Talking about death comes easy for Adam Taylor, so enrolling in the honours thanatology program at King’s University College as a mature student seemed like the “perfect fit.”
He did, however, struggle with the end of his marriage, and an alcohol addiction. But there, the program also aligned, helping him overcome both on his journey to complete his degree.
Taylor feels his comfort in discussing death and dying dials back to trauma he experienced as a toddler.
Although he doesn’t recall the details around the event, it “really affected my outlook,” he said. “Most people look at the world and see a good, happy place where some bad things happen. I’m the opposite. I see a bad, unhappy place, where good things happen.”
Appreciating the finality of life is also what fuels his desire to help others move forward after loss.
“When I discovered I could talk about difficult subjects where others couldn’t, I realized it was unique, and it was something I can use to make a difference,” Taylor said.
While discussing death never bothered him, the loss he felt during and after his divorce in his second year of school did.
“It was the worst experience of my life,” he said. “It was really rough and there wasn’t a lot of support outside of my family,” he said.
Taylor’s unresolved pain over the end of his marriage, and his fiancé’s urging, led him to explore divorce and loss in depth as an independent study project in his final year at King’s.
His findings reaffirmed his experience, showing he wasn’t alone in his lack of support.
“Divorce is a disenfranchised loss, which means it’s a loss society doesn’t see as valid,” Taylor said. “You’re not really allowed to grieve it, even though it is a terrible thing.”
Taylor hopes to help change that by furthering the qualitative research he conducted in professor Carrie Arnold’s Loss Lab. Under Arnold’s mentorship, he talked with people about their marriages ─ how they started, how they ended ─ and how they found their way through.
“It’s disheartening to hear a lot of these stories,” Taylor said, “But, hearing how people can grow and find meaning afterwards, makes it worthwhile.”
Arnold said Taylor’s understanding and empathy from his own loss proved to be his greatest strength. “Adam has really embraced an ability to integrate theory and practice, as well as his personal experience. It has allowed him to be very successful in managing the hustle and the muscle that goes with this work.”
Taylor wants to focus his future research on the impact divorce and loss has on children.
“Children don’t get any agency of their own, they don’t get to make any decisions. Nobody speaks up for kids. When I had my trauma as a child, there was no support for me, there was nothing. The feeling was, ‘children bounce back,’ but children don’t bounce back. They can get over stuff easier than adults because they’re still growing and learning, but 10, 20 years down the road, that’s where problems happen.“
Future in social work
Taylor’s since come to terms with his own divorce, through hard work and the growth he’s experienced studying thanatology.
“It’s a program about loss and death and grief, but really, to learn about that, you must also learn about life and living. It teaches you how to be a better person, allowing you to deal with those tougher emotions and situations.
“When I started here four years ago, I was alcoholic,” he said. “You can look at my grades and see they were affected, and the drinking, definitely played a part in the end of my marriage.”
Once Taylor’s marriage was over, he quit drinking altogether. He’s been sober ever since.
“You go through something like that and you don’t like who you see in the mirror,” he said. “You either have to change or stop looking in the mirror. There was no other choice, I wanted to be a better person.”
Witnessing transformations such as Taylor’s is one thing Arnold loves most about teaching in what is Canada’s only undergraduate degree program in thanatology.
“We see some students embrace a different life,” she said. “Adam has really stepped into that wholeheartedly with all of who he is. His level of commitment and dedication to wanting to be a better person is profoundly evident to all of us in this program.”
Taylor hopes to become a counsellor, with plans to return to King’s in the coming years to earn his master’s in social work. His drive to help others find solace after suffering is palpable. And his message to those fighting their own inner battles is clear.
“When people say, ‘You’re not worth it or you’re an alcoholic, a drug user and you’ll never amount to anything,’ that’s just not true. You can overcome it. You can get past it and do great things,” Taylor said.