Showtime’s groundbreaking documentary series “Time of Death” offers an intimate look at hospice patients’ final days and how they and their families cope with the pending mortality. As a part of our community education program, SCHF worked with Showtime television to bring forth patients who would be willing to share their end-of-life story on camera. This six part documentary, each episode being one hour long, weaves together the stories of eight terminally ill individuals.
Of the eight patients featured in the show, three of them were brought forth by the Southern California Hospice Foundation. The patients included:
Michael was a veteran with a rare cancer affecting the connective tissues in muscles. He joined the Navy at 17 years old and credits the military with saving his life – saying the path out of his high school wasn’t leading anywhere pretty. Michael was described as a straight shooter, and in the short three months from his diagnosis until his death, he dealt with it all up front. And by the end – he was ready. He wanted to go.
Laura was a single mother of two, who worked as an accountant at a theater company for 26 years to put her children through private school in Long Beach. Her story shows that after her diagnosis of breast cancer and her decision not to fight with chemotherapy, she and her daughter Lisa dropped everything and took one last road trip – which was one of Laura’s fondest pastimes as a child.
Nicolle was diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma when she was just 16. The doctor’s believed that surgery had gotten all the malignant cells, but by age 19, the cancer returned and spread to Nicolle's lungs and brain. Her story shows her enormous positivity throughout her final days with the help of her large family and the hospice team.
A review written by James Poniewozik in the November 2013 issue of Time Magazine says, “Time of Death gives its stories structure, but it doesn't tie them up neatly. Families come together or fracture. People make peace or get angry. They say goodbye or make it to the bedside too late. They offer words of comfort that go wrong. And at the end, there's a body to remove, a house to clean.”
Although the show is dignified, it can still feel intrusive, even when the patients explain that they want their story to be told. (Please know that the filming was stopped when the patient requested it; some of them even carry their own cameras to film themselves privately). And there is nothing that we can do to change that feeling of uncomfortableness because the show reflects real end-of-life issues. But what we can change is the way we choose to die when faced with a terminal illness—with or without hospice.
We partnered with Showtime because we wanted to shed light about the benefits of hospice care. We hope that the documentary will help people to develop a healthier relationship with death and dying, so that any confusion, fear or doubt, or anger or rage—all the emotions that accompany death—will dissipate as we become more educated about what a good death really looks like. We hope it will create a dialogue for people to discuss death, and their end-of-life wishes in terms of what they do and do not want for themselves. Talking about the reality of a prognosis is often very intimidating. It seems easier to live in denial. But when those frank conversations do occur, it can lead to great intimacy and connection with the ones you love.
And as you may have seen in Michael Muth’s portrayal, he was surrounded by his family and the Companion hospice team. He even makes amends with his ex-wife, the love of his life, just hours before his passing. They all held his hand, or caressed his forehead, or said “I love you” as he transitioned from this life to the next, both peacefully and comfortably.
That is the benefit of hospice. That is what a good death looks like. And that is we hope that the 21 million subscribers of Showtime television will take away from this show.