Notes from the Pyre – On death and dying: Top film picks from the CEOLP library

ColumnsNotes from the Pyre - On death and dying: Top film picks from the CEOLP library
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By Gussie Fauntleroy

Last month the Crestone End of Life Project (CEOLP) presented book recommendations from its diverse collection at the Baca Grande public library. The CEOLP collection has its own bookcase in the library’s community room and is integrated into the catalogue system, so you can browse and check items out.

This month we’re suggesting a few excellent films related to death and dying — and we’re not talking horror flicks. These are thought-provoking, inspirational films, including an Emmy-award-winning HBO series.

Serving Life (2011): Actor Forest Whitaker narrates the story of a group of inmate volunteers who staff their own hospice inside the maximum-security Louisiana State Penitentiary (aka Angola), where the average sentence is more than 90 years. The Washington Post calls the film “a tender and evenhanded portrait” of the hospice-volunteer inmates and their dying fellow prisoners. The Post’s review continues: “Even in an alternate world such as Angola, death becomes universal. Anyone who has ever had a loved one tended to by a benevolent hospice worker will recognize the gentility, hard labor, and rewards of the hospice way.”

The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Way of Life: This 1994 film, narrated by Leonard Cohen, draws on ancient wisdom found in The Tibetan Book of the Dead or Bardo Thodol, an essential teaching originating in the Himalayas. The film explores this sacred text and visualizes the afterlife according to its profound perspective.

Griefwalker (2008): This documentary by Tim Wilson introduces us to Stephen Jenkinson, once the leader of a palliative care counselling team at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital. Through his work in what refers to, tongue-in-cheek, as the “death trade,” Jenkinson has been at the deathbed of more than 1,000 people. What he sees over and over, he says, is “a wretched anxiety and an existential terror” even when there is no pain. He has made it his life’s mission to change the way we die — to turn the act of dying from denial and resistance into an essential part of life.

Six Feet Under (five seasons, 2001-2005): The CEOLP collection includes all five seasons of this award-winning series, which depicts the lives of the Fisher family, who run a funeral home in Los Angeles, along with their friends and lovers. The series received widespread critical acclaim, particularly for its writing and acting, and consistently drew high ratings for the HBO network.

The CEOLP collection also includes CD sets of wisdom and beauty relating to life and death. Among these: poet David Whyte’s What to Remember Upon Waking, and the late Irish poet John O’Donohue’s 8-CD set, Anam Cara: Wisdom from the Celtic World.

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