While some may feel empathy is not something that needs to be taught, but is something that should come naturally to human beings, I do think people need opportunities to experience empathy.
A unique class for high school seniors in New York is doing just that. Simply called “hospice,” the students learn how to take care of the dying and a whole lot more.
I was moved by the students’ experiences, and how they learned to cater to the resident’s needs, both physical and emotional.As anyone knows who has cared for a dying person, it is usually the smallest of actions that mean the most. A student helps a woman who was a speech pathologist but now ironically battles frontal lobe syndrome do a word puzzle. Another student rook time to read a memoir that a resident had written about his life, to get to know him better.
Sometimes the students experience death, up close and personal. It even hits close to home sometimes, as one student enrolled in the class has to deal with her dying grandmother who has been admitted to hospice.
The students shared what they gained from this most unusual of courses. They liked the fact that it was non-competitive, and it was a reality check that we are all going to die someday. Another student liked the class because it wasn’t competitive like most of his other courses; it’s simply about helping other people.
While I say kudos to The Harley School for maintaining such a course, and there may be similar classes elsewhere, I would like to see this become a more widespread movement. We’ve heard about the “scared straight” classes that send troubled teens to the morgue, and while that may shock some into choosing a better path in life, I think being around those who are one step away from death is far more valuable.