Dr Erna Haraldsdottir, Director of Education and Research/Senior Lecturer at St Columba’s Hospice/Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, describes a collaborative project between patients, staff and a documentary film-maker that is energising and meaningful for patients and teaches us about life and death. Erna’s post is the background to her longer article published in the November/December issue of the European Journal of Palliative Care.
The film Seven Songs for a Long Life is a documentary film made in a hospice and a joint venture between Strathcarron Hospice in South West Scotland and The Scottish Documentary Institute in Edinburgh. The idea arose from my conversation with a documentary film-maker, Amy Hardie, as we discovered our shared interest in using creative methods to challenge the fear of death and dying and negative perceptions of hospices.
For myself, I was inspired by Cicely Saunders’ principle of facing death as it is embedded in her philosophy of palliative care.1 I agree strongly with her notion that facing death offers the possibility for human growth through heightening our senses of our own being. However, as a palliative care nurse I have also come across the challenge that is inherent in this open approach towards death due to fear of death. The philosophical perspective of Heidegger shows how death and dying becomes integrated into our existence as we learn how to go about being in the world and the fear becomes part of human condition.2 Based on the tension between fearing death and the possibility of positive outcomes in facing it, I wanted to explore if creative art could add an extra dimension to how we approach the stark reality of dying.
With full participation from patients and staff in the hospice, Amy Hardie worked for about three years with us making the film. The project was first funded by Creative Scotland and later with additional funding from the BBC. Patients in the hospice were keen to participate and were excited by the prospect of making a documentary film that would tell their individual story. They were also motivated to challenge the perception of hospices as sad places and patients in a hospice being weak and vulnerable people because they were seriously ill and facing imminent death.
Through a collaborative approach between patients, staff and the film-maker we decided to tell a story of patients’ own lives and the life within the hospice in a semi-musical format. The whole experience was an overall positive one for patients, their families and those that worked at the hospice. Challenges were solved through good communication and shared decision-making. For some of the staff it was ‘mind-blowing’ to think that a documentary film could be made in a hospice with patients as key ‘actors’. However, as the filming progressed it became evident that using creative engagement was, in fact, energizing and meaningful for patients.
Through the act of both making the film and also in watching it the project has demonstrated how death and dying can be faced through the process. We were able to create a documentary film in a hospice which is informative, moving, life- affirming and also teaches us about life and death.
References and links
- Saunders C. (1965) The Last Stage of Life American Journal of Nursing, 65,3,70-75
- Heidegger M. (1962) Being and Time, Oxford, Blackwell.
- Watch the official trailer of the film.
- Education and Research at St Columba’s Hospice.
- View more posts about the Arts in Palliative Care on the EAPC Blog.
This post relates to ‘Enhancing death and dying through documentary film-making in a hospice’ by Erna Haraldsdottir, published in the November/December 2017 edition of the European Journal of Palliative Care (EJPC) (vol. 24 (6).
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Read more posts relating to articles published in the European Journal of Palliative Care on the EAPC Blog.