• Art of Dying
  • Death Awareness
  • Death Education
  • End of Life
  • Holistic Education
  • Living & Dying
  • Palliative Care
  • Thanatology
  • Transformation
  • Well-being



October 31 and Nov. 1st, 2020

When we launched the first Art of Dying conference in the spring of 1995 with our friends Tibet House we had little idea that, not only would The Open Center be engaged with this vital theme for a quarter of a century, but that our efforts would evolve into an Institute offering in-depth certificate programs and courses throughout the year. It has been our good fortune to pioneer holistic approaches to the end of life, and today we offer a broad range of innovative practices with leading teachers.

Now, as the world deals with the coronavirus pandemic, death has rarely been as pervasive and tragic in American society, and the need for holistic and innovative approaches to dying is greater than ever.

This unique virtual event celebrates the increasingly effective and widespread emergence of fresh spiritual and practical approaches both to living and dying. The intense demands of the present moment require us also to also look to the future:

  • What are the new healthy and transformative approaches to working with the dying?
  • How can we and our families best prepare for death, and how do we lessen the fear associated with it?
  • How does living with an awareness of the reality and inevitability of death enhance our ability to live full lives?

What Is Art of Dying?

The Art of Dying Institute, an initiative of The Open Center, is dedicated to fostering an engaged community of practitioners; researchers & scholars; educators; front-line innovators; partners; and investors to address the need for a cultural awakening around the theme of death and our mortality, how we die and the consequences for how we live. To learn more, visit the Integrative Thanatology Certificate Training page.

This weekend we have gathered some of the most accomplished speakers and pioneers from the Art of Dying program, each of whom provides a unique perspective on compassionate and wise ways of addressing death. Each day will be paced to accommodate the online format with space between presentations and break-out sessions. We will also hear contemplative music used to soothe the dying and their families and have experiential sessions on bereavement.

At this time of widespread death in America and the modern world, when grief and suffering abound, compounded by systemic racism, we invite you to join important innovators in palliative and hospice care for an inspiring and informative weekend. Together we will learn many of the new and necessary, heartfelt and holistic, approaches to the great matter of life and death. We will also meet others who share our sense of the great importance of this issue today as we help to shape the future of death and dying in the 21st Century.

Saturday October 31

9:00 – 9:20 AM

Introduction and Opening Remarks–Ralph White

9:20 – 10:15 AM

Facing Death: Finding Meaning and Living into the Last Breath–Henry Fersko-Weiss, LCSW

As people approach death, it is quite natural to question the meaning of their lives and wonder if they truly mattered, but too often, the fear of death engenders a reluctance to explore these difficult yet essential questions. Facing death openly may in fact be the key to finding meaning and living fully, right up to the last breath. Henry Fersko-Weiss, the Executive Director of the International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA), will discuss how to help dying people explore questions about their life’s meaning, as well as how facing death and exploring these questions at any point can infuse our lives with purpose, meaning and even unshakeable inner joy.

10:15 – 10:30 AM


10:30 -11:15 AM

How Good Death Education Supports Health and Wellbeing–Jeanne Denney, MA

Students of death awareness are often amazed at how well their bodies and psyches respond to learning about death with others. Good “Death Ed” routinely enhances both life and health, and we don’t always recognize why. Jeanne Denney, MA, will bring the perspective of a somatic psychotherapist to this question. Therapeutic work shows that the awareness of death is one of our most formative influences. It has powerful effects on our minds and bodies throughout our lives, and resistance to accepting death can dramatically block our vitality. We will consider how death consciousness can remove these blocks, restore our health and radically enhance our wellbeing.

11:15 AM – 12:00 PM

Breakout sessions 


2:00 – 2:50 PM

Changing the Culture of Medicine–Leslie Blackhall, MD 

In the past 40 years, death with dignity movements in the U.S. revolutionized end of life care, leading to the rise of hospice and palliative care as well as changes in medical and nursing education, but, despite these changes, most people still spend the end of their lives in and out of nursing homes, hospitals and ICUs. We have changed the culture, but not the deep culture. In this session we will discuss the deep roots of our societal denial of death and how can we truly transform the care of the dying, as well as the art of living.

3:00 – 3:50 PM 

The Tibetan Book of the Dead: Gift of Original Contemplative Life Science–Robert “Tenzin’ Thurman, Ph.D.

In this session, the great Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman will look at the science of death—what it is, how it relates to life (which cannot be understood without understanding death), and how Tibetan Buddhists developed their picture of the bardo states, the intervals between lives, between death and rebirth, vividly described in the Bardo Thodol (known in the West as the Tibetan Book of the Dead). We will also look at how we can cultivate the art of dying well, consciously, without fear and we will engage in a meditation practice designed to familiarize us with optimal ways to navigate dying and the bardo states.

