My Last Summer. Channel 4 addressing the taboo topic of dying.

Andy, Jayne, Ben, Lou and Junior. My Last Summer.
Picture: Channel 4.

Newest Channel 4 documentary follows five terminally ill people who come together to talk about, sometimes frankly, about their impending deaths. They laugh, cry, joke, talk – but crucially, their dying.

Sobfest 2014. That's what sprung to mind when My Last Summer was advertised recently. In reality, over an hour of viewing and there's fewer sob stories than an episode of X Factor. Don't get me wrong, there's a tear or two for their heartache and families, but these people know that discussing death is a taboo. It's a subject no-one wants to think about, let alone voice. Executive Producer, Kieran Smith hopes that people “…gain strength from it, and learn from it. And for there to be an openness that this will one day happen to all of us, so we have to talk about it.” Although true, the fact remains that some people must prepare sooner than others.

Diagnosed in 2007, Lou has motor neurone disease. She talks with her eldest of “chocolate-ing” rather than dying but has been open with her four children about her condition. Junior, an ex-DJ, suffers with prostate cancer. His relationship with girlfriend Sonja is genuine and moving yet unsettling and broken. She admits they wouldn’t still be together without the cancer. Jayne had breast cancer that metastasised. Although she comes across strong and bold, her marriage is facing separation due to her husband’s disconnection with her diagnosis. After being cleared of leukaemia, Andy is now faced with lung complications that are terminal and there’s Ben, who has made a conscious decision to distance himself from family and friends. He is also dying of leukaemia.

Through the drama and situations of the programme, Jayne is seen crying after opening up about her marriage and Junior has a serious argument with Sonja that felt slightly awkward to watch. Yet it was Ben who caught the eye – even if from the corner of the camera. He was, aesthetically, the most affected by his disease, deciding to face his illness alone, still carrying his cigarettes wherever he goes. When we first meet him he sarcastically remarks that it would make for a better show if someone were to die during filming. And that may be true but in heart, Ben’s story is the saddest of the group.

This new Channel 4 documentary was certainly upsetting but there was an intriguing strength to it. Instead of squeezing you of sympathy it showed you how some people can see the world when their facing the scariest moment of life. The end. In the first of four parts there was a good introduction to the stronger personalities of the group, some of which voting in favour of euthanasia. But, hopefully we’ll see a deeper insight into the more thoughtful and quieter characters next time around.

One things for sure. Don’t take anything for granted.