Waupaca Native Produces Acclaimed Film Highlighting End-of-Life Topic

Special Showing Scheduled for End of the Month

When Waupaca native Mike Bernhagen was producing the PBS film, “Consider the Conversation: A Documentary on a Taboo Subject”, his goal was simple - provide others with a tool that will help them talk with loved ones about their end of life wishes. Little did Bernhagen realize how much he would benefit in the process.

“When Terry Kaldhusdal and I began making Consider the Conversation in 2009, our motivation was highly personal,” said Bernhagen. “We had both lost loved ones to severe chronic disease and struggled, like most Americans do, to make sense of what was happening. In retrospect, being in the presence of and talking with dying patients, their families and those who care for them was highly therapeutic.”

ThedaCare At Home is hosting a free event starting at 6 p.m. on Thurs., Jan. 31 at Fox Valley Technical College Waupaca Regional Center. The event is open to the public and registration is not required. Light refreshments will be served.

Attendees will view “Consider the Conversation.” It will be followed by discussion and dialogue with Teri Metropulos, ThedaCare At Home Hospice manager; Jim Frank, ThedaCare At Home chaplain; and Sarah Mickelson, ThedaCare At Home social worker. Advanced directives will be available.

“It is so hard for families to begin these conversations when their loved one is nearing the end of their life,” said Tammy Malweski, ThedaCare At Home marketing liaison. “They may wonder, did I do the right thing, is this what they would of wanted?”

How you want to live at the end-of-life is a discussion many families tend to avoid. But having the conversation can improve quality of life because it prevents unnecessary physical, emotional, spiritual and social suffering.

“Acknowledging death and openly dealing with end-of-life issues, often allows for good things to happen,” said “Fear is often alleviated, and it can be a time when people create profoundly intimate and meaningful experiences together, complete unfinished business, resolve issues, reconcile after estrangement, and experience spiritual growth.”

ThedaCare At Home Hospice Chaplain Jim Frank agreed. “This is such an important topic for families and individuals to discuss before a crisis occurs. Everyone needs to have in place what are their goals, their wishes, so their families understand and will respect when the time may come.”

Malweski said families can open up the conversation during the five “D’s:” with every new decade of your life; after the death of a loved one; after a divorce; after any significant diagnosis and after any significant decline in functioning.

The film does not provide any particular answer, said Bernhagen, director of community engagement at Rainbow Hospice Care in Jefferson. “It’s not a hospice film, for example, and it’s certainly not a film about physician assisted suicide,” he said. “Instead, our documentary provides something far more important than an answer. It asks some of the questions only the viewer can contemplate and answer for him/herself.”

It is up to viewers to answer questions like where they want to be when they die, with whom, what kind of quality of life they desire and more.

“Consider the Conversation is a beautiful film about a difficult subject,” said Bernhagen. “Unlike a lot of documentaries on end-of-life care, it isn’t graphic, clinical or depressing. After watching this movie in the theater, people leave feeling deeply moved and inspired to begin thinking and talking about their wishes with those who matter most to them – their spouse, their children, their doctor and their pastor or priest.”

And, one and half years after the film’s release, it’s safe to say that Consider the Conversation’s message is resonating. To date, it has aired more than 350 times on PBS stations in 29 states and won ten major awards including one for journalistic excellence and four for use of film for social change and viewer impact.