Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Chaplain’s book discussion series kicks off

Death and the dying process are topics that many people prefer to avoid talking about, but the end is a mystery that many people quietly fear.

In his book Will the Circle be Unbroken, the late Studs Terkel interviewed a broad spectrum of people from various socio-economic classes and religious backgrounds to learn about their expectations of dying and the afterlife.

Eleven staff members and graduate students from across campus gathered Jan. 13 to discuss the book and the issues it raises during the first installment of the winter quarter Chaplain’s Book Discussion series.

The informal discussion was facilitated by Rev. Doshin Nelson of IntegralZen and Schawn Kellogg, an emergency room nurse and student at the Iliff School of Theology.

In Terkel’s book, a few common fears about death emerge, including the fear that there is nothing following death, the fear of dying in pain and the fear of leaving loved ones with a burden.

Kellogg has seen many patients, just prior to death, experience periods of lucidity and carry on conversations with friends and family members who have previously died, he said. One patient not only spoke to loved ones, but reached out his arms to them despite profound muscle weakness. Another patient visually tracked his grandmother as she entered the room, touched her, held her hand and spoke with her.

“The medical community is not trained to deal with issues of about death and dying because death is seen as a sign of failure,” Kellogg said. “When these type of things happen, the medical community just doesn’t know what to do with that.”

“There is a delightfully broad spectrum of beliefs,” Nelson said. “But no matter what people have been taught about death, the truth is that we just don’t know what will happen.”

University Chaplain Gary Brower says he started the book discussion series as a way to unite people from across campus to address real-life topics, learn from each other’s perspectives and raise the level of religious discourse.

The next session, a discussion of From Brokenness to Community by Jean Vanier, will be Feb. 10 in Driscoll South, Suite 29 Conference Room. Copies of the book are available in the DU bookstore at a discount.

For additional information, contact Brower at 303-871-4488 or

[Editor’s note: This article was updated Jan. 15 to correct a misspelled name.]

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