Miriam's Dead Good Adventure
Actress Miriam Margolyes is 77 and death is busy hoovering up her contemporaries. She has already met people who say they reject death - but what if you have no choice but to confront it? In the concluding episode of this compelling documentary series, inimitable actress Miriam wants to know if we can ever be ready to meet death face to face.
She heads to the west coast of Scotland to meet Tracy, who, two years ago, was working as a deputy head teacher in Oxford when she discovered she had terminal ovarian cancer. She decided to move to the remote island of Bute to live the rest of her life doing what she wanted. Now 60, she has just a few months to live. The advantage of knowing you are going to die, she tells Miriam, is that you have time to prepare for death. Miriam helps Tracy plan her wake and meets her daughter Mathilda, 19. Part of Tracy’s preparations include trying to lessen the impact her death will have on Mathilda, so for the past six months Tracy has recorded a series of personal messages and irreplaceable life advice for Mathilda to follow when she is gone. Tracy’s frank and forthright approach to dealing with cancer strikes a chord with Miriam, who is keen to meet people who can talk about the reality of dying without sugar-coating the pill.
Tracy’s openness offers up some surprising and comforting thoughts for Miriam. If you are going to try and prepare for death, she concludes, maybe it helps to take matters in to your own hands? In Hastings, Miriam hooks up with celebrants Kate and Kate who run Coffin Club, a monthly meet-up for people seeking emotional and practical support for all things death related, including building and decorating their own coffins. Within minutes Miriam is slotting her own flat pack coffin together and painting her unique design on the lid.
Getting to grips with death helps Miriam realise that our end of days doesn’t have to be as scary as she feared, but for some people confronting the terrors of dying requires more extreme measures. In San Francisco, Miriam accompanies Carolyn to the doctors. Following the sudden death of her partner, for the last six months Carolyn has undergone a controversial treatment using psychedelic drugs to help overcome her fear of dying. Dr Phil Wolfson, a pioneer in hallucinogenic psychotherapy, has been treating her end of life anxiety with the horse tranquiliser and recreational party drug ketamine. Illegal unless administered by a doctor, Dr Phil believes that whilst under the influence of the drug, Carolyn’s mind can be transported and her anxieties reduced. Having seen Carolyn’s fears diffused, Miriam starts to wonder if ketamine might be a way to focus less on her ego and instead trust that everything will be fine when she dies with her body and soul melding back in to the cosmos. But preparing for death also means having to accept none of us know when it will come. For some people end of life plans involve more than just building your own coffin and choosing sandwich fillings. Some want to choose when and how they go.
In Amsterdam, Miriam meets Dr Death, aka maverick doctor Philip Nitschke. He runs the controversial right to die movement Exit International, which campaigns for all rational people over 50 to have the right to end their lives peacefully at a time of their choosing. Although assisted suicide is legal in the Netherlands it requires convincing a doctor of the necessity. In his laboratory, Dr Nitschke demos his latest invention for Miriam - a prototype suicide pod called a Sarco. Witnessing the sarcophagus-style tank fill up with deadly nitrogen, Miriam hears his plans to roll out his invention to willing members of the general public within the next two years, with hopes that his machine will be the perfect, peaceful way for people to take control of their deaths.
Although an intellectual supporter of the idea of assisted suicide, Miriam worries Dr Nitschke’s vision might be cheapening life and make death too easy. Going along to one of his workshops, she talks to those attending; from people with painful terminal illnesses to others who just want the choice to opt out. They are not not anti-life, they tell her, they are just anti-life at any price.
But what about people who shouldn’t be thinking about the end of their life at all? Tyreese, in Telford, is an 18-year-old rapper with bowel and liver cancer. He is determinedly not thinking about ending his life or even preparing for death. He is choosing to fight it. Miriam recites a heartfelt rap Tyreese has written about his illness. Despite his optimism she worries that death maybe too big even for him to control. As an aspiring footballer before he became ill, Tyreese takes Miriam to watch a local game where she realises that it is Tyreese’s positivity that allows him to cling on to hope. Show less