Death Education Blog

Death Education:  Shelly Kagan, Yale University


Death Education Lecture 1: “The Nature of Persons: Dualism vs. Physicalism”

Shelly Kagan’s class, simply called “Death” has gained interest and popularity worldwide, as a great resource on learning views surrounding the objective side of death. There has recently been a rapid increase of death education and death and dying courses that are being offered at schools of higher education all across the country.  As a professor of philosophy at Yale University, Shelly focuses on normative ethics, and has numerous publications, including Death,  Yale (2012).

Signature Funerals and Cremation wants to gain a better understanding of ourselves and how we feel about death.  Ultimately, the goal is to translate this knowledge to the care we provide to the families we serve.  We are following along with Shelly’s death class and posting thoughts and impressions from his lectures to both our website as well as our Facebook page:

In the beginning of his first death education class, Shelly points out that he will not attempt to cover some of the following aspects of the death and dying realm.  Stages of grief or the process of grieving, and funeral industry ethics,  will not be introduced in this course.  The class covers topics related to metaphysics and philosophies surrounding death, including questions like “Do we have immaterial souls?” and “If death is the end, is it bad?”.  Also to note; the last couple of lectures will  focus on views surrounding rationality and morality as it relates to suicide. This is a sensitive topic to so many of us.

Find Shelly’s first full lecture below, and continue to follow our blog for future lecture postings on death education.


To me, the nature of this lecture dives into one of the first questions that Shelly asks, which is “Could I survive my own death?”

If we are to go by the definition of death by the book being “the cessation of life” then the answer would be a a simple no.  But this is where metaphysics comes into play.  Religious views aside, there are many who believe that we as humans are composed of more than a structure of materials.  They feel that we also have a soul.  This view would fall under the definition of “dualism”  in which the mind and the body work together to make us who we are individually.   There are also two different sides to dualism as well,  Shelly describes.   The first is that one can believe that the soul and the physical body work together as a unit, and that if the body dies so does the soul.  The other beliefs dualists hold is that if the soul is immaterial, than it can not be destroyed by a material process (death of a body).  This, in a sense is s general idea of forms of dualism.

A physicalist, however will argue that the human body is strictly made from materials.  We are really well formed materials that can think, reason, and feel, but materials nonetheless.

Which view do you lean towards as you read these comments?  And if you do believe in dualism, do you think that the soul can survive the body?  The goal is to answer from a philosophical standpoint.  Do you feel like you could benefit from more death education?

To view Shelly Kagan’s credentials, follow the  link

Death Education Summary by Jill Badell

William A. Pointer

Posted by on Feb 23, 2017 in Obituaries, Obituaries 2017, Uncategorized | 4 comments

William A. Pointer

William Augustus Pointer, “Bill”, of Kansas City, Mo., died in his home on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. He was 87. Bill was born Aug. 21, 1929, to Genevieve (Packwood) Pointer and Gus Pointer in Osawatomie, Kan. He was the youngest of three children. His family later moved to Kansas City, Mo., and he graduated from De LaSalle Academy.

Bill married the love of his life, Mary Jane, on Nov. 16, 1957. They built a life together in Kansas City, Mo., with their two sons, Bill and Rob. In his younger years, he was an avid hockey player and ice skating performer at the Pla-Mor Ice Arena.

Bill spent many afternoons of his retirement playing with dogs at local parks. He also enjoyed road trips, listening to piano music, and pulling good-natured pranks on friends and family. He was a 50-year member of Pipefitters Local 533.

Bill is survived by son Bill Pointer of Kansas City, Mo.; son Rob Pointer of Kansas City, Mo.; granddaughters Kathleen, Allison and Mollie Pointer; sister Helena (Pointer) Davis and brother-in-law Michael Davis; as well as many beloved nieces, nephews and other extended family. His wife Mary Jane (Payne) Pointer, his parents, and his sister Elinor (Pointer) Martin preceded him in death.
The visitation begins at 11:30 a.m. on Monday at Cure’ of Ars Catholic Church, 9401 Mission Road, Leawood, KS. A rosary will be said at 12:45 p.m. Mass begins at 1 p.m. Monday. Burial at Mount Olivet Cemetery will follow.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to Catholic Community Hospice and the American Heart Association. Assistance: Funeral Advocates

