News

A Friend in Death Documentary

  • by Kate Bowman
  • May 2, 2022

A documentary exploring how the art of storytelling is helping terminally ill people in their final days will premiere on Compass on ABC TV Plus at 7.30pm on Sunday 15 May 2022.

A Friend in Death tells the story of the Sacred Heart Biography Service at St Vincent’s Hospital, which offers people in palliative care the opportunity to work with a trained biography volunteer to tell their life story.

The documentary follows two of the Service’s biographers, long-term volunteer Kerry Little and newly recruited Kris McIntyre as they record the biographies of their terminally-ill clients, opening an unexpected pathway of healing and acceptance through the telling of their wonderful life stories.

Kerry believes the process of hearing and telling someone’s life story is a journey of healing that gives meaning to the lives of her terminally ill clients, while Kris’s own close call with cancer has sparked curiosity about how others face their death.

Director Josh Lee was inspired to make A Friend in Death after  a close friend, Natasha Esau, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

“Natasha’s battle with cancer prompted me on a research journey into palliative care,” Josh said.

“I did a series of interviews in late 2020 with volunteers, facilitators, academics and health workers in order to further understand the ‘dignity/legacy therapy’ approach to palliative care.

“From that point on I became impassioned to share the wonderful work being done by the Sacred Heart Biography Service at St Vincent’s Hospital.

“What stood out to me with this program was its ability to use story to empower: to enable the patients to be defined by the actions of their lives, rather than their illness.

“In doing so, they can find meaning and leave a tangible legacy.

“As a filmmaker I know the power of story to enrich people’s experience and this became evident in the colorful characters we followed throughout the film.”

Amanda Collinge, Compass Executive Producer, agrees and says that audiences will find the story extremely moving.

“Director Josh Lee shows us how having your story told can be a vital part of having a good death. A beautiful film, rich with humanity and humour.”

Compass series producer Kim Akhurst says that A Friend in Death explores a unique and intimate end of life relationship between the dying and a volunteer biographer.

“It’s both moving and revealing and delves into core Compass territory of what is the meaning and legacy of a life.”

A Friend in Death will screen as part of ABC TV’s Compass program on Sunday 15 May at 7.30pm on ABC TV Plus and will then be available on ABCiview.

A Friend In Death stills
A Friend In Death official trailer

THE SACRED HEART BIOGRAPHY SERVICE

The Sacred Heart Biography Service at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney is an innovative, person-centred service offered free of charge to clients of Sacred Heart Community Palliative Care. The first such service in NSW, it complements existing palliative care services and assists the process of ‘dying well’ by supporting clients to reflect on their life, tell their story and leave a legacy document for family and friends. Carefully selected volunteers, who bring a range of skills and experience, are trained and supported to establish a trusting and safe environment in which clients, over the course of several sessions, can tell their story. They transcribe the story so it remains in the person’s voice and create beautiful bound books with photos. The service is fully funded by donations.

Biography services are also running at several other palliative care volunteer services in NSW. If you are interested in volunteering in this capacity you can find which services near you offer biography by first searching our “Find a Volunteer Service” page. If a service offers biography it will be labelled as such along with their contact details.

You can find our service locator here. Please be aware that due to COVID19 many services are currently running at a reduced capacity and may not be recruiting at this time.

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