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Marilyn Hagerty: UND researcher looks at how we face death

Dear Dave McFarlane,

I don't know how it is down in Florida, but here in Grand Forks spring starts with the rhubarb festival at University Lutheran Church. Summer ends with the apple fest at First Presbyterian Church. And that's coming up this Saturday.

I know you are among the many people who choose to get away to the sunshine in Florida from time to time. Others start thinking this time of year of the sunshine and desert of Arizona.


Well, since my sister Shirley died down in Tucson, I have settled for staying home. I like to sit around on Cottonwood Street and say, "We stay here because we like it here."

UND band concert

With the University of North Dakota here, Grand Forks is a place for all ages. All year long. Tonight, for instance, there's a UND band concert at 8 p.m. in the Chester Fritz. It's conducted by Dr. James Popejoy and will feature the wind ensemble.

Then there is all kinds of research and studies always under way at UND.

Just recently I was reading research showing that males are more likely to "die" and females are more likely to "pass away."

When I found that in the fine print explaining a study by a UND psychology professor, I was puzzled. When I took my questions to Professor Ric Ferraro, I found reasons for his study. A study that will be published in the journal Death Studies.

You see, Professor Ferraro teaches about death and dying in his psychology classes on adulthood and aging. While the subject might seem morbid, he says, "You can't avoid things like death."

And he notes there is an explosion of old people worldwide.

Still, there is not a large number of students going into geriatrics. Many in his classes are studying nursing, occupational therapy or biology. Not many are thinking of retirement or aging.

Reads obituaries

In his teaching of ageism and death, Professor Ferraro has found obituary notices are less direct and less emotional in language used for females than for males. In a total of 703 consecutive obituaries in the Grand Forks Herald, he found that males were more likely to "die." Females were more likely to "pass away."

The findings are part of Professor Ferraro's research on gender differences.

He says his class members generally are not concerned about death or aging. They may be thinking more about the next hockey game.

Still, the professor believes there is a need to train them to be ready for the trends in adulthood and aging.

Words differ

You may know Professor Ferraro since you get in and out of Grand Forks regularly.

Professor Ferraro appears to be the first to show how words differ on whether the deceased is male or female. Future studies should continue to expand on the way gender is impacted and how society deals with death.

Well, I guess death and taxes are always with us. The more we understand things, I guess the better we will be.

Best regards and greetings to your family from the west bank of the Red River of the north.

Your friend, Marilyn, watching the river go north and the geese going south.