Maren Grainger-Monsen, a filmmaker and emergency medicine physician, chronicles her personal journey towards understanding death and dying as she explores the stories of those near death. The film uses a metaphor of the thread of life, and the three Greek Fates who control life (spinning, measuring and cutting this thread), to interweave Monsen's journey with the lives--and deaths--she encounters.

The film begins with her recollection of two experiences during her emergency medicine training: the first time she is paged to pronounce someone dead and a "crisis point"--resuscitating a patient, brought to the emergency room, who had specifically requested no resuscitation. The remainder of the film focuses on Jim Brigham, a social worker for a hospice program, whom Monsen joins for his home hospice visits and who relates the touching and memorable story of his wife's life and death.

Some of the patients Jim visits are Tex, a man dying of heart failure who had experienced a difficult, scary night; Sean, who has Lou Gehrig's disease and who needs help with paperwork and family concerns; and Anna Marie, who has lymphoma and is taken via ambulance to the hospital for comfort measures. Monsen notes how comfortable Jim is discussing death issues and how compassionate and caring he is with a recent widow in the midst of her "grief work." By contrast, Monsen admits to feelings of helplessness, vulnerability, even terror. She wishes her medical education had not been so devoid of teaching regarding death and dying.

Monsen comments on the wavering line between life and death, and whether the "medical machine" prolongs life or death. She visits a young boy left with severe brain damage following a near-drowning incident and "successful" resuscitation 5 years previously. The boy requires constant care, but his father notes that his son is "doing pretty good."

By the end of the film, Monsen has learned "how to sit with someone . . . while death walks into the room." Death no longer equates with failure. She concludes with her overvoice, "I wonder what it will be like to be a doctor who doesn't see death as the enemy."


This award-winning documentary successfully explores complex issues of love, death and letting go. Jim Brigham, the social worker, beautifully articulates the fluxes and nuances of deciding, in detail, how one chooses to die in light of the panoply of medical technologic options. There are some startling images, such as the diversion to clips of being buried alive, but in general, this is a film that induces reflection, not horror, about the relationships between mortality and medicine. The editing is particularly noteworthy. Images of lines, threads, roads, tracks, timed drops and spinning wheels of various sorts add depth to the discussion of death as a natural aspect, and not an enemy lurking on the path of life.


More information about the film:

Primary Source

First Run/Icarus Films