3:50 – 4:10 PM (breakout)

4:10- 5:00 PM

Being a Compassionate Companion–Frank Ostaseski 

Caring for people who are dying can be an intense intimate experience. It often challenges our most basic beliefs. It is a journey of continuous discovery, requiring courage and flexibility. We have to learn to open ourselves, take risks and forgive constantly. Taken as a practice of awareness, it can reveal both our deep clinging and our capacity to embrace another person’s suffering as our own. This presentation presents a mindful and compassionate approach to addressing the practical, emotional and spiritual issues inherent in this unique relationship. By focusing on the development of three key elements: self-awareness, compassion and skillful action, we will learn how to cultivate the necessary skills to be able to accompany those facing death with openness and love.

5:00 PM
Reconvene and closure of the day—Ralph White 

Sunday, November 1 


9:30 -10:15 AM

African American Grief and Loss– Tashel Bordere, Ph.D.

In this talk, Tashel Bordere will offer us an inside look at historic and modern-day healing rituals for death as well as significant non-death losses for Black families. The subjects she will explore will include: the multifaceted processes of grief and coping; the historical and contemporary lived experiences of trauma, loss and “suffocated grief;” current end-of-life care options; culturally responsive after-death care rituals for both the deceased and the bereaved; and distinctive Black funeral rituals and practices.

10:15 – 11:15 AM

Dia de Muertos Ceremony– Cetiliztli Nauhcampa Quetzalcoatl in Ixachitlan

The Day of The Dead, originating in southern Mexico but now celebrated throughout Latin America, is a magical, festive community celebration that includes meditation, dances, altars, and ritual. It is a time during which perception should be especially alert so we can receive the energies of ancestors and guiding spirits. In this ceremony some members of the Cetiliztli group will offer a brief presentation on the tradition, practices and meaning of the Dia de Muertos followed by the creation of a traditional altar to honor and remember loved ones who have died. Each participant will have the opportunity to make a virtual offering to the altar and to meditate on those who are no longer with us.

11:15 – 11:30 AM

11:30 am – 12:15 pm

Music as Medicine at the End of Life–Catharine DeLong

Music at the bedside can bring beauty, intimacy, and comfort to end-of-life patients. It invites listeners to be present to what is going on both inside and around them. Focusing on the most effective uses of live vocal, instrumental and recorded music for palliative individuals and their loved ones, Catharine DeLong will share some of her experiences as a certified music thanatologist, contemplative musician and end-of-life educator and discuss how music can provide a vital support to patients and their families, helping them encounter the dying process as a natural passage.

Sunday Afternoon 

2:15 – 3:15 PM

After Death: Creating Empowering Experiences for Healing– Rev. Olivia Bareham and Amy Cunningham in conversation with Jeannie Blaustein, PhD, D. Ministry

Intelligent and compassionate end-of-life design can empower those who are dying as well as those who remain when they’ve gone. The moments, hours and days after someone dies can offer beautiful, empowering and transformative healing experiences. West Coast death midwife Rev. Olivia Bareham and East Coast funeral director Amy Cunningham, in conversation with Jeannie Blaustein, founding board chair of the non-profit, Reimagine, will explore the movement to redesign end-of-life experiences, including increasing the opportunities to say a final farewell in the hours after death, and alternative funeral options such as home funerals, witnessed cremation and green burials and how these practices can bring enhanced healing to families and communities.

3:15- 3:30 PM


3:30 – 3:45 PM



3:45 — 4:30 pm

Crisis and Opportunity: Sharing Our Grief with the World – Karen Wyatt MD

As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the world and changed the landscape of end-of-life care, we are experiencing unique challenges and opportunities around grief and mourning. With an emphasis on the collective grief we share as a global community we will explore tools and practices for connecting heart-to-heart even when we cannot be together in the same physical space. Through our shared experience we can recognize that love is not limited by space and time.


4:30 – 5:00 PM

Closure — Ralph White



How Do I Attend?

The event will take place entirely online. Our program will feature a mix of morning, mid-day, and late afternoon/evening sessions in different formats to keep you engaged, active and having fun. All sessions will be recorded, so if the time zone or other commitments prevent you from experiencing sessions live, they can be easily accessed later.

How Do I Purchase Tickets and How Much Do Tickets Cost?

