©1996, a film by Susan Froemke, Deborah Dickson
Albert Maysles, 90 mins
In our society, death fills the airwaves, it targets
strangers, creates statistics. Yet when it finally gets
personal, we are ill-equipped. Coping with the
inevitability of death is the subject of Letting Go:
A Hospice Journey. Exploring this almost taboo subject
through the stories of three hospice patients, the film
creates an understanding of the hospice movement --
physical, emotional and spiritual assistance to terminally
ill people and their families.
In Sonoma County, California, 62-year-old Ralph Armstrong
lies in a rehab center, partially paralyzed by a fatal brain
tumor. Only weeks before, he was back-packing in the
mountains. Now, facing imminent death, he has fallen into
despair but also has a last chance to resolve deeply-eroded
At home in Queens, New York, 46-year-old Anna Turner
is dying of lung cancer, surrounded by family and friends.
Convinced that her work on earth is not complete, she
believes prayer will cure her -- but the same faith which
gives her strength also prevents her from accepting death.
Even on the day she dies, her teenage son, unable to say
goodbye, sits at her bedside, praying for her recovery.
In Missoula, Montana, 8-year-old Michael Merseal lies
comatose on the living room couch, in the final stages
of an incurable brain disease -- and yet he changes the
lives of all who know him. His mother has abandoned the
family, and his father has quit work in order to care for
him. His 9-year-old sister tries to deal with losing both
mother and brother. Michael hangs on to life until his
mother finally appears, after months of silence. Only
then does he die peacefully, between his two parents.
Death is unbearable, fearful, something we try to avoid
even thinking about. Yet in this film we watch people die...
but instead of drawing back, we grieve with them and grow.
"We know when we come into this life there will be death,
and acceptance is recognizing with all one's heart that
we're part of a process, part of the universe, part of the
unfolding." - Dr. Fred Schwartz, hospice doctor