CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 9 . . . .January 7, 2005
The National Film Board of Canada has a worldwide reputation for excellence in film documentaries, and this video is proof that such a claim continues to be valid. Bearing Witness: Jocelyn Morton is one of a series of three video documentaries, each of which profiles people with life-threatening illnesses. Also included in the series are Luke Melchior who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and Robert Coley-Donohue who died of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
The main character of this particular video, Jocelyn Morton, reminds me of a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: "Women are like tea bags. They don't know how strong they are until they get into hot water." Director Dan Curtis follows Jocelyn through the last four months of her life as she battles inoperable liver cancer. We see this sculptor at her home on Vancouver Island and watch her strength and courage in the face of impossible odds. Much of the video consists of Jocelyn, herself, discussing the emotions she feels - sometimes anger, sometimes fear, sometimes calm acceptance. As well, viewers meet her parents, sisters, son, various friends and a valued counsellor, all of whom are on this emotional roller coaster with her.
While most of the video highlights Jocelyn in her home surroundings, some of the footage is shot in a cancer clinic where she receives updates on her condition from medical personnel. And a small portion of the video is actually a treatment in hospital where doctors make a final attempt to eradicate the cancer and lengthen her life.
Jocelyn speaks frankly and openly about coping with a terminal illness. She wonders aloud if this will be the last spring she will see or the last time she will celebrate a certain event with friends. She worries about how her son will manage without her. Her tenacity and stubbornness are evident as she insists on trying anything at all that might help her condition. She seems to continually search for balance, on the one hand needing the support of those around her yet also needing private times to internalize and deal with what is happening. She also has to balance a constant medical condition ("It's always there - 24 hours a day!") with a need to live life in the present and keep things as normal as possible.
Far from being maudlin or sorrowful this video, like its namesake, is both powerful and strong. None of us knows how we might cope with a major trauma in life, but we can all relate in very human terms to Jocelyn's story. This video would make an excellent discussion piece in so many places. It would be valuable for anyone in the field of medicine, palliative care or counselling. Students of psychology would find the reactions of Jocelyn and of those around her both interesting and instructive. Although religion has no part in the video, it could serve as the basis for a discussion of faith and how one chooses to live one's life.
Jocelyn herself states that she hopes she has somehow been able to touch others in a positive way. There is no doubt she personally touched those around her, and, through this video, her story will touch thousands more.
Ann Ketcheson is a former teacher of high school English and French and currently is the teacher-librarian at Peterborough Collegiate in Peterborough, ON.
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