After months of chasing treatment options, of refusing to give up hope but finding none, she is gone and he is reeling.

The couple - Jess Doherty, 41, a television producer, and Rebekah Morris, who was director of KLRU-TV's advertising and public relations department - have left a legacy behind.

She died in April of 1994. Out of his pain and grief has come help from others: a series of videos that help prepare viewers for the realities of death.

The four-part videotpe series, called "Facing Death," answer questions Doherty and other caregivers had when Rebekah, 30, was dying.

"My questions were varied and seemed endless," he has written. "I craved information so I would have some idea what to expect."

It wasn't that Doherty didn't get information from health care workers and hospice professional.

But the information came bit by bit and not necessarily when he needed it, he says.

Bookstore shelves may be loaded with thoughtful books about death and dying - but caregivers, or terminal patients themselves, often don't have time or energy for them.

Other videos on the subject were well done but often emotionally wrenching, Doherty says, containing little of the concrete information he had been looking for as a caregiver.

"I didn't think they could be as effective for people already in a highly charged emotional state. There needed to be something else that was more matter-of-fact," Doherty says.

Doherty pitched his idea to Rick Geyer, president of Family Experiences Productions, Inc., an Austin-based company that produces consumer health and patient education videos.

With the go-ahead to produce the videos, which was shot and edited by David DeWitt, Doherty consulted with experts from Hospice Austin.

Doherty decided to produce a set of videos: one about how to best provide physical, emotional and spiritual comfort to loved ones, and one that addresses wills, advanced directives and other legal matters. Two more videos were released the following year culled from the original footage, one about understanding end-of-life patient needs and the other about the gift of being there for the terminally ill patient.

Though discussion is targeted toward caregivers, the information could also be valuable to dying patients.

The first includes doctors, Hospice Austin workers, family members and patients talking about everything from pain medication to the stages of death.

In it, Rev. Janet Maykus, director of spiritual care at Hospice Austin, talks about how those who are dying gradually disassociate from what's happening with friends, co-workers or family members. Just as there is a shutting down of the body, she says, there is a shutting down of relationships.

"It's as if the threads (connecting them to the world) start to become thinner and thinner," she says.

Maykus reminds viewers not to talk around people who are dying, as often happens, but to them.

She talks about how profound questions of faith can surface for the dying person - and how that can be disconcerting to those around them.

There is discussion about dealing with disfigurement, about using humor to diffuse uncomfortable situations.

"Don't feel that you've got to be overly careful," says a man with a terminal illness. "Don't feel that you're standing on a crate of eggs - you're not.

In the second video, a lawyer and Hospice Austin workers talk about options for burial, cremation and donating organs, and how to deal with bills and insurance.

Also discussed: advanced directives, living wills, do not resuscitate orders, and how to obtain a power of attorney for health care.

Because so much information is presented, and caregivers may have little time, Doherty suggests watching the videos a bit at a time and rewinding when needed.

"Facing Death," sold nationally, has received an award from the National Hospice Organization and is being used by Stephen Ministries, as well as Hospice Austin and other organizations.

Terri Dusek, spokesperson for Hospice Austin, calls the videotape series "straightforward, yet compassionate. It's going to help a lot of people. It has helped a lot of people."

They are particularly useful in reinforcing information that isn't readily retained by caregivers who are under a lot of stress, Dusek says.

"And a lot of times, families have not been told everything. Maybe their questions haven't been answered by the medical professionals, and they want answers."

Doherty gave "Facing Death" to Bennett Brier when he learned their mutual friend from high school was dying of colon cancer - and that Brier, 42, was among a core group of caregivers.

"It (the first video of the set) went straight to what was important," Brier says.

"Most of the physicians and professionals have been extremely kind and polite. But they have a job, and sometimes they're sort of scared to say exactly what they need to say, to keep people up to date on the truth. Cancer is very scary and mystifying."

"Facing Death" helped alleviate some of the mystery, Brier says, and also raised questions to ask physicians.

If nothing could totally prepare him and the other caregivers with the experience of helping their friend, the video made some things easier.

Doherty also gave the set to a friend, though, who refused to watch it as his sister was dying.

Doherty understands the radically mixed feelings that come up for caregivers and others when someone is dying - or in the months or years afterward. Making the videos was painful but therapeutic for him. Shooting began near the third anniversary of Rebekah's death.

Though Rebekah's story is never mentioned in "Facing Death," her spirit helped drive the project to completion.

Designed to help others, Doherty says, the tapes are "her gift through me."

Author's Bio: 

Jess Doherty is an award-winning independent producer-director living in Austin, Texas. More information on the "Facing Death" videotape series can be found at or call 512-494-0338.