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1. What Is Death?
Definitions of death have been debated for centuries, depending on culture, social conditions, and the role of the medical profession. In this program, we see how ideas have changed historically and how our newest definitions, like "brain death," may not yet be adequate for encompassing all of death's meanings.
2. The Dying Person
When we are told that we are terminally ill, we are defined, more than ever, by the limits of our bodies. In this program, we meet three women — each diagnosed with a different form of cancer — who handle their limitations in different ways. The role of palliative care is viewed in depth, as well as how family relationships change under the pressure of the diagnosis.
3. Facing Mortality
How can we prepare for death? By preparing, do we enhance or diminish our lives? A retired performer, an epidemiologist now suffering from AIDS, a young businesswoman, a Holocaust survivor, and a war journalist discuss how facing their own deaths and the deaths of others has affected — and in some cases, transformed — their lives.
4. The Deathbed
In the last century, the scene of the deathbed drama has moved, overall, from home to hospital. Still, even surrounded by technology, the deathbed scene remains emotional for those who participate. We meet a young man who loses his mother to cancer, a couple who lose their five-year-old daughter, and a young widow who recounts the final serene days of her husband's battle with leukemia.
5. Fear of Death and Dying
Despite the centuries-old human struggle to "domesticate" death, the moment itself often remains frightening. A man diagnosed with AIDS and a woman dealing with recurrent cancer discuss how physical pain and fear of what may happen next affect their views of the future. An older couple explains the rational motives, and the emotional difficulties, behind their decision to prepare an "advance directive."
6. Sudden Death
Special issues arise when death comes without warning. A woman widowed by the Oklahoma City bombing talks about how she handled the sudden news and loss of her husband. An ambulance paramedic discusses the reactions to imminent death among those he assists. A wife who lost her husband to suicide talks about a different kind of sudden death, where the prolonged steps that led to the end can be seen more clearly in retrospect.
7. A Child's View of Death
Children often understand that death is a changed state of being, but not how final it is. Between the ages of seven and ten, their questions about death become more frequent and complicated. In this program, we look at children's developing understanding of death as well as their growing fears as they react to losing a parent or sibling. One section is devoted to the special anguish of a teenager's reaction to death.
8. Grief and Bereavement
The effect of grief can last a lifetime as we try to find a balance between overcoming our loss and keeping the memory of the loved one alive. In this program, the question "How long does grief last?" guides conversations with two middle-aged sisters whose mother recently died; with members of a family in which the youngest son was murdered; with an adult orphaned as a child; and with a teenager who lost her mother, and may now lose her father and brother, to AIDS.
9. Death Rituals
To what degree do individual circumstances require spontaneous adaptation of traditional rites? A minister who lost her brother in the Lockerbie air disaster, and a father whose failing marriage affected his role in his young son's funeral, discuss their need to adapt traditional rituals to their own circumstances. A cancer patient planning her service in advance and a veteran at a Vietnam memorial provide a comparison of private and public rituals.
10. The Good Death
Should we help people die, or force them to live? What constitutes a good death? Perspectives from native North American culture and urban medical ethicists provide background as we meet a woman facing death from breast cancer and a young family with a terminally ill infant. The special grief long-term caregivers can fall into is also discussed as we discover the ways that the dying can help to heal the living.