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The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

City College psychology professor embraces the juxtaposition of life, death
The Rodda North building can be found on the north west side of City College campus. Evan E. Duran | [email protected]

You are going to die. Everyone you know will die. Death is inevitable.

Such beliefs about death are covered by City College psychology professor Paula Nandi Szabo in her Psychology of Death and Dying course. Szabo discusses ideas and behaviors about death and dying, and even includes a field trip to a cemetery, a funeral home, and sometimes, an actual funeral. However, as her rhinestone skull earrings might suggest, she’s not as morbid about the subject as you would think.

“The more we are informed about death, the more we are informed about life,” says Szabo in her soothing, gentle voice. “It’s a strange juxtaposition.”

Szabo’s outlook reflects in her students.

“The class wasn’t what I was expecting,” says former student Rachelle Davis. “I wasn’t expecting to gain anything from it. Death used to be scary to me, and it’s not anymore.”

In addition to teaching on the City College campus since 1997, Szabo is an expressive art therapist at Sutter Medical Center. She is also a member of the Full Circle Living and Dying Collective, where she educates the community about death and assists in planning home funerals. Szabo’s eyes light up as she speaks about the work she does. As an expressive art therapist, she says she uses the arts in various forms to help cancer patients transition from this life to the next. It’s essentially a support group with creative expression, instead of talking.

“As strange as it sounds, I have become more joyful working so closely with death,” says Szabo, with a slight smile after she struggles for a moment to find the right words to say.

Not everything in her life is death-related. Szabo also teaches other psychology classes. She teaches Psychology of Creativity, Intuition and Problem-Solving, which encourages students to use their creativity for self-expression, stress-management, personal success and problem-solving – much like in her expressive art therapy. The Heroic Journey, another of her classes, promotes an understanding of the heroic journey of everyday people.

“The Heroic Journey is so amazing. We are all on a heroic journey,” says Szabo. “It takes us out of isolation or victimization.”

Her students seem to enjoy her classes and unconventional teaching methods.

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Her colleagues admire her, as well.

“Nandi’s creativity and spirit shine through in all that she shares with her students,” says Joanne Moylan-Aube, a fellow City College psychology professor and counselor.

As positive as she is about the subject, Szabo says dealing with death on a daily basis reminds her of her own mortality.

“At 61, it’s much more in your face,” says Szabo. “I am learning how to take the concept of living in the moment and live that.”

Not surprising, Szabo has a bucket list of all the things she’d like to do before she dies.

“Do you want to know where I keep it?” she asks, then explains that she keeps it in a box meant to hold human remains.

Last summer, Szabo went to Tibet and climbed 18,000 feet in the Himalayas. She says it was the hardest, most amazing and spiritual experience she’s ever had. This was one item on her personal bucket list that she could check off.

“Now, I just have to go swim with the dolphins,” says Szabo. “If not now, when?”

Editor’s Note: This story was written by guest writer Paulina Olivares ([email protected])

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