|Bay Window : With Eyes Open: Article
Are You Ready to Face Dying "With Eyes Open"?
For millions of Americans, watching the PBS series On Our Own Terms: Moyers on Dying will be an emotional experience. The series asks viewers to confront the end of life–theirs and their loved onesand to consider what experiences they want when they are dying. Following each 90-minute On Our Own Terms episode, PBS will air a 30-minute companion program to spark frank conversations about dying among families and professionals nationwide.
Hosted by Ray Suarez of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, With Eyes Open confronts the complexities of discussing end-of-life choices. It challenges viewers to pursue these very necessary conversations in their own living roomsbefore it is too late. A variety of authorities in the medical, caregiving and religious arenasfrom spiritual leaders to bioethicistsare joined by real people on each episode, all sharing their wisdom about death and dying, and setting examples for how other families can have this kind of honest conversation together.
It comes up again and again in polls, as it does on With Eyes Open: people are afraid of dying in pain or sustained by artificial machinery. In episode two ("Difficult Decisions"), the program is interspersed with footage documenting actual families in the hospital, struggling to make medical and end-of-life decisions for their loved ones. These vignettes only underscore the fact that in order to live out their last days in peace, viewers need to talk with doctors and loved ones in advance. Family members need to be clear about end-of-life choices so they can best communicate a patient's wishes to doctors. Otherwise they risk ending up as one of the featured families didin an intensive care unit not knowing what treatment their comatose uncle would want and "having to play God."
Why do so few families talk about such important decisions? With Eyes Open sheds light on the cultural and personal challenges of initiating these conversations. Viewers are then provided with tools for having meaningful talks about the universal issues faced when contemplating the end-of-life choices. Some of the questions that the featured panelists on With Eyes Open recommend asking oneself or a loved one during decision-making talks are:
Who do you want making health care decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself?
The expert featured in episode one ("Grief and Healing"), founder of the Zen Hospice Project, Frank Ostaseski, sets a reflective tone for the instructive series. "In this culture we mostly see dying as a medical event. But in my experience, dying isn't primarily a medical experience, it's more an issue of relationships: my relationship with myself, with those I love; my relationship with the suffering of death itself. So the work of caring for the dying is a matter of facilitating those relationships," explains Ostaseski.
How do you define "quality of life?"
In your culture, are individuals the final decision-makers or do families make choices as a unit?
How aggressive should doctors be with medical treatments to sustain you?
The third installment of With Eyes Open ("Caregiving") turns the microphone over to people with direct experience as caregivers for ailing family members and loved ones. Their stories tell how one person's dying can become an entire family’s struggle to provide care while coping with feelings of fear, grief and anxiety.
The caregivers talk openly about the pressure they feel to be at the bedside of a relative in need 24 hours a day. "It's like taking care of a child, except you can't look forward to the future," says Larry Faulks, who cares for his mother. This role reversal can be especially difficult for adult children taking care of elderly parents. Studies show that 46% of caregivers are clinically depressed, 43% feel isolated and say they lack understanding from others.
Caregiving is done out of love, but it is a job almost impossible to prepare for. Faulks compares it to another form of service, noting "you don't volunteer, you don't interview for it, you're just drafted." Many caregivers are enlisted in this role suddenly, taking on huge responsibilities and unaware of what resources are available in their community.
The panelists featured on "Caregiving" reassure viewers that professionals are out there that will direct them to all kinds of home and community-based services. But they also encourage viewers in the caregiver role to take on the mantle of vocal advocate to get their loved ones what they need. For example, Celi Adams of Homecare Companions advises that if a loved one is in the hospital, you should take advantage of the time you have with nurses and attendants; insist that they to teach you how to care for the patient, since it is you who will be doing so later on at home.
In the midst of the hard work and emotional strain, many caregivers say they reap rich rewards they hadn't imagined possible. 70% found new inner strength and 36% said it deepened their relationship with their loved one. "You start to cherish and nurture goodness and you understand that every single act of kindness counts," adds Beth Witrogen McLeod, author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, Caregiving: The Spiritual Journey of Love, Loss and Renewal, based on her own experience as a caregiver.
The final episode, "Beyond Life, Beyond Death," tackles one of life's greatest mysterieswhat lies beyond our last breath? The overwhelming majority of Americans believe that death is not the end, but that it is the beginning. But of what? Two thinkers of different faiths present their answers to this age-old question. And, most importantly, they ask us to consider how our image of the afterlife impacts the way we live our current lives.
With Eyes Open takes an unflinching look at dying. It poses tough questions to important issues, but couches them in a comforting setting as living room discussions between those who face these issues either personally or professionally. Continue the discussion online at www.pbs.org/witheyesopen.
With Eyes Open will be broadcast nationwide September 10-13 at 10:30 p.m. (check local listings).