Alternate Endings: Six New Ways to Die in America
Although death is every bit as much a part of life as birth, we pretend it isn’t there. Perhaps it’s time that changed. The soon-to-be released HBO documentary Alternate Endings: Six New Ways to Die in America, tackles this final taboo. Join the filmmakers for a sneak peek and a frank discussion about end of life options. How might we design more meaningful deaths?
What compelled filmmakers Perri Peltz and Matthew O’Neil to create a documentary about a topic that’s mostly discussed in hushed tones and with sadness? Peltz and O’Neil say society’s reticence to talk about death and dying is stopping us from having conversations that could fundamentally alter how we think about the last stage of our lives:
Deleaua and Dick Shannon are one of six families profiled in Perri Peltz and Matthew O’Neil’s documentary “Alternate Endings: 6 New Ways to Die in America.” Dick was terminally ill with a rare form of cancer, and after he was diagnosed he decided he wanted to take life-ending drugs once his condition degraded. He and his spouse Deleaua were understandably reluctant about allowing filmmakers to be present during the lead-up to, and eventual end of, Dick’s life. But they came around to seeing it as an opportunity to help others:
Is there a good time to talk about death and dying? Panel moderator and rabbi Jennifer Krause asks Deleaua Shannon about when Deleaua and her husband Dick started the heartbreaking conversation about Dick’s impending death:
After Dick was diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer, the couple talked for the first time about their true wishes for the final stages of their lives. They had already decided on some superficial things (like what song to play during their final moments), but the big questions, like how they wanted to spend their last days together, went unanswered until it was almost too late.
“His pain was not from the cancer, his pain was the mental pain,” Deleaua Shannon says of her late husband Dick. He feared being a burden on his loved ones above all, and it caused him grief knowing that his terminal cancer would eventually force the burden of his care onto his family. That’s why Dick decided to take life-ending drugs:
There was nothing to be done about Dick’s physical condition, but his ability to research, plan, and have agency over the end of his life allowed him to at least let go of his mental anguish around dying. Perri Peltz and Matthew O’Neil hope their documentary will help more people like Deleaua and Dick decide how they want to greet the final stage of their lives.