Mrs. Greene and The Death Class (a book review)

Back in the 1980’s, I was given a rare educational opportunity in high school. Mrs. Greene taught a course that was offered for English/Literaature credit entitled Death and Dying. I can’t remember what year it was, but I do remember reading Kubler-Ross book on death and dying, exploring and knowing the stages of death, and visiting a funeral home (specifically the area of the funeral home where the body of the deceased was prepared). I loved this class although many people thought Mrs. Greene to be really tough, she went out on a limb to offer this class.

I am not sure what propelled me to enroll in this class but I am sure glad I did. I think the motivation came from the amount of loss I experienced in middle school through the sudden death of my uncle followed within the year by the death of my grandma. I seemed to be searching for understanding and it seemed appropriate to look there. I was exposed to death at the young age of five with the death of friend of the family whom we kids all called Grandma Cook. She was the “local” grandma to my sister and me. I remember crying myself to sleep and Mom made sure we went to the funeral, even though we did not necessarily comprehend the meaning of death, she believed it was important to begin to realize that part of life included death.

Flash forward to the year 2014 and I am standing at the new books section of the public library. This book jumps out to me entitled The Death Class by Erika Hayasaki. I read this book in two stages. Thanks to Goodreads I was able to mark my page where I was when I had to return the book (since I was unable to complete it in the allotted time). I thought to myself when I read the inside flap, “finally someone else has decided this was important enough to offer a class on it.”

Hayasaki follows Professor Dr. Norma Bowe at Kean University as she teaches The Death Class which explores the stages of dying, death and grieving. Her class has reached such popularity that there is a three-year waiting list. Dr. Bowe utilizes unique opportunities, such as field trips to cemetaries and prisons, to help her students explore this topic that touches each of us. Just like me seeking some understanding to the grief I felt, lots of Dr. Bowe’s students are searching for the same thing. As each chapter concludes, Hayasaki shares what the “assignment” for the upcoming class will be. These are very powerful assignments (and probably will at some point the reason for me breaking down to buy this book). Following certain students throughout the book, Hayasaki allows us to peek inside the process the students go through as they work through their own stories of grief and bereavement.

As most of us journey through our own pain and grief, we hopefully discover what many of her students (and Dr. Bowe herself) have discovered: ~ by coming to the point where we can share our story, we can then take ownership of it and help other people along way. Be The Change grew out of her class and has become an strong force upon the Kean campus and country.

I would highly recommend this book because if nothing else it will put Life into Perspective. If you are in a book club, it would be an excellent read. Check the book’s website,

I know I am thankful for the class I had with Mrs. Greene and can now add to my list of book recommendations The Death Class. Both have helped me grow in my understanding of a subject I have discovered most of us would rather not talk about.


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