Jane V. Clemons

Posted by on Nov 12, 2014 in Obituaries, Obituaries 2014, Uncategorized | 1 comment

Jane V. Clemons, 98, of Prairie Village, KS, died on November 10, 2014 after a long illness. Jane is survived by her daughters, Nelle Garrecht (Robert) of Kirkwood, MO and Ann Sutherland (Will) of Toronto, ON; her son, James Clemons (Carolyn) of Leawood, KS; nine grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. The family will hold a graveside service in Lincoln at a later date.

Despite living in Kansas for the last 18 years, Jane maintained her loyalty to Nebraska and her lifelong conviction that anything anywhere else had, Lincoln or Omaha had first, or better. The family thanks the staff at Somerset Health Center for the outstanding care they gave Jane for many years. Memorial contributions are suggested to Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) (, the National Parkinson Foundation (, or the charity of your choice.

Elizabeth Ellen Quirk O’Brien

Posted by on Oct 18, 2014 in Obituaries, Obituaries 2014, Uncategorized | 1 comment

Elizabeth Ellen Quirk O’Brien

Elizabeth (Betty) O’Brien, 93, of Kansas City, MO, died peacefully at home,
October 16, 2014. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11:00 a.m.
Tuesday, October 21, at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, 1800 SW State Route
150, Lee’s Summit, MO. Visitation will be from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. at the church.

Betty was born November 18, 1920, the firstborn child of John W. Quirk and
Aileen Livers Quirk. She grew up in Kansas City with brothers Mickey, Paul
and Bill Quirk, attended St. Louis Catholic School and graduated from Paseo High
School. During her teen years, Betty was active in Catholic Youth Organization (CYO)
social and musical activities, once starring in an operetta presented at the Kansas City
Music Hall. A devout Catholic and mother of eight children, Betty was a member of
St. Catherine’s Parish for many years, and with husband Larry, a founding
member of Holy Spirit in Lee’s Summit. She belonged to the Ladies of Charity of
Metropolitan Kansas City, volunteered at the Seton Center, and was a board member of
St. Joseph Medical Center when it moved to south Kansas City.

Always cheerful, enthusiastic, and welcoming, Betty loved to entertain family and
friends at the family home, Windy Hill. She loved Irish music, books, puzzles, cards and phone calls.
She was a member of book clubs and bridge clubs throughout her life, most recently part of a lively bridge group at John Knox Village.
She especially enjoyed playing card and board games with her children and grandchildren at home and at the Red Cabin.

Betty is survived by her husband of 68 years, Larry W. O’Brien, and six children:
Don O’Brien and wife Catherine, sons Terry and Tim O’Brien, daughter Eileen Dupuy and husband Rich, William O’Brien and wife Ava, and Bob O’Brien and wife Yvonne.
Betty also leaves 15 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren that she loved dearly, along with a very large extended family.

Betty was preceded in death by son L. Patrick O’Brien and daughter Marian O’Brien White; by granddaughter Tara Aileen Cable; by great-grandsons Brandon James and Bennett Carney Dickey;
by brothers John Jr., Mickey, Paul and Bill Quirk;
and by her first husband, USNR Lt. Don E. Carney, deceased June, 1944.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions to the Seton Center of Kansas City,
or to Kansas City Hospice and Palliative Care, whose exceptional caregivers
daily provide kind and invaluable support to area families.
Assistance by Funeral Advocates, LLC.

Death Education, Lecture II, Part 1

Posted by on Sep 10, 2014 in Blog | Comments Off on Death Education, Lecture II, Part 1

Death Education, Lecture II, Part 1

Arguments for the existence of the soul ~

Physicalism vs. Dualism

In the following, Shelly dives into exactly what it means to be a physicalist as a opposed to a dualist as it corresponds to the idea that a soul exists; whether it be dissolved at the time of death or continue to exist even after death.

