Henderson, Tennessee — (Dec. 1, 2023) — Two Freed-Hardeman University courses, Death and Dying and Latin American Literature, met to discuss how the Hispanic culture mourns, celebrates and remembers an individual who passes away. Their discussion coincided with Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which is celebrated Nov. 2. In addition to the discussion, organizers offered a colorful celebratory table and Pan de Muerto (Day of the Dead Bread), a sweet bread baked with a ball on top, representing the skull of the deceased, with remaining pieces shaped into a cross to signify their bones and tears.
As part of the combined course activities, students took a survey about their comfort level with death and discussed whether traditions such as sleeping in a bed where a person has died, holding a funeral in a residence, kissing a deceased person goodbye, or dressing and applying makeup to a deceased person would disturb them. The group also shared their memories of loved ones using virtual ofrendas. An ofrenda is a display that celebrates the life of a deceased person with a collection of their favorite things.
FHU sophomore Naomi Perez visited the class to share how members of her extended family celebrated the life and death of a loved one. “My parents don’t celebrate the day anymore, but from what I remember, when someone died, everyone came over and it reminds the family that they’re not alone and that they won’t be sad all of the time,” Perez said.
FHU Spanish professor Dr. Linda Moran led a discussion about cultural differences in how death is treated. “There’s the contrast of forgetting or remembering the death and embracing the pain or embracing the memory,” she said. “Embracing death is something the Hispanic culture has done very well. In Mexico City there’s a cemetery right in the center of the city with (residential) homes very close to it. The dead aren’t pushed away, they’re right there sort of saying, ‘This is a city of people who still exist.’”
Deborah Kenney, a senior English major in Moran’s class, said the discussion emphasized the need to understand that the experience of death and grief looks different across cultures. She made a virtual ofrenda for her paternal grandmother, whom she was close to. “She made excellent holiday ham, loved plants and was a painter,” Kenney said.
Carlos Diaz, a senior psychology major in Dr. Chris Creecy’s Death and Dying class, made an ofrenda for his great-grandfather whose funeral he attended when he was 6-years-old. “This class has made me a little less nervous about death and more open to it,” he said.
And that is the point of the course, Creecy said.
“In this course we discuss bereavement and grief and help students better understand how life and death are intertwined,” Creecy said. “Earlier this semester, we visited a local funeral home and discussed the process of working with grieving families. Teaching this course has been a tremendous learning experience for me. It’s been informational and personally applicable.”
The mission of Freed-Hardeman University is to help students develop their God-given talents for His glory by empowering them with an education that integrates Christian faith, scholarship and service. With locations in Henderson and Memphis, FHU offers associate, bachelor’s, master’s, specialist and doctoral degrees.