By Stephen Hudak
ORLANDO – Faith Broadnax yanked out her breathing tube.
If the “skinny white woman” with the camera – as the headstrong 80-year-old referred to hospice volunteer Maria McKenna – insisted on shooting video of her singing a hymn, she wasn’t going to be seen praising Jesus with a plastic hose up her nose.
“This is your show,” McKenna said, waiting patiently, lens focused on Broadnax.
When finished, the end-of-life video, produced by Hospice of the Comforter, will recount the colorful life and times of Broadnax, the first black president of Central Florida’s restaurant association and a cook whose made-from-scratch Southern meals delighted Orlando foodies at her short-lived restaurant, Hey Faith’s Cookin'!
But the keepsake also may serve a more personal, psychologically important purpose.
Retelling life stories – engaging in a candid “life review” – may help a dying person prepare for the end as it approaches, said Susan Bluck, a psychology professor who has studied death and dying at the University of Florida.
People want to feel that they have meaningfully shaped the world somehow, she said.
“That needn’t be a huge discovery or a million-dollar bank account,” Bluck said. “It might be as simple as having passed on important life lessons and experiences to those children and grandchildren in your own family.”
Making a video to celebrate a life – and recognize its ending – is a logical part of a growing trend made possible by easy-to-use technology that allows anyone with an iPhone to capture birthdays, graduations and other milestone events.
“A video fulfills a different, more intimately social purpose,” Bluck said. “It allows the dying person to speak in their own words – with their own personality – to family and friends.”
The hospice, part of Florida Hospital’s Connected Care system, offers the video opportunity to patients whose conditions have reached an advanced stage. Some decline, preferring not to be filmed. Others are too ill to participate.
“My dad just had his story to tell,” said Juliet Sheffer, daughter of George C. Wagner Jr., who was filmed by hospice volunteers before he died of lung cancer in 2010 at home in Winter Garden, Fla.. “He wanted to make sure that we had something of him whenever we needed it, whenever we wanted it, whenever we were ready.”
She and her younger sisters, Evonne and Kimmera, have not watched it yet. “Not ready,” she said.
But her older brother George and her mother, Dawn Wagner, occasionally view the 40-minute video to feel closer to him.
“I just need to see and hear him some days,” Wagner explained, tears welling.
A retired computer programmer, Wagner also served as a volunteer firefighter in the Philadelphia area, rushing to New York City after the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001, to help the city’s overwhelmed first responders.
Though weakened by cancer, he displays in the hospice video the disarming wit and charm that served him as a photographer on Disney’s Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, where he worked after he retired to Florida.
When hospice volunteer Paula Calhoon asked him somberly how he would like to be remembered, he grew quiet as if mulling it over with family clustered around his bed.
Then he mustered the breath to sing out, “I’m Henry the Eighth, I am.”
Everyone in the room cracked up.
©2014 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
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