Watch Shelly Kagan’s Death Education for death philosophies below:

Shelly describes the physicalist view as being quite similar to what an inanimate object would be like (car, a piece of chaulk, or a chair) except that the body is “P” functioning which means that it’s able to think and act by being controlled with the mind.  Most physicalists will agree that there should be nothing to0 mysterious about a death.  The body is either broken or damaged by outside sources until it can no longer function, and thus shuts down, or it lives out it’s longevity and starts breaking down on it’s own.

One of the biggest questions in the lecture: “Should we believe in the existence of the soul?”  or in other words.  Is there a good reason for us to believe in the existence of the soul?

Dualists would say yes, orfcourse.

The dualist view will argue its existence based on the fact that there are no proven theories to show otherwise.  We have developed pretty decent theories in other realms, and yet, a theory about the existence of the soul has not yet been developed.  (He gives the example of how we believe in atoms, because of the Atomic Theory.)  Another main reason for a dualist view is the belief in free will, and how humans must have something outside of ourselves controlling the body, because we as human beings do think, feel and act in ways no other material can.

Do you feel like you can prove, or disprove that we have a soul?  How would one start putting a theory in place to argue for it’s existence?

Griefwalker (2012) by Tim Wilson

Posted by on Jul 30, 2014 in Blog, Grief Support Resources | Comments Off on Griefwalker (2012) by Tim Wilson

Griefwalker (2012) by Tim Wilson

T his documentary is filmed over the course of 12 years and follows a gentleman by the name of Stephen Jenkinson who is a Harvard grad as well as a palliative care counselor for families.  The film explores the questions about life and death, and what it means to embrace both for a healthy spirit.  Jenkinson is a man of philosophy and nature and is often shown appreciating the world as he paddles through waters in a canoe he built himself, while gazing and commenting on the beauty he sees.

One of my favorite quotes from Mr. Jenkinson is as follows: “The cradle of your love of life, is the fact that it ends.”    Jenkinson also touches on Western culture and some of the fears of death that many of us have in our society today.  He is often shown giving lectures at the university and they are often centered on being in tune to one’s own death.

I would recommend Griefwalker to anyone as an inspiring, thoughtful film for those who struggle with their own thoughts and feelings about death and dying.  While watching this, be prepared to encounter life changing questions without necessarily finding all the answers.


See the trailer for Griefwalker below:

How to Cope with the Death of a Friend

Posted by on Jul 22, 2014 in Blog, Profiles of Healing | Comments Off on How to Cope with the Death of a Friend

How to Cope with the Death of a Friend

8 pieces of advice to help you with this huge loss in your life.

Losing a friend can be just as sorrowful as losing a close family member.  But how do we express this?  Below are some key ways to cope with the loss of a special friend in your life.  (From PBS’s Next Avenue, on July 16th, 2014)

Maya Angelou honored before death at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery

Posted by on Jul 16, 2014 in Articles in the News, Blog | Comments Off on Maya Angelou honored before death at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery


Oprah was present and payed tribute to Maya on this special day.  Read about it heremaya

“A Short Guide to a Happy Life” author Anna Quindlen

Posted by on Oct 15, 2013 in Book Reviews | Comments Off on “A Short Guide to a Happy Life” author Anna Quindlen

“A Short Guide to a Happy Life” author Anna Quindlen


As a novelist and bestseller of other works, Anna Quindlen has come up with her way of showing us how she has kept a happy, nourished life, appreciating what is important and making good works a necessity for fulfillment. She uses captivating visuals and inspirational quotes such as “No man ever said on his death bed I wish I had spent more time at the office” (Senator Paul Tsongas) and “Life is what happens when you are busy making plans” (John Lennon) to inspire us to see the light in us and around us.
In her own past experiences with death, including her mom’s passing of ovarian cancer when Anne was the age of 19, she’s come to know that life can be short, unexpected, and it’s important to enjoy the view around and make the most out of every moment possible.  Accomplishments are based on these moments, not our time at the office, what we own, what our degree says, or how much we get paid.
I would recommend this book for anyone who is soul searching and could use a little inspiration.  It is possible for everyone to be happy, by just being ourselves.
Posted by Jill Badell

KC Chorale offers message of comfort

Posted by on May 28, 2013 in Profiles of Healing | Comments Off on KC Chorale offers message of comfort


Ensemble closes season with a thoughtful meditation on dying

There are many approaches to the concept of mortality, from John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud” to Dylan Thomas’ exhortation to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

At the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend, the Kansas City Chorale presented a viewpoint of meditative introspection and gentle release. This multiple Grammy Award-winning ensemble, conducted by artistic director Charles Bruffy, ended its 31st season on Friday evening with a concert in Helzberg Hall.

