read more from Chris about the class: The cruel thing about human beings is that we are the only creatures on the planet who know we are going to die. It goes on: Each year, about 795,000 people in the United States have strokes…. I scroll down: John had been dead about four hours before his body was brought into…. More scrolling: It’s a fact of life that we’re all going to die at some point…. Finally: What’s your ideal death?
It’s more than I want to know or consider. I hit command-Q. The Google window vanishes.
I feed the cat, brush my hair, and go about my day as if I’m immortal.
“A fiery manifesto of a memoir” —The New York Times