Friday, July 12, 2013

Review - Griefwalker

Griefwalker (1)
I'm not sure what called me to watch Griefwalker, written and directed by Tim Wilson. It is a very blunt film about end of life, grief, and death. The focus of the film is Stephen Jenkinson, a teacher, author, storyteller, spiritual activist, ceremonialist and founder of the Orphan Wisdom School.
"The cradle of your love of life, is death." - Steve Jenkinson
Tim Wilson takes us on an incredible journey that leads us to look intensively at the process of dying in North American culture. He questions, do we ever really die, or do we simply deny it, claiming it as something that happens to other people, to everyone but us?

One of the things that Steve Jenkinson talks about in this documentary is the idea that pain management in hospitals has actually caused an epidemic of anxiety and toxic fear in patients. At one time, when pain was less well managed, it was a signal that death was coming, that it was immanent. Now, with no pain involved, there's no connection with the death that is coming. Patient and family alike push it away, deny it.

Graves in Salem, MA
 Add to that, according to Jenkinson, if you ask patients, 8 out of 10 say that they most fear the pain and suffering of the dying process, saying, "I don't want it to hurt." However, even though the pain has been managed efficiently, the fear doesn't actually stop. Pain meds don't touch on what people are really afraid of: death.

Depression is rampant among the dying in North American culture, and Steve feels much of it is because we don't actually know we're dying. In "less developed" countries, where care is more about comfort than pain management, there's a healthier view of  the process of dying.

Steve's job is to confront people about death and dying, challenging them to face death instead of turning away from it. He helps them bring it into the open and accept it psychologically. By doing so, he helps patients to come out of the fear, and into a place of acceptance, and often, of peace.

As he explains, Steve says that the terror about death is there whether people experience pain or not. "There are no atheists in foxholes," he points out, and explains that as people progress through the stages of terminal illnesses, they begin to believe in something greater than themselves. This becomes worry that family and friends will treat them badly after they're gone, or even that they will somehow be punished for their actions in life.

In a touching segment, Steve helps the family of a little girl come to terms with their daughter's immanent death. She had been living transfusion to transfusion, and Steve asked them a very difficult and painful question: why? They were continuing the terrible cycle of keeping their child alive not because there was any hope of a miracle cure, but because they simply couldn't let go. Every time they initiated a transfusion, they lost a little more of their daughter.

Grave in Salem, MA
She eventually went home with her grieving parents. Instead of dying amidst the sterile hospital routine, she died in her mother's arms. They created new rituals to replace the hospital ones, rituals where they all laughed, played, and enjoyed the final days of her life. There was no one around anymore to shush her or tell her to reserve her strength for ... whatever. Instead, she giggled hysterically and made faces with her parents, and quietly died at home.

At a hospital, the parents would have been forcibly removed from their child as nurses applied more and more measures to attempt to stretch out an already thin and fraying life. Instead, at home and in comfort, they could hold her, be with her, and let her know to the very end just how much her tiny life was cherished. And then they could grieve, right there at home, not with dozens of machines and sympathetic but harried nurses and doctors around, but in privacy. They met their child's death head on, unafraid.

This documentary was incredibly respectful of the people in it. The families and those who were dying were treated with great reverence and care. Yet, at no point did it try to hide any aspect of death. There was pain, and fear, and worry, and tears, and grief. All of it was accepted, no questions asked. In a way, it seemed to hallow the deaths that were shared.

Steve says that you have to understand that life is bigger than your own life span.  It extends into the past and future, far beyond your own personal existence. "Grief is a skill," says Steve. "It is the ability to praise and love life." In accepting that you will die, that each of us will die, we become more able to truly live.

This documentary deserves the five stars I am giving it. I was held in the movie from beginning to end. It challenged me to think a lot about my own death, and my life.

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site! 

You may also be interested in:

Patchwork Interfaith Community
When people ask for prayer
Grace Bombs
Mary Magdalene - the mystery woman
Working at Cathedral of the Pines 

1) Image from
Post a Comment