Talking About Death Won’t Kill You

We hosted Talking About Death Won’t Kill You for three years in Ithaca. Think of it as an information fair for death and dying-related topics. Staff from local organizations came together to help you explore:

  • advance directives: health care proxies & living wills
  • accessing palliative care
  • hospice care
  • wills & trusts
  • organ donation
  • funeral planning
  • green burial

We had hoped to bring a version of this event to other towns in Tompkins County in 2020. However, the pandemic put an end to those plans. For 2021, we’re thinking about ways to make the same sort of information available virtually. We’ll post something here when we figure that out.

Ithaca Death Cafe

We support the quarterly Death Café here in Ithaca. “At a Death Café people drink tea, eat cake and discuss death. The aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives.”

Normally, when we have a date scheduled, we post it on the Death Cafe website. However, we’ve gone virtual with the Death Cafe every other month and we’re not posting it on the international site. If you are interested, please email to be put on the mailing list.

Advance Directives Workshops

The workshops focus on the two types of advance directives that are not medical orders, the Health Care Proxy and a Living Will.

  • A Health Care Proxy (also known as a durable power of attorney for health care) allows you to name another person to express your wishes and make health care decisions for you if you cannot speak for yourself. Everyone age 18 or older should have a Health Care Proxy named.
  • A Living Will lets you state your wishes for end-of-life medical care in case you become unable to communicate your decisions.

We have two “flavors” of this workshop:

  • It’s Not If, It’s When…
    This introductory workshop on making informed decisions about end-of-life plans for yourself and others explores types of advance directives, including the Health Care Proxy form and Living Will; and the importance of completing your paperwork and sharing it with the right people.
  • Advance Directives Working Session
    This workshop is a working session where everyone can complete their Health Care Proxy and Living Will. This is for people who know they need to get their paperwork done, but just haven’t gotten around to it yet. People fill out forms and discuss considerations and challenges with the facilitators and with one another.

How to Be a Health Care Proxy

Have you been asked to be someone’s health care proxy? Do you understand your person’s wishes and choices for end-of-life care? Do you understand your legal responsibilities as a proxy? This workshop may be useful:

  • if you’ve been asked to be someone’s health care proxy, but don’t really know what that entails; or
  • if you haven’t chosen a health care proxy for yourself and want to get a better sense of who might best serve you in that role.

We did this workshop live in early November 2020 and recorded it. Watch it here to learn more about what it means to serve as someone’s health care proxy. You’ll want to download the following documents before you watch:

About Us

Angela Mennitto is a death midwife and community educator. She organizes community education events to promote death literacy—the practical know-how needed to plan well for the end of life—to help normalize conversations about death and dying. She has been hosting a Death Café in Ithaca since 2013.  The last three years she organized, together with Deb Traunstein, a community event called “Talking About Death Won’t Kill You” that brought together staff from local organizations to help people explore the many aspects of advance care planning. She is passionate about any activity that helps normalize conversations about death and dying in our culture, anything that helps us “bring death out of silence.”

Deb Traunstein, LMSW, MBA, has worked as a medical social worker for the past 40 years. She has held positions in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, homecare agencies, hospice services, palliative care programs, private practice, and most recently as the co-creator of an out-patient palliative care program at Visiting Nurse Service of Ithaca called Advanced Illness Management (AIM). Deb is especially passionate about educating the general community and healthcare personnel about the importance of Advance Care Planning, and uses actual clinical experiences to illuminate various aspects of this critical topic.

Future Projects

We’re exploring a variety of new projects including a film viewing of the documentary “Living While Dying” with a discussion afterwards and a few different workshops:

  • defining your own good death
  • writing your own obituary