Not since Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s “On Death and Dying” with its study of the five stages of grief or Ernest Becker’s “The Denial of Death”, has there been such a tour-de-force depiction of the process of dying and the way that death impacts those who are left behind. This groundbreaking documentary series reminds me that many of us still have forgotten how to say goodbye and how to die. But some of us have figured out how. “Time of Death”, a six-part miniseries produced by Showtime, follows three men and five women ranging in age from nineteen to seventy-seven years. In six emotionally jarring episodes we are introduced to the final weeks, days and private last moments in a remarkably unflinching, intimate, and brutally honest way. These remarkable people face their own mortality with as much drama as a novel.
“Time of Death” also focuses on the caregivers—family, friends, hospice and other medical personnel—who understand and give of their hearts. At the end of this series many viewers will wish that they could have these supportive, brave friends and family at their deathbed. To have them be there to give a needed hug. While some viewers may be too depressed to watch the inevitability of death, and the finite nature of our lives, to me it was a hopeful and insightful portrait of the natural as well as the inevitable process of the end of life. Some of the dying are sweet and eccentric, others closed and struggling to come to terms with their end. Nicolle, a 19-year-old dying of melanoma, perhaps is the most gut-wrenching: a teenager who cannot believe—like anyone so young—that she is at the end of an all-too-brief life. Her parents and little sisters, especially the six-year old, are heroic in their understanding of what Nicolle is going through.
The series, most of all, reveals how aware children and teens can be when it comes to death. Witnessing these vulnerable moments, we watch as the dying learn to keep on loving when they are afraid, to keep on making it through another day, to forgive themselves and others as they surrender to the inevitable, and to let go. The miniseries is compelling and haunting, even harrowing at times, especially since we know each of these eight people’s lives are coming to an end. Yet “Time of Death” is also surprising. It made me feel like a privileged guest with something to learn from each scene. A gift.
[“Time of Death” will be available soon on Netflix and is downloadable from the Showtime website.]