Showtime’s Time of Death

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Time of Death is a new series on Showtime depicting stories of families with a terminally ill member. Presented in documentary fashion, producers of the series aim to deliver intimate portrayals of the final moments of life.

This series is well worth a moment of your time, even during this busy holiday season; it provides a realistic glimpse into the dying process—one not presented in most movies or television shows. It doesn’t contain glamorized stories of heroic and successful medical treatments. Each week, we meet new characters; each week they die. In between, they undergo medical treatments, struggle with family issues, and grapple with mortality.

In the first episode, available free on YouTube or on the Showtime website, viewers meet Michael, a man diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer of the connective tissue. Michael accepts his impending death with grace, while his taciturn father struggles to cope with the fast-moving reality of his son’s mortality. The hospice nurse helps his family understand the dying process as he takes his final breath.

We meet Lenore in Episode 2 as she hosts her own farewell party. She’s been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and she chooses not to have chemotherapy. She lives the final months of her life without invasive treatment, and the episode follows her and her husband of 53 years through her final days.

As I watched, I was struck by how true-to-life the episodes were. Family members quarreled and children acted out. The nurses were patient, and the terminally ill individuals were clear in their communications about end-of-life planning desires. Having worked for so many years with people who are dying, I’m frequently put off by depictions of death in the media. It’s either glamour or disaster.

In truth, death is mundane. It happens every day, everywhere.

The first season, six episodes in total, follows Maria and her family’s story. Dying and parenting at the same time are tough business, and she muscles through it with determination. I’m about halfway through the season, and I know she’s not going to pull through miraculously. And yet, I’m compelled to keep coming back to watch more of the season. This series eschews the unrealistic portrayals of death common in our culture, relying rather on compassionate depictions of how we die.

Compelling television, indeed.

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