Jin Mo-young’s film My Love, Don't Cross that River documents the final years of a South Korean couple, 89-year-old Kang Gye-Yeol and 98-year-old Jo Byeong-Man, who have been married for 76 years. The film, which follows the couple over 15 months, explores the complex and often challenging experience of growing old and facing death.
Through Kang Gye-Yeol and Jo Byeong-Man’s story, students will compare traditions, beliefs and rituals across cultures and generations and reflect on their own attitudes toward aging and death.
One 50-minute class period, with homework
- Explore how we learn and talk about death
- Describe how death is represented in popular media
- Compare attitudes toward and traditions for death and dying across cultures
- Understand perceptions, beliefs and traditions related to death and dying in their own community and how these attitudes and rituals have changed over time
Prep for Teachers
Discussing Sensitive Issues:
This lesson focuses on social and cultural responses to aging, death and dying. Educators and facilitators are strongly encouraged to review all of the materials, activities and film clips to be sure the topic and lesson are appropriate for your curriculum and students.
At the teacher’s discretion, a preliminary discussion with the class may be advisable, and/or it may be advisable to identify students who might be personally or adversely affected by this material. Some students may not be open to talking about death and/or may have recently experienced the death of a loved one. Teachers should consult with school counselors, social workers and/or administrators to provide students with support or the option of not participating in the lesson where appropriate.
• Film clips from My Love, Don’t Cross that River and equipment on which to show them
• Student Handouts
Student Handout A: Viewing Notes
Student Handout B: Comparing Cultural Traditions
1. Death as Part of Life
In this activity, students will examine how we learn about death and how issues surrounding death and dying are represented in the media.
Popcorn Discussion: When students arrive, have the following sentence written on the board: Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it. Have students think about the sentence, then rewrite it in their own words.
When students are ready to share, explain that, after you say, “popcorn,” students can quickly and voluntarily pop up from their chairs one at a time to read their responses.
Facilitator tip: Ask two to four volunteers to help take notes during the sharing session and help lead the discussion by identifying common ideas, interpretations and themes.
• Do you agree with the quote? Why or why not?
• Why is it difficult for many of us to think or talk about aging and death?
• Where do we learn about issues like aging, death and grief? (For example: family, friends, community, media.)
• In what ways might attitudes about aging and death differ during different stages of life?
• In your experience, are your peers’ feelings about these issues the same as those of elderly members of your community?
Think-Pair-Share: Give students a few minutes to think and free-write in response to the following prompt: What is an example of a movie, television show or book that depicts death and grief in a way that you found constructive or helpful? What about an example that you didn’t find constructive or helpful?
Divide the class into pairs or small groups and have them share their examples and discuss why they selected them. Have volunteers share their responses with the class and record notable ideas, words and phrases on the board. Discuss: Based on these examples, what conclusions could we draw about our own attitudes toward death and dying?
2. Crossing the River
In this activity, students will view clips from the documentary My Love, Don’t Cross that River and discuss how it depicts the characters’ personal and cultural attitudes about loss and grief.
Explain: Today we will watch excerpts from the film My Love, Don't Cross that River, a documentary that follows the story of an elderly couple in South Korea—89-year-old Kang Gye-Yeol and 98-year-old Jo Byeong-Man—who have been together for over 76 years.
Distribute one copy of Student Handout A to each student and instruct them to use the worksheet to note behaviors, traditions and beliefs that demonstrate the couple’s personal and cultural attitudes about death, dying and grief.
Play Clips 1, 2 and 3 and follow with a class discussion using the following prompts as needed:
• What surprised you most about the couple’s story and relationship?
• What traditions and rituals related to the deaths of her dog, children and husband did Kang Gye-Yeol talk about and demonstrate?
• What was the significance of these traditions? What do they tell us about the couple’s culture and how they view death?
• How might the couple’s age influence their attitudes toward death?
• Did Kang have the same attitude toward the loss of her young children as she did toward her own and her partner’s deaths? What were the similarities and differences?
• How did their cultural traditions and rituals help them during their periods of grief and loss?
