Alumni Spotlight: Tara Sroka
1. What drew you to the Integrative Thanatology Certificate program at the Open Center?
The 2013 death of my mother changed the course of my life, and I was on a journey to find meaning in her death as well as to find more purpose in my life. Witnessing her death made me realize I needed to do more with my life, which is why I enrolled in the Thanatology course. When I registered for the program, I knew I wanted to help people face their fears of dying since I know firsthand how paralyzing fear could be. Fear can fill us with doubt and regret and can limit our growth to move forward, which is some of what I felt after losing my Mom. I was lost and looking for a path, which I found over time through my personal studies as well as through the certificate program.
2. What made this program more appealing than others you considered?
I was first introduced to the program at the Art of Dying conference in 2017, and I just knew I had to participate in order to learn from such great death educators and practitioners. It’s a program that is unlike any other I have seen as its super unique and robust in the topics covered.
One key element that makes this course so special is having it take place over one weekend a month and spanning over six months. This allowed for rich conversations and deep friendships and bonds to be made with fellow students, alumni and even the facilitators and presenters.
3. What did this training mean to/for you, personally and or professionally?
I started the class feeling lost and by the end I left feeling empowered. I had a clearer direction of what I wanted to do with my life and career as well a feeling of my true calling. Since taking the Integrated Thanatology Certificate Program I started my own end of life planning business, Bringing Death into Life to help a younger demographic plan for the future and open the dialogue about death. I believe by having these types of honest conversations, we can lessen the fear and bring death awareness to the public. Hopefully in doing this we can help our society deal with our own mortality better and possibly handle losses in our lives in a healthier way.
I try to make death, dying, and ‘what-happens-after’ planning an enjoyable and creative process for my clients to benefit from. To think about death helps you live! I am forever grateful to the Art of Dying Institute for offering this program and highly encourage anyone interested in learning more about death and dying to enroll in this course.
4. Share one or two of the highlights of your experience in the program.
During the six months training, I think the most valuable highlight was meeting so many wonderful, like-minded, open and wonderful people — from follow classmates to presenters with whom I still keep in touch and I’m honored to call friends and colleagues.
Secondly, the program gave me a wide view of the many options and ideas available in the death care field that I wasn’t even aware of. I was only familiar with the “traditional” funeral and didn’t think much about the things we did or didn’t do when it came to death. I went with the flow and didn’t question things until now. This course helped me to think and see things differently, which has helped me grow as a human and as a death educator with so much more knowledge.
5. How important was the class and alumni community to your experience?
I tend to be more of a quiet observer so for most of the class I stayed on the sidelines until towards the end of our journey together. Since I was on a self-discovery mission and was feeling confused and lost, I isolated myself more than I should have. I finally started to feel more at ease and gave myself permission to interact with people which in hindsight I should have done sooner but fear again was holding me back. When I finally let in my fellow classmates, we formed a special and sacred bond where we could hold space for each other and give support. Learning, discussing and confronting death takes time and a safe space.
6. What would you say to someone who is considering taking this program?
If you are thinking about it but are being held back by fear, the time commitment and finances don’t let that stop you if this is really calling to you. Those were all the things that almost made me not enroll in the course but then I listened to my intuition and took the leap of faith, which was a blessing. Take the plunge if this program speaks to your soul, heart and passion.
Tara Sroka is an End of Life Planner and founder of Bringing Death Into Life, a business breaking the taboo of talking about death by bringing death into life. Tara is a member of the Association for Death Education and Counseling as well as a member and current facilitator of the Art of Dying Threshold Circle, a forum for advocates and practitioners committed to improving experiences in death and dying.