The performance utilized the hall’s magnificent Casavant organ. Jan Kraybill, who is conservator of the instrument and therefore particularly familiar with it, opened with Marcel Dupré’s virtuosic solo Prelude and Fugue in G minor, Op. 7, No. 3.

The work began pianissimo, with muted yet continuously complex lines under a sustained melody played on the pedals. There was a hint of foreboding density, and she unleashed the pipes during the fugue, ending with an awesome final cadence.

The remainder of the program consisted of works for chorus and organ from 20th-century composers who looked to sacred and historical traditions for their inspiration. The ensemble was in the choir loft for the first two pieces, under the impressive backdrop of the organ’s pipes.

Arvo Pärt’s “The Beatitudes” had a quiet, almost treacherous, opening, with a deceptively simple melody of repeated intervals and resonant dissonances. The low, sustained tones of the organ accompaniment broke into a joyful coda after the chorus’s climactic “amen.”

Benjamin Britten set the work of 18th-century poet Christopher Smart, written while he was in an insane asylum for religious mania, for “Rejoice in the Lamb.” A variety of emotions and personalities emerged in the piece, ranging from jubilant to plaintive, rousing to pensive, aided by the soloists’ sincere interpretations.

The final portion of the concert featured Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem. He based the work on the chants of the Gregorian Requiem Mass but combined these with polyphonic techniques, lustrous, shimmering harmonies and long, elegant stresses on the text.

The ensemble presented the work beautifully, especially the Sanctus and Lux Aeterna. Bryan Taylor and Julia Scozzafava offered passionate, pleading solos.

The work, while dramatic in moments, avoided a traumatic treatment to the Day of Judgment, instead offering a contemplative approach by considering death as eternal rest, not punishment.

Following in this theme, the performance ended with an encore of René Clausen’s “Set Me As a Seal,” emphasizing the text “love is strong as death,” an encouraging send-off sentiment.

Deathiquette—-By Merrily Jackson

Posted by on Mar 28, 2013 in Blog | 1 comment

Reposted from the KC Spaces March 2013 issue



Illustration by Brian Justice

Five Grief-Assuaging Foods

At sad times, food is love. Here are some dishes you easily can put together and take to a grieving friend’s house in their time of need. Most freeze beautifully; all have universal appeal. Consider including the serving dish as part of the package, so the bereaved needn’t concern themselves with returning your stuff.

Spaghetti Pie. I use the fabulous recipe from Beyond Parsley. Kids love the novelty of this dish (It’s spaghetti! It’s pie!) and its Italian flavor is popular with grown-ups, too.

King Ranch Chicken Casserole. A rich and creamy Tex-Mex favorite that will fortify a family for at least a couple of meals.

Brisket with Prunes. Delicious served at room temperature and can be eaten over the course of several days. Make this recipe or visit one of our area’s fabulous barbecue establishments and buy a smoked brisket with sides.

A Spiral Ham and Potato Salad. The ham is quick to procure and can be used in many ways, from hot dinners to sandwiches to casseroles.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Globs from Ina Garten’s new book, Barefoot Contessa Foolproof. If anything can stave off the tears (for a little while, anyway) it’s these chewy, nutty hunks of chocolate heaven.

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Merrily Jackson

My father died very unexpectedly when I was a senior in college. He was 54, which seemed old then but now strikes me as shockingly young. On the evening following his death, my six siblings and I were at the dinner table with our newly widowed mother, sundry relatives and friends. The phone rang. The room fell silent as my mom answered: a telephone solicitor, asking for my dad. In her perkiest, most cordial (think Sue Ann Nivens) tone, my mom replied “He’s dead at the moment.”

That rejoinder is now a piece of family lore, and an example of how our clan, like many others, uses humor to manage sadness.

