Living With Death on Showtime

It is not that words are inadequate to describe Time of Death, Showtime's new six-part documentary series. It is more that too often words are devoid of the raw emotion that this series evokes.

The series was formulated with the intention of opening a broader conversation about death, dying and the living of it by all the participants in this part of the life process. Time of Death does so by bringing us in, with the permission of those in the midst. Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipshitz, two of the producers, said they wanted to open people to facing and having more real conversations about death and dying and to think about end of life care, to bring the subject out of its closet.

And so the subject comes through the people who bring themselves -- and let themselves be brought to us -- or to put it better, into us. The feeling is of being invited to a very important set of events, something too important to say no to, even if you know it will be hard. And it is hard while equalizing the playing fields of all of life as we see people of all types navigating endings, beginnings, and so many emotions in between. Certain moments are so very sad and at times -- either those same moments or others -- funny, sentimental, frustrating, even maddening. It is life and dying and we get to feel -- know in a feeling way -- that it is as much about us as about them, because some aspect of these stories is already or will be our own.

We are drawn to characters -- people -- we might never meet in our regular lives. They may seem, some of them, quirky, even strange. And yet the "strangeness" barrier washes away, and we feel at home. We feel increasingly at home with their dramas, disjointed and frightening, soothing too at times. Our experience is so different, so apart in ways because we are inhaling and metabolizing these experiences we watch in terms of our own realities. where in almost no time, the bed sheets of the person we have come to feel connected to, will be covering him or her, in the end.

Each person in these shows has much to teach us. They, the people who made the shows, and all the people who starred in them in their living and dying, can help us. We yearn to be known, "gotten," without condescension. Stories can help and even though the road can be scary, these people in their way offer each of us a hand.

It is weird -- or is it? -- that I miss them, the people on the screen, those who died and the families, friends, lovers, hospice nurses who didn't. I miss being in some way drawn to feel part of the intimate connections made between all of them, those which were easy and less so. It is that need to share which we allow only in smaller doses in our lives, that we all need well before and also during a time of dying. That we as viewers can feel the need and wish to connect, is due in no small part to the brilliant and seamless editing.

I, too, wish for more conversation, after the series stops for sure, and I wish for it not to be trite and not to be composed of easy does it "lessons" on how to die by people who have no idea, or party planning for funeral bashes by those who fancy a party and a "celebration" can cancel out the loss and the anguish. For some that kind of party planning may be a gorgeous and even necessary idea, and of course, yes to that.

Lenore (one of the people allowing in the cameras and people for her dying process) herself a therapist, arranged her own end of life celebration, but it was full to the brim, with real feelings and depth. In all of these people's lives and deaths, death and dying are lived, so perhaps the point is not to trivialize it but to realize it in all its humanity and individuality as well. Too much of the time we have smiley faces pasted on the worst of situations, in which the gritty and mixed feelings of living aren't given the respect they and we deserve.

Some people will dismiss the show... Not enough God, too many tattoos, the morality of people is going down the tubes. But that isn't what this is about. It's about getting under the skin, getting under our prejudices or watching them twitch until they fade even if they do return to defend us against our own deeper affiliation with these characters, each and every one of them in some way.

I personally have pretty much hated death, the notion of not being. I've gotten queasy and more, around the subject -- an inconvenient phobia if ever there was one. But I'm kind of beginning to think that putting death, and our fears of psychological and real death, into the center of attention -- and of conversation and with company -- might afford it the respect that anything so big that demands real healing, deserves.

Part of making a film like this, to me translates into an invitation to the viewer to come out to play, i.e. to discover and to share, and in deeper ways, to move inward so we can lean into it. Which to me would involve also increasing our compassion, awareness, and a respect -- for all the phases of living, all the ages of people and the different sets of vulnerabilities we all have.

There is so much more to say, but not before we've watched all the shows. There is so much emotion in and beneath the words. In the time and times of death and in the living of the dying that are here for us to share in, very deeply.

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