The personal stories of people living the final phase of life is at the heart of “Consider the Conversation: A Documentary on a Taboo Subject,” which will be screened free Wednesday, Sept. 18, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Flagship Theater on Route 1. A panel discussion will follow.

Panelists will include Kno-Wal-Lin chaplain the Rev. Stephen White; Dr. Rob Hunold, medical director of Miles & St. Andrews Home Health & Hospice; KWL board member Mike Hall, funeral director of Hall Funeral Homes; Holly Miller, RN, CHPN, hospice coordinator for Miles & St. Andrews Home Health & Hospice; and KWL Hospice Coordinator Heidi McCaffery.

Gwen Cole, RN, Miles & St. Andrews Home Health & Hospice Community Liaison Nurse, organized the event after previous screenings in Boothbay and Damariscotta brought many requests for a screening in the Rockland area.

“’Consider the Conversation’ encourages people to think about and actively plan how they want to live their life to the fullest, to the end,” she said. “The movie really encourages people to be proactive — not just about the end of their life but even years before.”

Cole said the response to the earlier screenings was overwhelming, filling the theaters. She has been asked about advanced directives, palliative care and hospice care more in the past month, since the movie events, than ever before.

“It is as if we have given people permission to talk about what they want for themselves and for their family members,” she said.

Michael Bernhagen, who produced the movie with his long-time friend Terry Kaldusdal, said in an interview that the filmmakers approached the project with a lofty goal: to change society’s silence about the end of life. Kaldusdal had recently lost an older brother to pancreatic cancer. For Bernhagen, it began with a loving exchange as he sat on his mother’s hospital bed, not long before she died. It was only later, as he talked to a friend, who was a nurse, that he heard about hospice care.

What matters most to people at the end of their life, said Bernhagen, and what mattered most to him during his mother’s decline, was the chance to spend time with loved ones. She spent her final years and months in a ceaseless round of medical and nursing care; she had never talked with her husband, her children or her doctor about how she wanted to spend her final weeks and months and what would offer her the best quality of life, the most meaning and happiness.

“We have done so many good things in medical technology, but we have created a new problem,” said Bernhagen.

Surveys indicate that between 80 and 90 percent of Americans want to die at home with family, but only about 20 percent actually do.

“What we are failing to do as a culture — what we are failing to do in medicine — is to have the conversation,” Bernhagen said. “Our goal with this work is to change the American culture. We hope to remind folks that this is an opportunity.”

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115 or