Saturday, October 31, 9:00 am – 5:30 pm EST
Members $60/ Non-Members $75
Click HERE to register

Sunday, November 1, 9:00 am – 4:45  pm EST
Members $60/ Non-Members $75
Click HERE to register

Saturday & Sunday, October 31 & November 1st
Members $100/ Non-Members $125
Click HERE to register

Single Day Registration Also Available. See below for details.  

Art of Dying: 25th Anniversary Virtual Event

  • 2 Session(s)
  • Oct 31 2020 9:00 AM ET





Henry Fersko-Weiss

Henry Fersko-Weiss is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), former hospice social worker and manager, as well as the Executive Director of INELDA. He is credited with starting the very first end of life doula program at a hospice in the U.S. He co-founded INELDA to help train doulas and build doula programs in end of life care settings. In 2017, Conari Press published his book on doula work: Caring for the Dying, The Doula Approach to a Meaningful Death, which was recognized by the Library Journal, as one of the best books of 2017.

Jeanne Denney

Jeanne Denney, M.A., is a body psychotherapist, educator, hospice worker and author of The Effects of Compassionate Presence on the Dying. Jeanne is also the facilitator of the Integrative Thanatology certification program.

Leslie Blackhall

Leslie Blackhall, MD, is Associate Professor of Medicine and Medical Humanities at the University of Virginia Medical Center and Director of Palliative Care Services.

Catharine DeLong

Catharine DeLong is a Music-Thanatologist who delivers music vigils to individuals who are approaching the end of life. Catharine is a graduate of the Chalice of Repose Project and the Music Thanatology Association International. She is an interfaith minister affiliated with the One Spirit Interfaith Alliance. Catharine is the current facilitator for the Art of Dying Institute’s Integrative Thanatology Certificate Program.

Robert Thurman

Robert Thurman, Ph.D., is Professor of Religion, at Columbia university and Vajracharya in HH Dalai Lama’s ecumenical order of Tibetan Buddhism.

Frank Ostaseski

Frank Ostaseski is an internationally respected Buddhist teacher and visionary cofounder of the Zen Hospice Project, and founder of the Metta Institute. He has lectured at Harvard Medical School, the Mayo Clinic, Google and teaches at major spiritual centers around the globe. Frank is the 2018 recipient of the prestigious Humanities Award from the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine.

Cetiliztli Nauhcampa Quetzalcoatl in Ixachitlan

Cetiliztli Nauhcampa Quetzalcoatl in Ixachitlan was formed in 1999 from individuals from the four directions of the continent. Most of its members hail from Mexico, South America, the Caribbean as well as the US. They are an indigenous group that offers ceremonial performances and workshops through dances and songs from the Anahuac tradition. The group is cultural, spiritual, artistic, political and educational. They are an open circle formed by families and individuals from the indigenous community that now reside in New York City.

Tashel C. Bordere

Tashel C. Bordere, PhD, CT, is an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science, and a State Extentions Specialist—Youth Development, at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She is a Forward Promise Fellow (Boys & Young Men of Color) and certified thanatologist (deathlore). Dr. Bordere publishes works relating to diversity and resilience through loss including a coedited book, Handbook of Social Justice in Loss and Grief.

Amy Cunningham

Amy Cunningham was a magazine writer until 2007 when her elderly father’s memorial service got her interested in helping folks plan more meaningful end-of-life services. When she’s not directing funerals for her Brooklyn-based firm Fitting Tribute Funeral Services, she writes a funeral planning blog called TheInspiredFuneral.com.

Rev. Olivia Bareham

Rev. Olivia Bareham is a certified Death Midwife, Home Funeral Guide and Celebrant. She holds degrees in Education and Natural Theology and Sacred Healing, and is founder of Sacred Crossings – The Institute for Conscious Dying and Home Funerals in Los Angeles. Olivia has over 12 years experience guiding hundreds of families in the art of conscious dying and home-based after death care and recently launched an alternative funeral home owned and operated entirely by death midwives offering natural, sacred alternatives to traditional funeral home practices.

Jeannie Blaustein

Jeannie Blaustein, PhD, is founding board chair of Reimagine, a non-profit dedicated to sparking community driven conversations that explore death and celebrate life. She is also Adjunct Faculty, Pace University.

Karen Wyatt

Karen Wyatt MD is the bestselling author of the book 7 Lessons for Living from the Dying. She is widely regarded as a thought-leader in the effort to transform the way we care for our dying in the U.S. In addition, she is valued for her application of spiritual principles to illness and healthcare and teaches that in order to live life fully we must each overcome our fear of death and embrace the difficulties that life brings us. Dr. Wyatt also hosts End-of-Life University Podcast, which features conversations with experts who work in all aspects of end-of-life care.



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