• When Jo Byeong-Man gets sick, the doctor does not treat him because he is “too old.” Who do you think should make decisions about whether or not to pursue treatment for the very elderly, spouses, children or the patients themselves?
3. Comparing Cultural Traditions
In this activity, students will participate in dynamic discussion groups to compare the couple’s response to death and grief with their own.
Organize the class into groups of four to six students and explain: In this activity, we will compare the couple’s response to death and grief with our own traditions and attitudes as discussed earlier in the lesson.
Distribute one copy of Student Handout B to each student and instruct them to use the worksheets to take their own notes throughout the activity. Have the groups begin by discussing the following questions:
• How are the couple’s attitudes toward and traditions surrounding death and grief similar to/different from your own?
• How do these traditions and rituals help us cope us during times of grief and loss?
Once every member of the group has contributed to the conversation, ask half of the students from each group to move to a different group while the rest remain where they are. Have the reshuffled groups discuss the following questions:
• What influences our personal attitudes and traditions about grief and death? (For example: family, friends, community, media.)
• How is the film’s depiction of death and grief similar to/different from other depictions you have seen (including the example you selected for Activity 1)?
Again, ask half of the students from each group move to a different group while the rest remain where they are. Have the new groups discuss the following question:
• What is the benefit of talking about death and understanding and sharing our responses to it?
Have students return to their original groups and ask for one volunteer from each group to share and discuss their responses with the class.
Review and discuss the lesson with the class:
• What new ideas and/or information did you encounter through this film and lesson?
• In what ways, if any, did Jo and Kang’s story influence your own attitudes toward death and dying?
Conclude the lesson with a brief journaling activity in response to the following prompt: If you could, how would you improve the depictions of death and grief in film, television, books and other media?
5. Homework: Sharing Across Generations
How does your family/community address grief and loss, and what role does age play in our relationship to death and dying?
Have students interview elder members of their community to compare attitudes about death and grief across generations. Have students prepare their questions in advance using the following prompts for guidance and then share their interviews with the class in the form of an audio/video oral history, blog, slideshow or essay:
• What was your earliest experience with loss and grief and how did you respond?
• What rituals and traditions did you participate in then, and how have these practices changed over the years?
• Have your feelings about death and dying changed over the years? If so, in what ways?
• If you could go back in time and share one insight or piece of advice about death and grief with your younger self, what would it be?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of people over the age of 65 will increase from 13 percent in 2010 to 20 percent by 2030 (to approximately 70 million people). This shift is driven by two factors: 1) increased longevity in the United States and 2) the baby boom generation aging. Have students research the effects on society and culture as a large generation reaches retirement age, as well as how this shift might influence our attitudes toward aging, death and grief.
• United States Census Bureau: https://www.census.gov/
• Population Reference Bureau: http://www.prb.org/
• Population Reference Bureau: “Fact Sheet: Aging in the United States”: http://www.prb.org/Publications/Media-Guides/2016/aging-unitedstates-fact-sheet.aspx
There are many programs that offer support for adults and youth experiencing grief and loss, but people are often unaware that these resources are available. Organize students into research groups and have them identify local youth resources that help with loss and grief. Groups should compare at least two organizations’ missions and programs and evaluate the resources each provides for the youth they serve. Each group can share its research with the class and collaboratively create fliers, booklets and/or web pages to raise awareness throughout the school community.
Ageism and Stereotypes
Age is a relative measure of biological development and time, yet attitudes toward aging and the elderly can be complex and fraught with negative stereotypes. Have students examine their own attitudes about older people and consider the similarities between how teenagers and the elderly are negatively stereotyped. They should also explore how negative attitudes about aging influence public policy, health, careers and social programs. Finally, have students consider how ageism relates to other biases, such as racism and sexism, and how ageist attitudes affect us as we get older.
The film’s official POV site includes a discussion guide with additional activity ideas and resources.
This list of questions provides a useful starting point for leading rich discussions that challenge students to think critically about documentaries.
This coalition of organizations provides services for and information about the aging population in the United States.
The website of the National Institute on Aging, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides information on resources and services for older adults.
This U.N. program aims to raise awareness about the global situation of older persons and increase recognition of human rights for older persons.