The Un-Oscars

Yesterday afternoon, I led a discussion of the 1999 TV movie Tuesdays With Morrie at a Triad funeral home for the kickoff of “It’s About Life — A Death-Defying Film Series.”

Sponsored by the Café Mortal and Death Café groups in Greensboro, this was the first of six movies chosen “to provoke comfortable discussions of death and dying.”

I didn’t inject a great deal of media criticism into the conversation (when asked at one point what my students would think of this movie, I admitted they would probably find it “cheesy”).

Jack Lemmon and Hank Azaria

Instead of wearing my critic and scholar hats, I shared a personal story.

Like many if not most people, I feared death until I confronted it over 24 years ago.  It was 28 weeks into my pregnancy that I developed acute pregnancy-induced hypertension.  When my liver and kidneys stopped functioning, I became very calm and accepted the unfolding of things beyond my control.

This story, one of several I shared, is distant now.

Others among the 30 or so people in the group shared their stories of people recently lost, other who will be leaving soon, and ongoing work with people in hospice.

The sadness that arose from our sharing was sporadic and balanced by celebration and wisdom.

Some of that wisdom emerged from a formulaic, made-for-TV movie based on final lessons delivered from a dying professor to one of his favorite students from years before…when you learn how to die, you will know how to live…death ends a life, not a relationship…making connections with other people is the most important thing.

At any rate, when I got home and reflected on the sharing that happened around our circle, I decided not to watch the Oscars.

Instead, I was thinking about a man with a degenerative muscle disease who is confined to an electric wheelchair.  He asked for advice about how to manage his death and received support from other people gathered to talk about what constitutes a good death without judgment and without fear.

It just wasn’t fitting to go from that conversation to the chatter of announcers and flashes of cameras converging on the Red Carpet.


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