Ruth Cave died last Sunday. I filmed Ruth as part of the TUESDAYS film, at the Maggie’s Centre. I keep thinking about her. I am making a DVD for the family of all the footage Ruth and I shot together – at home with the girls in the garden, cooking in the kitchen, walking on the huge beach at Monifieth. Ruth grins at me from the computer, arguing, telling stories, questioning me, telling me what to do with the film. Vibrant, alive.
Emma: Amy, you are fascinated with death. In your press kit for THE EDGE OF DREAMING you speak about how it started with the death of your mother and then continued when you had to face the possibility of your own death, as portrayed in 'Dreaming'. In the process of making these films you have researched death extensively and are now developing a new documentary to be set in a hospice.
What motivates your fascination with death? Are there specific answers that you are looking for, and are these answers about dying or about living?
Amy: Bertold Brecht said we need, as individuals, to learn about dying. Montaigne wrote his essays (and coined the term, essay) as writings grappling with his own death. Our consciousness is enormous, and expands out of time. But it is housed in this frail, time-limited body. How we can we not wrestle with these paradoxes?
Amy: Life becomes more precious to me. I have begun to believe that our greatest attribute as human beings is our capacity for appreciation. The filming is evolving to act as a mirror to people at a very tender point in their lives. They connect powerfully to each other, to their families, to the world around them. I, and my camera, am caught up and held in their connections.
"The one thing we have in common is that we are going to die. We don’t know when we’re going to die, but we are going to die." – Karen O'Shaughnessy
The thought of our own mortality is deeply uncomfortable. But for members of the Tuesday meetings at the Maggie Centre in Dundee, it is a pressing eventuality.
Amy Hardie's documentary TUESDAYS follows the group’s five attendees as they come to terms with their diagnosis of incurable cancer and the prospect of their own imminent deaths. It is something that both terrifies and intrigues them.
"For me, [joining the group] was to see what it was like to die from cancer," admits Ruth Cave, who was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in 2004.
Death is the uniting factor – the women are drawn together from different backgrounds and beliefs by their own impending mortality. The group reflects this, having shrunk from eight to five within just a year, and protagonists speak frequently and candidly about preparing themselves and their families for death. How does one come to terms with the reality of leaving children and life behind forever?
Here are some pictures taken by Emma Bestall at last week's premiere of TUESDAYS, Amy's new film about a group of women with advanced cancer who meet at the Maggie's Centre in Dundee. Article to follow.
Ruth Cave and Karen O'Shanghnessy.
The film TUESDAYS is almost finished and the invites for the premiere are going out. I have filmed for several months with a group of very different women who come together every Tuesday in Dundee. They laughed and cried, exchanged shopping and cooking tips, and supported each other through life after a diagnosis of secondary cancer. One in three of us will develop cancer: it is a future most of us dread. This documentary shows that the reality is a bit more interesting, complicated and joyful than we fear – because once you've had the worst diagnosis, what is left to be scared of?
I have loved working with the Maggie’s Centre. Watching as the psychologist Lesley Howells holds the group week after week, encouraging discussion, even, or especially, about the really tough things, and bringing them through, makes me adore her. The team behind the scenes, based in London, are visionary. They offer – and expect – thinking outside the box. It was also very astute to bring Nell Dunn in as a consultant writer: she responded with such grace and clarity to the early cuts of the film. In fact the film ended up being structured chronologically, reflecting the ebb and flow of a group where mortality is first on the agenda: as Ruth Cave put it, “I joined this group to see how it is to die from cancer.”
Complementing major NHS cancer hospitals across the country, Maggie’s provides a unique approach to cancer that, at its simplest, can be described as ‘calmness, clarity and a cup of tea’.
Their unique approach to cancer started with Maggie Keswick Jencks. Maggie lived with terminal cancer for two years, and during that time she used her knowledge and experience to create a blueprint for a new type of care. One that lets people with cancer feel in control, not part of a production line; one that recognises the importance of reassuring spaces when people are feeling vulnerable; and one that never allows people to “lose the joy of living in the fear of dying” as she put it.
If you know someone who might benefit from the practical, emotional, or psychological support they offer, have a look at their website to find your nearest Maggie’s Centre.
I got up at 6.30 a.m. this morning to get to Strathcarron Hospice to show four of the very experienced nursing staff the film TUESDAYS we have made with the Maggie's Centre in Dundee. On the road by 7.20 a.m.… Brain into gear at one minute to 9. It was the first showing of the final version of the film. There was total silence from the four nurses as the women on the screen took us through their lives.
“Well that’s not what you read in the text-books,” was the first response. “You know what these women have done?” – I steeled myself.
“They’ve put it into words – the confusion, the thoughts, all the different emotions that people want to and can’t say. It’s not sad. Not sad at all. It's what we see on the ward...it's the black humour...the friendship....it's beautiful and true and doctors and nurses need to see this film. ”
I believe her. Not only because she is a consummate professional, but also because I have watched this gorgeous woman sing and dance her patients into well-being at Strathcarron Hospice. And I keep filming it.
The film about the Maggie's Centre is with the sound designer Marcelo de Oliveiri right now, and will have its premiere in Dundee on Wednesday 4th April, when the amazing women in the film will be there to talk to the audience. Tickets are free but limited: RSVP here.