URI student, alumna say need is great for certificate program in death and dying

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116

URI student, alumna say need is great
for certificate program in death and dying

KINGSTON, R.I. — December 18, 2002 — University of Rhode Island psychology major Marie Leary recalls siblings, who in two years time, suffered the death of their mom and dad and were split up among relatives.

“FRIEND’S WAY became their meeting place, and even their cousins who became like their siblings, benefited from the support and programs,” said Leary, who is a senior from Newport.

URI graduate Megan Spencer remembers a mom telling her that she and her 7- and 10-year-old children learned how to function better as a family after meeting at FRIEND’S WAY, an East Greenwich non-profit agency founded in large part by URI Assistant Professor of Nursing Carolyn Hames. “They learned how to talk about their father’s death from cancer, and they learned how to open communication,” said Spencer, a Pawtucket resident pursuing a doctorate in psychology at Suffolk University.

Both volunteered at FRIEND’S WAY after taking courses with Hames on death and dying.

“I have found it really interesting that in my undergraduate and so far in my graduate psychology programs, death and dying get only brief mention,” Spencer said. “That’s why I took Carolyn’s courses. She makes it real. I know of no other classes that address such things as the grief process, funerals, embalming, cremation and burial in a straightforward way.”

Yet Spencer said these are the very issues that professionals must help families face when death occurs.

Hames, who for 30 years has focused on pediatrics and thanatology, said that until the past few years there have been no academic programs in the study of death and dying. “It’s a misconception that there is a focus on such issues among the fields of psychiatry, psychology, social work, nursing and medicine,” she said. “In fact, when I receive a call for assistance from a school, it normally comes from the school psychologist or social worker.”

In the two years of its existence, FRIEND’S WAY, which provides free support to children whose family members have died, has had to occasionally put individuals on a waiting list.

The need is great for further education in death and dying, according to Leary and Spencer, and URI’s new certificate program can provide the answer. “I took Carolyn’s honors class, “Loss in the Lives of Children and Adolescents,” because it was something I had no idea about it,” Leary said. “Death and dying education is essential in today’s world because if we can be better grievers then we can be better helpers. It looks like the certificate program offers great courses because they come from different disciplines and departments.”

Spencer, who is researching FRIEND’S WAY and other agencies as part of a master’s thesis on the effectiveness of grief support groups for families, is also a teaching assistant at Suffolk. She’ll earn her master as part of the doctoral program.

“I used a lot of information from Carolyn’s class for a lecture in an ‘Adult Development’ class for undergraduates,” Spencer said. “Students start talking about their own stories, and they get comfortable. Now I know that when I earn my doctorate, I will have an advantage because I have become exposed to these pivotal experiences in people’s lives. I know I will be more confident than my classmates.

“Anyone who works in the helping professions, doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists and ministers, could benefit from death and dying education,” Spencer said. “But even business people could gain major insight, such as supervisors, personnel managers and benefits managers. In this country, we expect people to bounce back, but that doesn’t happen.”

For Information: Carolyn Hames 401-874-5330