Death is universally experienced, and yet it remains a taboo subject. With Time of Death, a six episode docu-series premiering Friday, November 1, Showtime opens a dialogue into the ethics of dying as it is experienced by the individual and their loved ones.
Maria Lencioni, Michael John Muth, Lenore Lefer, Cheyenne Bertiloni, Dr. Toni Yancey, Laura Kovarik, Morris Bradley Jr., and Nicolle Kissee—these are the individuals who we witness living through their final weeks of life, until their death. And, yes, we are shown their dying, from the beginning of the process (designated “actively dying”) to their dead bodies. From how they grapple with their own fear of death to how they labor to take care of their own families, the universality of death becomes intensely subjective through the filter of their own lives. Maria, a single mother of three children, fights to live, seeking exploratory treatment and care, out of a sense of responsibility, of love, and, arguably, of fear, of leaving her children. Her eldest child, a lesbian nicknamed Little, who is 26 years old at the time of her mother’s passing, becomes the legal guardian to her siblings—teenagers who are unable to cope with their mother’s terminal illness and so lash out (steal money, break windows, go to Juvenile Hall, etc.) as a way to express their anger and frustration over their loss. The series actually begins with Little discovering her mother’s dead body, and then the audience is taken back ten months, when Maria’s cancer has spread from her breasts and lymph nodes to her brain.
The most touching story, especially for lesbian audiences, is that of Dr. Antronette (Toni) Yancey, a poet and renowned global health advocate whose work inspired Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. Progressively deteriorating from lung cancer, accelerated by an untimely fall, Toni, and her partner of 11 years, Darlene, both express a tremendous stoic resolve in the face of death. At the same time they share such wonderfully tender moments—it’s impossible not to cry, not just from the heartbreak of Toni’s imminent death, but more so from observing the unrelenting nature, the depth, of their love for one another.
Time of Death is a much needed series on the “reality” of death and dying—but also of life. The show’s co-executive producer Miggi Hood perhaps said it best: “be prepared for the death of a loved one by being present and selfless in life…. Do not wait until you are dealing with death to deal with it—deal with life.”