New film highlights the good living that can occur in lead-up to death
Melbourne students offer profound insights into the opportunity for living that can occur in the lead-up to death, in a film launched today.
The film, titled ‘Embracing Life – a conversation about palliative care, death and dying’, highlights how comfortable students become discussing death and dying when given the opportunity to interact with palliative care patients and professionals.
Students from Sacred Heart Girls’ College, Oakleigh, filmed interviews while visiting Calvary Health Care Bethlehem (CHCB) regularly over one year as part of Bethlehem Schools Project.
“We are all going to end up dying and there’s just not enough people talking about it.”
Their movie features student Mimi, saying she was surprised to discover that CHCB’s palliative in-patient facility was not a place where people went to go die.
“It’s like, a place where people care about living life to its fullest; it’s definitely not what you think it would be.”
Another student, Dasha, comments on the lack of logic underpinning society’s reluctance to talk about dying.
“We have promotions and health campaigns for cancer and for all these range of illnesses and everyone always talks about them, but we don’t have anything for death,“ she says.
“Some people get cancer, but not everyone will, whereas death is inevitable. We are all going to end up dying and there’s just not enough people talking about it.”
Student Natasha says her parents initially found the project confronting, but she reassured them, saying, “I think I can do it. It’s okay. We are all going to through it [dying] one day”.
The film features insights from people receiving palliative care, students, a community palliative care nurse, music therapist, physiotherapist and CHCB CEO, Dr Jane Fischer.
Dr Fischer says the Bethlehem Schools Project is a health literacy program which aims to dispel some of the fear and stigma associated with death and dying.
A program evaluation conducted by La Trobe University found it had a profoundly positive impact on students.
“Students reported on the experience being transformative, with nearly all of them saying that they felt more self-confident and more open minded after the experience,” says Dr Fischer.
“It was heartening to hear that the students also reported having a deeper understanding and less fear of death, as well as a heightened appreciation of life as a result of their time with us.”
The evaluation also showed a positive impact stemming from classroom screenings late last year, with those viewing the film reporting the experience to be as profound as those who visited the hospital.
Our Lady of Sion College is the other school that has participated in the program over the past five years. Former student, Victoria de Lacy, told ehospice Australia she remains grateful for the experience.
“I started to see palliative care not as the dying I thought it was, but more in terms of there being a lot of living in the process of dying.
“Now, I’m not afraid of death at all. That sounds strange coming from someone in their 20s, but this project made me realise you don’t have to be afraid of what is going to happen.”
Ms de Lacy’s cohort of students published a book – This Time and Place – which includes patients’ biographies and reflections, written by students.
Ms de Lacy says researching the book helped her to realise that “in death, there is a lot of living”.
“What we were trying to show was that people working in palliative care were really helping people who were dying to make the most of their lives, and that it wasn’t the sad, sad time that you would expect.
She says while the students cried a lot, particularly while writing the book, “overall, we all benefited from it”.
She remains moved by the experience of writing up one woman’s life story.
“She was so glad her story was written, because she feared it would all be forgotten.
“That was one of the most touching moments for me, because I felt I had made a difference in her life and it made a huge a huge difference to her.”
CHCB has made the film available for interested community organisations, or schools who wish to integrate it into their curriculums from 2016. It also has trained staff and volunteers, available upon request to present the film and facilitate discussion.
For further information or to arrange a facilitator, call Sam Kelly on (03) 9595 3341.
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