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Helping Vermonters Prepare For ‘Their Own Good Death’


by Michelle Acciavatti

MONTPELIER — There is a quiet revolution happening around the world to embrace the reality of death and dying. People are hosting death cafés, writing advance care plans, tending to the personal and spiritual needs of the dying and even personalizing funerals. It is an honor and privilege to be one of the people creating a new paradigm for approaching the end of life.

I recently founded a business, Ending Well, to help people plan, prepare and experience “their own good death.” I call myself an End-of-Life Specialist, because nothing else encompasses everything I have trained to do. I can help with advance care planning, facilitate conversations with family and loved ones about end-of-life issues, help patients become active participants in their own health care by aiding in patient literacy and advocacy, provide non-medical support for those at the end of life, offer support for women and families who have experienced or are expecting to experience pregnancy loss and serve as a home funeral guide by helping people navigate how to have a home funeral and design personal rituals after a loved one has died.

I have spent the past two-and-a-half years working as a hospice volunteer for Central Vermont Home Health & Hospice and helping facilitate the Montpelier Death Café. These experiences have helped me identify where our local services have gaps and I have tailored my training to allow me to meet the specific needs of my community by stepping into and filling those gaps. I am in the position of both being able to provide care and support as well as helping people connect with and get the most out of resources available to them. I want everyone to be aware of and prepared for the choices they can make for themselves as the think about or approach the end of life.

I think this is especially important in Vermont, which has both one the lowest usage rates of hospice and one of the shortest average hospice lengths in the country. By introducing people to the idea of hospice in my planning sessions and clarifying that hospice provides a range of services, including medical care, that actually improve the quality of life, I hope that more people will choose hospice earlier. Once people are on hospice, I can use my relationship with them to help them maximize the support hospice provides.

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The formal trainings I have done have prepared me to launch my business. Making connections with people already working with end-of-life issues has also been invaluable to me. I have learned about so many different approaches to advance care planning, caring for the dying and saying goodbye. While everybody dies, each death is unique. I will take the time to get to know you and your needs and find what is going to work best for you. For this reason I prefer to work with you in your home and we can negotiate a contract specific to you.

I will be holding a conference August 19 to 21 at the Unitarian Church of Montpelier to formally launch my business. The conference is called “Ending Well: Practical Conversations About Preparing For The End Of Life” and will consist of three conversation-based workshops designed to introduce the community to values-based advance care planning, patient literacy and advocacy, non-medical end-of-life caregiving and home funerals that are free and open to the public. I am very excited that my mentor and teacher Suzanne O’Brien, founder of Doulagivers, will be joining me for the community caregiving training workshop, and that my teacher and mentor Lee Webster, president of The National Home Funeral Alliance, will be joining me for the home funeral workshop. The Wake Up to Dying Project is lending me their collection of audio stories about “death, dying, and life” so it’s going to be a really great opportunity for people to come and learn about how to make the most of what I offer as an End-of-Life Specialist.

My motto has become “Life matters. Talk about death.” The more I embrace working with death and the dying, the more I learn what truly matters and the more I understand how I want to live. It is a powerful, uplifting and transformative experience and it is an honor to be of service to my community in this way.


“Ending Well: Practical Conversations About Preparing For The End of Life”

August 19, 20, and 21

The Unitarian Church of Montpelier, 130 Main Street, Montpelier, VT 05602

All workshops are in Church Vestry.

There is a suggested $10 donation

Friday, August 19, 5 to 8p.m. “Thoughts to Plans” Plan for the end of life beyond thinking of medical treatment options, why it’s important to talk about the end of life, and how to help understand the information you get from a medical care provider and become an active participant in your own health care.

Saturday, August 20, 1 to 6p.m. “Doulagivers Level 1 End of Life Doula Community Caregiver Training” A training developed by Suzanne O’Brien to prepare family members to best care for their loved ones at the end of life and well as introduces community members to the skills they need to support and assist caregivers and dying loved ones. O’Brien will personally be conducting this training.

Sunday, August 21, 1 to 3p.m. “You can do that?” Everything you need to know about home funerals (including body care) and creating personal rituals to say goodbye after your loved has passed away. Lee Webster, president of the National Home Funeral Alliance, will be there to answer questions and share her experience.

Sunday, August 21, 3 to 6p.m. “Meet Michelle!” Ask questions, schedule consults, talk or pick up informational brochures.

For more information email: info@ending-well.com

Check out www.ending-well.com and endingwell.wordpress.com

To contact Acciavatti directly email: michelle@ending-well.com

Tom Brown is contributing editor of The Bridge. ..... You can contact him at tom@montpelierbridge.com