Wednesday evening, Cool Hand Luc’s will play host to the Fort Myers premiere of a documentary co-produced by local WGCU and HealthyState.org reporter, Farah Dosani. Farah and HealthyState.org Executive Editor, Jennifer Molina, worked collaboratively to explore the personal and often emotional stories that end-of-life caretakers can face. The result is a thirty minute documentary that will air on public television stations statewide and is being screened in different locations around the state. The Fort Myers screening begins at 7:30 PM and will be followed by a panel discussion. The event is expected to wrap up around 9:00 PM. I spent some time emailing Farah this past week about the documentary itself; what she learned through the filmmaking process, and what audience members can expect at the screening.
Here’s what she had to say:
A: Tell me a little bit about the project; how did you get involved in this topic and why do you think it’s important to share?
Farah: life @ the end: caring in the face of loss is a documentary film for PBS and the web that shares the stories of three families caring for their terminally ill loved ones in South Florida.
The project started in the end of March – that’s when we had our spark. At the time, I had been working on a series about end-of-life care called “Facing Your Mortality.” Jenn Molina had met this woman Susanna through a mutual friend and heard her story. For two and a half years, Susanna was full-time caregiver for her partner with brain cancer. Jenn saw a potential video story for the series, but we weren’t quite sure what. We visited Susanna in Miami to flesh it out – and returned with focus: the film looks at life, death, loss, and love through the eyes of caregivers.
I got involved in issues surrounding the end of life, death, and loss after the summer of 2008. My grandfather had become ill that May and died in August. It was the first time I had lost someone so close to me. During his illness, my mom was his primary caregiver and I was sort of a helper to her. So I witnessed someone I love deteriorate in front of me and took it very hard. That fall I took a class at school on “Death and Dying.” It forced me to confront my grief and his death – and the issue in general. It was one the best things that ever happened to me.
This topic and these stories are important to share. Death and loss are often shunned out of sight. No one wants to talk about it. Medicine deems it as the enemy. Of course we want to prevent those things if possible. But our film talks about instances when that’s not really in their hands anymore. So the subjects in the documentary confront that. They confront the mortality of their loved ones and themselves. By thinking about death and loss, it also compels us to think about life. We hope people take away that important message after watching the film.
A: Death is a fairly serious subject for a lot of people, it’s a heavy topic and a very emotional one. Do you think focusing on “life,” especially in your title, takes away some of that emotional weight?
F: I’m sure it helps scare away fewer people from watching the film [laughing]. I think this story sums it up quite well:
While shooting the documentary, Jenn and I had the opportunity to interview a hospice nurse. Her work is about helping individuals at the end of their lives. She told us people don’t want to hear anything about her job. They think it’s depressing or morbid. She said she can “empty a table in 5 minutes” if work is brought up.
By emphasizing life in the title, it definitely removes some of the intimidation factor. (Keeping in mind, the content of the film confronts death and loss head on.) However, our focus on life is not really about taking away the “emotional weight” of death.
The hospice nurse’s mantra was “live until you die.” What we tried to do with the title ‘life @ the end’ and the film itself was to emphasize that the ‘end of life’ is still life. And although there’s a lot of pain and sadness, there’s also a factor that makes it kind of beautiful. It’s summarized in the quote from Khalil Gibran: “Love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.” By talking about death and loss, we hope it affirms life as well as love.
A: I’m sure that you learned a lot while you were making this film. What one thing that you learned would you like to tell an audience member who will be viewing it for the first time? Why did this information have an impact on you?
F: I would tell an audience member to never underestimate your own emotional, physical, and mental strength or what you can handle. Each person we spoke with in the documentary had this sense of resilience in the face of tragedy (or potential tragedy). They were able to find strength (often some they didn’t know they had) in really hard times. That resonated with me a lot. I saw that in my own parents, family, and friends (and even myself) who have cared for and lost someone close to them.
A: What sort of panel experts can we expect to meet at the screening? Are they all local? Were any involved in the making of the film?
F: All the panel members are from Southwest Florida:
Farah Dosani (myself!)
Co-producer of the film
Social worker who heads the Q-Life/Palliative Care program at Lee Memorial Health System; she works with patients and their families who are terminally ill
Caregiver to her mom with Alzheimer’s and one of the subjects of the film
The moderator will ask us some questions, but we really want to hear from those who attended. The subjects in our film range from age 16 to 81 – so the issues are universal and relevant. We’re hoping to get people from all generations to come out to the film, ask questions, and share their thoughts.
Be sure to check out the FREE documentary screening of life @ the end: caring in the face of loss at 7:30 PM, Wednesday August 24th at Cool Hand Luc’s!
–A. writer/documentary viewer