By Phyllis Shacter · Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Next week, I’ll join interfaith chaplain Trudy James to talk about end-of-life issues relating to her film, Speaking of Dying. The short documentary delves into discussions that raise awareness about death and dying, and, in it, I talk about how my husband was able to die a peaceful death before reaching the later stages of Alzheimer’s.
Phyllis Shacter: What is your involvement in end-of-life issues, and how did you get involved?
Trudy James: Death has shaped my adult life in many ways. My first baby died at 4 days old when I was 25; when I was 35, my father took his own life. In midlife, I felt called by my desire to be of service to become a hospital chaplain.
In 1989, as AIDS was making its devastating journey into the South, I became the director of a program that connected congregation-based teams of volunteers to people with AIDS. Over 10 years the program grew as patients, volunteers and families learned to talk about death and grief. In 1997, I moved to Seattle and developed another AIDS care program.
In 2008, I began a small business called Heartwork offering retreats, grief and loss groups, and end-of-life planning groups called A Gift for Yourself and Your Loved Ones. Over four sessions, my trainers and I use discussions, handouts and homework to raise awareness of the challenges, choices and resources that are available.
PS: Why did you make the film, Speaking of Dying?
TJ: I made the film to pass on everything I’ve learned. People are often unaware of the challenges involved in dying well, or of the resources available to them—hospice, palliative care, Voluntary Stopping Eating and Drinking (VSED), and the Washington State Death with Dignity Law. Ultimately, I made the film because I knew it was possible for people to have better deaths.
PS: What is the film about?
TJ: The film uses compelling interviews and stories from a variety of patients, family members and health care professionals to show the value in speaking openly about death. It is ultimately about overcoming the fear of death; if they can overcome their fear and speak more openly, their lives will be better.
PS: Who needs to view the documentary?
TJ: Everyone over 18 needs to have a written Advance Health Directive, or the health care system has the legal right to make decisions for them in a crisis. I believe the film will interest people of all ages—younger people thinking of their parents and grandparents, Baby Boomers concerned about future health issues, and those of advanced years who need to update their planning and support their current wishes.
PS: How can professionals—such as therapists, doctors and lawyers— use it in their work with clients?
TJ: Professionals can have their clients watch it. The film and its accompanying resource guide provide illustrations and vocabulary to encourage people to think deeply about their own questions, desires and hopes. After viewing the film, they will be able to speak more easily about end-of-life issues.
PS: What matters most about the film to you personally?
TJ: The film and those involved in it represent all the things that matter to me: love, beauty, caring, connections and trust. Most satisfying is having the film seen widely; it sparks conversations, and end-of-life planning groups. The film is my legacy, a culmination of all my years of work. It is my privilege to offer it to the public.