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Experiencing actual dying through others

Allowing people who are facing death to access footage of others whilst dying.

Photo of Sherry Robbins
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Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine the end-of-life experience?

For people who are facing imminent death, they should be given access to footage of others as they pass away. There are documentaries that show assisted dying and/or people who are dying naturally. This footage shows that death is not filled with fear, but with calmness, acceptance and even relief. Having watched this footage, it has changed how I feel about my own imminent death and I believe it would definitely help others - especially those who are dealing with fear around death.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

I have already used this idea to help allay my own fears.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Access large amounts of footage and also enlist people to have themselves filmed as they die. This could be done in real time and people could be encouraged to interact with one another in the lead up to their passing. The more "normal" we make it - the less fear based it will be.

Tell us about your work experience:

I work as a manager of a retirement village and see death on a fairly regular basis. My background is in the homelessness sector prior to this.

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual


Join the conversation:

Photo of Joanna Spoth

Hi Sherry! This is such a simple and powerful idea. Thanks for sharing and for joining our challenge. With your experience and background you bring a really unique perspective. Would you mind sharing a bit more about how the footage has shaped your own perception of dying...maybe even how you envision your final moments?

Photo of Sherry Caspar

Hi Joanna,
I came across this documentary on assisted dying and, once I started watching, I couldn't stop. 
The show really delved into the family and friend dynamic and how the persons choice to die on a certain date affected each individual. 
The biggest thing for me was the guilt on the part of the person dying. Because his family and friends could not bear the thought of losing him, they felt that he should accept that he was going to slowly lose his faculties and end up unable to move or speak and eventually he would suffocate. His wife manipulated him with guilt until he finally agreed to "stick it out" and even went and viewed the nursing home where he would inevitably end up.
Watching this unfold really drove home how desperately we need to change our societies perception of death and the fear that motivates it. 
Eveyone else around this man knew he was terrified - not of dying - but of ending up unable to communicate, yet they all wanted him to suffer so that they would be okay. How warped is that? 
Eventually, while he was still able, he attempted suicide. The shock of this motivated his family to fly him across the world to finally allow him the dignity of being able to end his life on his terms. He was unable to speak but could still write, and had written a beautiful letter to his wife which he had had recorded for her. He lay in a strange country, in a strangers house - without an ounce of fear, only relief and love for the people around him. He played the message to his wife, put in his earphones with his favourite music, turned on the drip that would end his life, and gently went to sleep and slipped away.
The love and respect I felt for this man is hard to describe. To allow cameras into his life at such a time seems like a difficult thing to do - but he made death look so natural that it can only be a good thing right? If we could provide access to a whole range of people whose lives are ending, who are happy to share their experience with others, then eventually it would become the norm. I know Indians use the term "expire" rather than death - even renaming it makes it sound less scary.
My fear around death still exists, but it's more the dying part - not the end that scares me. If I could do what that beautiful man in the documentary did and have my family, my animals, the smells I love like fresh cut oranges and lavender in my room, my favourite music playing, and the sound of my husbands voice talking in the background as he strokes my hair. Normal every day sounds and a feeling of being loved. Not trauma. Not sadness. Just normality. That would be my wish.
Now I need to go and have a cry :-)

Photo of Sherry Caspar

Sorry - I have somehow used my old Facebook to reply - but it is the same person who wrote the post!

Photo of Joanna Spoth

Wow, Sherry, that extra context sure is helpful. Your personal experience of a documentary shifting your viewpoint around death is a pivotal moment that could be used to inspire others. How you imagine your own death is very beautiful and I'm sure would inspire others to think differently around their own. What is the name of this documentary? Have you ever thought of addressing this idea within the retirement home you manage?

Photo of Sherry Robbins

Hi - the name of the documentary is How to Die:Simons Choice from the BBC.

As far as talking about death to the residents at the Retirement Village - it is a difficult thing when you work for an organisation that is affiliated with the church. I personally am not religious at all, but the community in which I work holds traditional values and beliefs. I believe this makes it more difficult an environment to be able to discuss this topic so am hoping that this project produces something that will allow death to begin to be a subject that no longer remains taboo and scary.

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