Graduate Alumna Spotlight | Kaili Van Waveren, M.A. Thanatology

Kaili Van Waveren

"The thanatology program at Hood allowed me to switch careers and to redirect my time, energy, and self into something that felt meaningful"

Kaili Van Waveren, M.A. Thanatology

Graduation Year

2018

Program

  • Thanatology (C)
  • Counseling, Clinical Mental Health (M.S.)
  • Counseling, School Counseling (M.S.)

Department

  • Psychology & Counseling

Can you provide a quick bio? Any general background that you would like to share, as well as your educational and career background.

I earned a bachelor of arts from Johns Hopkins University with a double major in Writing and Anthropology. Later, I completed a Master of Arts in Thanatology at Hood College.

I am currently a Grief Counselor and the Bereavement Services Lead for Frederick Health Hospice, and recently started teaching in the Thanatology Program at Hood. Thanatology is actually a second (or third) career for me.

Prior to returning to school to purse my master’s degree, I had worked in the fashion industry. At that time, I owned a business that specialized in wardrobe curation, personal styling, and selling vintage couture. Although the business was extremely lucrative, it was not fulfilling. It was fun, but it didn’t feel like it mattered, and, in fact, at times it even felt morally ambiguous.

I decided that I wanted to do something with my life that was distinctly opposite: to serve others in a meaningful way, to enrich the lives of others, and to facilitate growth and healing.

Why did you choose Hood College Graduate School?

Originally, I was drawn to gerontology and was researching local and online graduate programs. When I was exploring the offerings at Hood, I stumbled upon the thanatology program.

For years I had been a Volunteer Coordinator for Compassion & Choices, a non-profit dedicated to ensuring self-determination at the end of life. So, thanatology was really more in line with my interests and passions than gerontology was in many ways.

The fact that the only in-classroom thanatology master’s program in the United States existed a mere five blocks from my house seemed like kismet.

How has your Hood College graduate degree helped further your career and/or your life?

The thanatology program at Hood allowed me to switch careers and to redirect my time, energy, and self into something that felt meaningful – and for that I am profoundly grateful.

I feel so fortunate for the relationships that I was able to develop with the faculty members of the thanatology and counseling programs, who not only imparted their abundant knowledge and experience, but also modeled the empathy and sensitivity necessary to do meaningful, impactful work in this field. I felt supported at every step – which is something I desperately needed as I explored what a career in thanatology might look like for me.

For example, I did not think that I had “what it takes” to be a good grief counselor. Had it not been for strong encouragement to the contrary, I probably would not have wound up in my current job, and there is nothing else I’d rather be doing. I truly could not have asked for better mentors.

What did you enjoy about Hood College? Do you have a favorite memory?

One of the things I am most grateful for during my time at Hood was that I was encouraged to pursue my academic and professional passions and interests.

During my master’s work, I had the opportunity to complete extensive research on suicide and suicide prevention. One independent study I did on suicide among 5-to 24-year-olds in the United States culminated in the opportunity to present my work at the University of Rhode Island at their URI Graduate Student Conference. It was such an exciting and novel opportunity, and further ignited both my passion for suicide research and my conviction that thanatology is a valuable field within psychology and public health.

I also had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant to two faculty members during my last year of school, and that experience not only illuminated the passion I have for educating others on grief, death, and dying, but also instilled the confidence I have leaned on in facilitating trainings and support groups in the community.

Is there any other information or personal interests you would like to share?

I am an avid runner, and in the past six months have competed in both a marathon and a triathlon. I originally first began running as a way to cope with grief after the suicide of a dear friend. Running was the only time that I felt any respite from the awful, gnawing pain of that loss, and I am certain that time of my life would have looked very different had I not found that outlet. Nearly ten years later, I can say that running has helped me through many other rough periods, and continues to be something cathartic and therapeutic.

My passion for running is also something that I’ve channeled into fundraising. Through it, I have been able to raise thousands of dollars for organizations dedicated to suicide prevention, and for Camp Jamie, Frederick Health Hospice’s camp for grieving children and adolescents.

To my mind, this personal experience is an illustration of something I try to encourage in my clients: post-traumatic growth and meaning-making. Through grief, I discovered a way to enhance myself, and turn my experience of loss into something meaningful. I don’t think that most of us will ever arrive at a satisfying answer as to “why” our loved one died, but we can find meaningful ways to say “because”; because of this terrible loss, positive things have happened, that would not have otherwise. Identifying these things doesn’t mitigate the pain of our loss, but it can help us to heal and to move forward in a meaningful way.

Inspired by Kaili's story to #GOFURTHER in your studies and career? Learn more about Hood College's Thanatology graduate program by clicking here.