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Rev. Dr. Martha R. Jacobs Headshot

A Case for Watching Time of Death

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Last Friday night, I decided to spend an hour watching people who were dealing with their dying. I watched a show called Time of Death, a Showtime documentary. It reminded me of Bill Moyers' On Our Own Terms, Moyers on Dying, a series that PBS aired in 2000. While the Showtime producers think that they are carving new ground, Moyers and PBS made that ground fertile with On Our Own Terms.

I believe that people should watch Time of Death because it will hopefully take away some of the fear and mystery of dying and death. Hopefully it will also engender conversations between loved ones about what their wishes are as to how they want their body treated as they near the end of their life.

I have written a lot about this in my years of blogging for HuffPost, and I believe with all my heart that dying is "easier" for both the person who is dying and their loved ones when they can have open and honest conversations about dying and death and what they want and don't want done to their body as they near the end of life. These conversations make decisions that have to be made, much, much easier on those who have to make those decisions, as studies have shown.

It also enables the one who is dying and their loved ones to talk about the important things -- to say to each other the things that they want to say and to be able to have some control over the process -- especially since we don't usually have control over how our body is shutting down and how an underlying disease is affecting our body. Being able to control who you talk with about what, does give some sense of control. We human beings love control and when we lose it, it is very hard for us to cope, and we all cope with it differently. In the first episode of Time of Death, one person chooses when she is going to tell her family members about the results of her latest round of tests. She tells them when she is ready to, even though that might mean a time of agony for her family. She does it on her own terms, which is so wonderfully displayed in Moyers' On Our Own Terms.

We sometimes do have choices about how we die. We may not know when, we may not know the details until we have been diagnosed with whatever is affecting our body, but we can know ahead of time how we want to be treated. If we don't know our options before something like this happens, we can't made that educated decision. My colleague, Dr G., knew what awaited him when he was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer and chose how he wanted to "manage" his dying (see my last blog posting).

We don't always have the luxury of being able to manage our death, but there are options other than aggressive treatment that may be more appropriate for us -- depending on whether quality of life or quantity of life is more important to us. And that answer will be different for each one of us -- hence our need to talk about what our preferences are, so if/when something does happen, we are not starting from nothing -- we are able to hear not only about aggressive options, but can know to ask, "What about palliative care" or "What about hospice care" -- or.... An educated consumer is the most "satisfied" consumer. So, watch Time of Death, watch On Our Own Terms, Moyers on Dying. Arm yourself and be as prepared as you can be -- because there is a 100 percent death rate in our world.