Persons who inform themselves about dying and death are likely to manage best the final outcome of every life. Death education, in various forms, is designed to relieve the strain for a dying person and his or her family and provide a measure of dignity to this experience.
Regular courses on death education are finding their way into college offerings.The University of Maryland has scheduled death education (Health 476) for a number of years. Enrollment is heavy. The catalogue description reads, in part, "The course aims to enable students to better understand aspects of dying so that the quality of their health and living is enhanced and they are better able to help the bereaved and the dying."
Pertinent films are available from the public libraries, film service division. These are free on two days' notice to any Maryland library card holder. Users have to provide their own projector and screen. The Prince George's County telephone number is [WORD ILLEGIBLE], and the Montgomery County telephone number is 279-1944. Daniel Leviton, who developed the death education course at Maryland, recommends that a knowledgeable person be present to lead any discussion and provide interpretation.
A number of books and pamphlets are available to help families through the often difficult period of death and bereavement. Dr. Elizabeth Kuebler Ross has written several books on this subject. One of these, "On Death and Dying," is based upon her extensive experience with the terminally ill and their families. This book is generally available in a paperback edition in most bookstores.
The Public Affairs Committee, 381 Park Ave. South, New York, N.Y. 10016, a nonprofit educational organization, publishes numerous pamphlets that deal with social and personal concerns including the subject of death and dying. Some titles are, "The Dying Person and the Family," "Helping Children Face Crises," and a "Death in the Family." Single copies are 50 cents, and multiple copies are offered at reduced prices.
Professionals in the field of death education consider it wise for all persons to make advance written plans for the eventuality of their own death. Such a statement should include the nature and location of important papers, identification of financial resources, including safe-deposit box location, and wishes with respect to burial. Affiliates of the Continental Association of Funeral and Memorial Societies, such as the Memorial Society (telephone 474-6468) help with these matters by providing a membership packet that includes information on "living wills," an organ donor declaration, if desired, and a manual on death education and simple burial.
Certain government agencies provide survivor benefits upon application. These include a lump-sum death payment to survivors of wage earners who have paid into Social Security, and a monthly benefit for eligible survivors. Application for these payments is made to the Social Security office. Additional benefits may be granted to families following the death of a service veteran. Information on these payments is obtained from the Veterans Administration.
Even well-informed persons may seek and benefit from counseling before or at the time of bereavement. The St. Francis Burial and Counseling Society, Inc., 1768 Church Street, NW, is devoted to helping families manage bereavement and avoid excessive, often burdensome costs associated with details and funerals. Co-founder and president of the board of directors, the Rev. William A. Wendt, makes public appearances to further the aims and objectives of the Society.
Besides its educational and counseling services, the society markets products that people are known to want, as revealed by field research. Products include unfinished pine coffins and ash boxes. There is even a kit with materials and instructions for coffin assembly. The telephone number for making inquiry is 234-5613.
Another organization providing counseling service in the metropolitan area is Haven of Northern Virginia, telephone 941-7000. This agency, working through more than 200 trained volunteers, offers comfort and guidance in grief situations and provides supportive care to the terminally ill and their families. Resources allow only limited service in Maryland but this organization offers help to jurisdictions outside Northern Virginia for establishing their own Haven offices.
Regular counseling service is provided by the county offices on aging. From time to time these offices sponsor or cosponsor informal seminars on death and bereavement covering such subjects as funeral arrangement options, managing financial affairs and dealing with bereavement.
Of related interest is the recently incorporated Washington Hospice Society located at 1511 K Street, N.W. The hospice idea is based upon the premise that at some stage of illness, health care should emphasize quality of life rather than treatment of disease. A hospice is designed to provide a warm and caring atmosphere for persons facing death, something that the Hospice Society believes is not especially characteristic of hospital service.
The society does not have a home yet, but plans are underway to acquire the needed facility. As a first step the organization plans to operate a home care program. Family involvement is part of the hospice philosophy, as is the belief that radical methods of prolongation of dying should not be practiced.