Hospice New Zealand

Helen's Story

Hospice NZ warmly invites you to watch the beautiful New Zealand documentary, 'Helen's Story' - now screening On Demand at Māori Television. Please click here to view. 

It's a story of love, family and whānau - and might just change your perspective of hospice. 

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Marlborough-based filmmaker Paul Davidson is familiar with death, dying and hospices, having made several documentaries on the subject. But when he heard that Helen was ill, it came as a great personal shock - because Paul is Helen’s uncle and godfather. He talked with the family, hospice and doctors and got permission to film Helen on her journey, no matter how it might end.

Paul says “I was humbled that Helen and the family were prepared to trust me with their very personal stories, and I was determined to record a comprehensive tribute for her children and family. But also I could see that the finished film would be a special story of one family’s response to tragedy, a story of courage and compassion, and a special insight into the hospice as a place that embraces the whole family.”

Ten years earlier Paul had been at Te Omanga Hospice making “Giving It All Away”, the story of philanthropist Sir Roy McKenzie, who funded the establishment of Te Omanga and inspired the hospice movement in New Zealand. Now he was back on a much more personal mission. “It is especially emotional working with people so close to you”, Paul says, “and that has been very difficult at times. But in this case there is also a special relationship between subject and filmmaker, and that has brought a level of intimacy and integrity to the story that doesn’t always happen.”

As Helen’s illness progressed, her whanau gathered to support her, but she remained very much in control of her family and her life. Many gaps in her life story were filled, a story that took twists and turns that no-one saw coming. Helen’s journey was filmed as it happened and some forty hours of raw footage and interviews were completed. Production designer and Co-director Barbara Gibb says “The finished film is an uplifting story of love and whanau, a celebration of Helen’s courage, and a unique memory for her children, especially her youngest son Potiki, who will never know his mother.”

Paul and Barbara were given special permission to follow Helen and her whanau every step of the way, as she prayed for a cure, entered the care of Te Omanga Hospice, and found inspiration in art therapy, music therapy and the response of her multi-cultural family. Hospice Director Biddy Harford got to know the family well, and says “Te Omanga Hospice was privileged to care for Helen during her time with us, and remember not only her incredible courage, but also the love she both gave out and received.”

Two years earlier Helen and Quentin had married in the beautiful gardens of Te Omanga Hospice, never dreaming they would soon be back there in very different circumstances. As Helen ruefully reflects “We asked our wedding guests to make a donation to the Hospice instead of giving us a present. It’s quite an irony that I’m now back here, probably using up those donations.”

As hospice nurse Michelle says “Helen had this wonderful inner strength and inner beauty that seemed to carry her through and also those around her as well. They worked together really well, really harmoniously, for meeting each day as it unfolded. And Helen had an amazing inner resilience and zest for life, even though her body was slowing down and failing her, she could just rise through that to achieve whatever it was that she was wanting.”

Having found himself in a special position as Helen’s uncle and godfather, Paul, with Barbara, has captured her story with an intimacy that comes only from close and trusted family. Their beautiful film is a highly personal and sad story, but also an uplifting insight into the power of love, family and whanau. That’s “Helen’s Story.”

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