There is not a person on the planet who would not benefit from a viewing of Andrew Morgan’s wide-ranging production brought to fruition as self-therapy following the sudden death of his father. For who amongst us has not lost a relative, partner, friend or mentor then been unable to fully feel their way through the waves of grief, loss, despair, anger and rage before finding the far-away realm, of thankfulness and hope?
For frail, ill and aging family members, death is frequently seen as a blessing in disguise: “the pain is over;” “now they can rest in peace.”
For those who die far before their time, it is extremely difficult for the living to find a logical reason in the overall plan of whatever belief they may hold. In Morgan’s essay, Lucy—a precocious two-year-old—chokes to death on a piece of apple; his own dad is rear-ended as the familial pair are enjoying an early morning bike ride on the fourth of July; Holly’s sister was in the wrong place at the wrong time in a car crash; barely teenage Jon dealt with his father’s passing by embracing all manner of addictive substances (seeking the comfort of his own “slow death”); Ben seems the last man standing after his dad and sibling brothers—including Michael, a Marine who took his own life after a tour of service—went to the grave. Many others courageously share their similar tragedies: on several of these deeply personal interviews—including his own testimony—the bereft’s eyes face down, away from the camera, likely unable to, even now, look the memory of death in the face.
Using what appears to be the old-fashioned shadow lantern show to share still photographs, home movies and archive video clips—notably Elisabeth Küber-Ross who was a pioneer against seriously ill patients being spared the truth by their practitioners and institutions—effectively adds to the decidedly “homey” feel of Morgan’s journey into understating his own loss after hours upon hours of unbridled death talks with his subjects.
The insights from a covey of grief counsellors (Scotty draws out torrents of tears by active listening; Diana Blaine muses thoughtfully about “the beauty of the darkness”) offer comforting balance to the, at times, numbing disclosures of last moments on the planet. The notion of the parlour (where the home-deceased were typically laid out) being renamed the living room post-1917 as it appeared science would allow immortality in ways that eventually produced BIG PHARMA’s biggest dreams, was a fascinating example of collective denial.
But it fell to Reggie (whose mother passed on more or less in the normal course of things) to throw down the gauntlet and “live every day like it’s my last.” How many of us will die well and not leave a mess for those who are left behind?
Likely a mixture of both defiance and acceptance, Morgan completes his catharsis by getting back on the bike and riding the race of his life, knowing full well that the last two-wheeled trek he took ended in sudden death when even a little overtime would have been welcomed, if only to say goodbye. He is not alone. JWR