The philosophy of a life
Like Rembrandt Draperies: A Portrait of Cathy Tingle is a documentary produced by Lisa Kaplan and Marcy Rosenbaum. It opens with the single voice of a woman (Jane Ethyl) wailing "Wayfaring Stranger," and the juxtaposition of photos of a woman's life with the image of two women preparing a freshly-covered grave (which we later learn is Cathy's). As much as this film focuses on death, it is as much about life, and our attitudes about living. The film documents the life of Cathy Tingle, her experience with cancer-which lasted 10 years-with her doctors and health care, and her view of death and life. It consists of interviews with Cathy, her main healthcare provider, Holly Gallion, and family and friends.
Cathy Tingle lived in an old schoolhouse in rural Kentucky. Called an "ex-hippie" by her doctor, she lived in the "back to the land" style-raising about 75 percent of her family's food, baking bread, caring for her children, and being "close to nature." Although there was a history of cancer in her family, Cathy lived in a way that was focused on health. Her core values were, "the health of (her) children, (her)self, and (her) body, and being at one with Nature."
Then, at the age of 41, she had a mentrual period which lasted several months. Cathy had regular gynocologic visits throughout her life, and in the past year had a normal pap smear . She considered this to be early menopause. Her doctors told her it was pre-cancerous or cancer. It was a difficult decision to make, but after she had surgery to remove what was possible, she agreed to undergo radiation-walking the four miles to and from the medical center.
Cathy formed a close friendship with her gynocological oncologist, Holly Gallion, who is interviewed in the film. She says that the first time she met with Cathy, who had endometrial cancer involving the cervix, she thought Cathy would "probably last a year." Dr. Gallion's take on healthcare is one that is not shared by all; she believes keeping a "professional" distance from patients hampers giving them the best health care. This includes treating the whole patient, and knowing that person to respect her and her decisions. In interviews with Cathy, the only time she becomes visibly upset is when she describes dealing with a healthcare provider who was not listening to her and ended up irradiating her bladder against her wishes. This is another focus of the film: communication among patient, doctor, and teams of doctors.
Along with her hospital care, Cathy meditated, practiced yoga, and received massage. She believed that these activities, along with the support of the people around her, helped her deal with the stress of having cancer-which is part of the battle. We see Cathy in two interviews two weeks apart, toward the end of her life. Throughout, she remains calm and thoughtful, sometimes even laughing. She says that living with her illness has caused her to learn to better make decisions and get things done more than she probably would have otherwise.
The last half of the documentary talks about Cathy's death. Several of Cathy's friends, and one of her sons, are interviewed. This part focuses less on the treatment of her illness, and more on the person they knew. Everyone interviewed-Dr. Gallion, Cathy's friends, her son-says that as Cathy learned to deal with the cancer, she accepted that death is as much a part of life as is living. They talk about how compassionate she was, how she loved to work, and her love for life, "sunshine, friendship, coffee, and Nature." When they prepare Cathy's body for burial, friends help dig her grave, and others perform a washing ritual over her, and dress her, putting fresh boughs of cedar and juniper in her coffin. As the adults perform these rites, young people and children make a meal in the kitchen through the door. This becomes a metaphor for what Cathy's family and friends see as her philosophy-living and dying all being a part of Nature's cycle.
This documentary is about terminal illness. It is not "lite" fare. However, although it does talk about the facts-of-life issues and day-to-day procedures of living (and dying) with cancer (with diagrams and x-rays), it focuses more on the powerful affect a positive, pro-active woman made on her life and on the people who knew her. It is honest and straight-forward, not a litany against today's healthcare system, nor a total embrace of it. I can't guarantee you won't leave without tears, but they will not be "oh, the tragedy of cancer," rather, "wow, I respect this woman." The film closes with a celebration-live music, and people dancing and singing together.
HOME | THIS ISSUE | ACE ARCHIVES