Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Lessons Learned About Death

Death is a part of life and we often want to close our eyes to the eventuality. You have those who welcome death, those who fight against it, and those who are resigned. A film maker Lee Chang-jae, a university professor of film, has made the documentary Hospice 2014, taken at a hospice managed by religious sisters. He wanted to  film the life of those who would face death, within a short period of time. Although not a Catholic he selected the Mohyon Hospice because of the atmosphere.

The Catholic Times has an interview with the film maker which gives us a good idea of what he learned from his experience. The first hurdle was to get permission to make the movie. The filming took 10 months; to ask permission to take pictures in such an environment required a great deal of maneuvering and sensitivity. He was able, after much talk, to convince the patients that it would be guidance for those who would come after them, a great gift, and they gave their permission.

Filming of the hour of death was difficult; it is a time for mourning  and he was with his camera. With the editing he says he was present at the death bed of at least 500 persons. Without his drinking, he said, it would not have been possible. He saw the film in the cutting room; doesn't have the courage to see it in a movie house.   

He  decided to make the film while on a 34 day pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. At that time in his life he was having some personal problems that he needed to resolve. He did not give the trip a lot of thought and packed his bag and was off. During the trip he was  systematically getting rid of his belongings. To lighten his bag he was even throwing out his soaps and  tooth paste. When he returned home he found that there were items that he hadn't even used once. In the journey of life he wonders how much do we possess that is not necessary, and makes the journey more difficult. 

If we had the opportunity to experience death it would change our priorities, our intentions would change, and we would rid ourselves of many of our attachments. He learned a great deal from the leave   taking of many. Rather choosing to be with the medical equipment is it not better to accept the values of life, and spend the time with the family in  preparation for separation?

He ended the interview with the questions asked by the doctors to the patients:  Do you want me to put you to sleep so that you will not feel any pain?  Do you rather prefer to feel a little pain and only half of you will be asleep?  Or feel pain but be wide awake so that you will be conscious of what is around you? What will you select? The response, he says, will tell us gently our attitude towards life.