Of course, the joking didn’t mean we weren’t heartbroken. But it made everyone feel better. At such times only the nearest to the departed are allowed any sort of jest. Attempts at humor would have been tasteless coming from any of the sundry relatives and friends.

Here are some ways to be truly helpful when there is a death in the immediate family of a close friend.

Listening is Job One

Never under any circumstances say “he is in a better place” or “at least she didn’t suffer.” You will not provide comfort, only trivialize the loss. In the direct aftermath of a death, your job as a friend is first to utter a heartfelt “I’m so sorry” and then fermez la bouche. Your bereaved friend may want you simply to listen to his or her expressions of shock or grief or memories of the loved one. It’s helpful to come mentally prepared with a few positive memories of your own to share, if it seems appropriate within the conversation. This can be of particular value if your friend is preparing the eulogy.

Step Up to the Plate

The most thoughtful thing you can do, other than listen, is help your friend prepare for the onslaught of condolence visitors and out-of-town family. You will likely hear nothing if you issue an empty “let me know if I can do anything to help.” If you sincerely want to assist, offer something specific. The list of possibilities is endless. Volunteer for airport runs. Make your guest room available for visitors from out of town. Hire the Merry Maids to spiff up your friend’s house. Take her or him shopping for attractive funeral attire. Provide transportation to the service for elderly family members.

Never think that the bereaved are too grief-stricken to notice who attends to such duties. They notice.

“She Would Have Wanted Everybody to Eat”

Post-funeral gatherings can be wonderful, bittersweet affairs, full of tears, laughter, memory-sharing. But the immediate family often is not in an event-planning state of mind. Responsibility rests with friends and family who have a talent for such things to put together a gathering that feels intimate and hospitable, that honors the deceased and will be comforting to the bereaved family in the difficult months ahead. If you are a good planner, this is your time to discreetly step up and help organize the provision of ample food and drink.

Friends and neighbors likely will bring lovingly prepared food, which might be used for a potluck-style funeral repast but may need to be held back for the family, who will need sustenance in the days ahead. (In the sidebar above I have ideas for easy-to-freeze casseroles and meals that will provide solace to grieving families.)

You could consider serving carry-in barbecue, having the meal fully catered, or presenting a buffet featuring the warehouse club’s finest. When my sweet mother-in-law died several years ago, we hosted the post-funeral repast at our house. I called Party Personnel (913-451-0218,, who supplied an extremely capable bartender and two waiters. We served a HoneyBaked Ham and an assortment of salads, sides and sweets from Costco, presented on my prettiest platters.

Host a Dinner for Out-of-Towners

When my husband’s sister Claudine died last fall, a contingent of my St. Louis family came to Kansas City for the funeral, an enormous comfort to Jim and me. After the service, burial, post-funeral reception at a restaurant on the Plaza, and post-reception reception at our house, some dear friends hosted a casual pizza dinner for my family—the entire rowdy lot of us—at their home, an invitation deeply appreciated by all. This is the sort of gesture one never forgets.

I don’t, by the way, recommend a restaurant for a post-funeral gathering, as it is not an ideal backdrop for the bursts of feeling that such occasions produce. Laughter through tears may be your favorite emotion, but better to display it in a private home than a public establishment.

Thank You, Mark Zuckerberg

Say what you will about Facebook and what a time-waster it is, but FB has helped me learn of several deaths about which I might not otherwise have known. When I lost my precious mom last January, I posted a link to her St. Louis Post Dispatch obituary on my Facebook page; it felt like an okay thing to do. I felt genuinely consoled by the empathetic comments that immediately popped up from people who don’t know me well enough to send me a note through the post. And I was touched when a few friends shared the obit on their Facebook pages. I felt like it honored my mom’s memory.

Always send a handwritten note when a true friend (as distinct from an FB friend) loses a loved one.

Bring it Up

Sometimes people don’t know what to say, so they say nothing. An “I was so sorry to hear of your loss” is always appropriate. My friends who have gone through the agony of losing a child would tell you they love to talk about their child, to hear his or her name spoken, to keep their baby’s memory alive. But people tiptoe around the topic of the child, afraid to be hurtful. Never hesitate to share a positive memory, and let them know you would love to hear theirs.

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