2020 Conference

Our annual conference features a diverse array of topics and speakers. We are committed to offering an unbiased and inclusive forum where conference attendees are exposed to a wide spectrum of information and ideas. The philosophies of any individual presenter do not necessarily reflect the views of this non-profit organization.

Conference Agenda March 7, 2020
GranTree Inn - Best Western, Bozeman 


8:00 am –  Conference Check-in

9:00-9:15 – Welcome/Introduction/Comments 


9:15-10:15 – Morning Keynote- Karen Wyatt, MD

10:30-11:45 – *Quick Talks (5 for 15) In Ballroom for all attendees


11:45-12:45 – Lunch

12:45-1:45 – Session 1 Workshops (3 Choices of topics)


2:00-3:00 – Session 2 Workshops (3 Choices of Topics)


3:10-3:45 – Closing Keynote- Karen Wyatt, MD


3:45-4:00 – Closing Comments/Drawings

Karen WYatt, MD

Dr. Karen Wyatt is the bestselling author of the books The Tao of Death and What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying, which contains stories of patients she cared for as a hospice doctor and the spiritual lessons she learned from them at the end of their lives. Dr. Wyatt also hosts End-of-Life University Podcast, which features conversations with experts who work in all aspects of end-of-life care. 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.


Conference Keynote Topics

Saturday March 7 


Morning 9:15a-10:15a

"Why Death is the Best Teacher for Life"

Our society avoids death as a topic even though it is the one certainty of life (in addition to taxes, of course).But the truth is that understanding and getting comfortable with the idea of our mortality can actually help us live with greater joy, deeper meaning, and more love. In this presentation you will learn what death and other tragedies can teach us about living and how to utilize this wisdom in your day-to-day life. Learn how death awareness can transform your life and help you live fully for all of your days.

Afternoon 3:10p-3:45p

"Keys to Navigating the End of Life"

The steps you take today can make all the difference for you and your loved ones when you reach later life and eventually the end of your days. This presentation will discuss the consequences of ignoring death in our society, how to overcome the fear of death that prevents us from preparing for the end of life, and the most important steps we can take now as we plan ahead for the inevitable. You will be able to create your own action plan for the future as you take home all of the valuable information you’ve gathered in this conference.

A BIG Thank You to Our Sponsors for the 2019 Conference:

Chalice Stroebe Doula, RYT

Becky Polley MSW, RYT

Experiencing Grief and Loss in the Body

Learn the ways our bodies process and react to grief and loss. This discussion will be accompanied by a mindfulness practice.

Chalice has a degree in Integrative Health Science and plans to pursue a Masters in Narrative Medicine this fall. She has had a mindfulness practice for nearly ten years and implements this into her work as a doula. 


Becky has her Master's in Social Work and works with youth in Foster Care. She has been teaching yoga for 5 years and is passionate about the ways in which we somatically hold and process grief and loss in our bodies. 

Lorca Smetana

How to Let Go of Victimhood

In grief it is easy not to distinguish between pain and suffering. Understanding the nature of victimhood gives us more control of where we will direct our energy, and a more direct path into what is healing. 

Learn tips and tools

Lorca Smetana is an award-winning educator, consultant and speaker, helping people, organizations and schools design for growth, human resilience and deep compassion.  She is on the faculty of the Human Leadership Development Program at Montana State University.


Heather Sessions, MSW

Four Things People Need/Want to Hear When They are Dying

A reminder and review of Ira Byock’s Book, The Four Things That Matter Most; how it changed my work, and, what about the children? 

Heather has served in hospice care in the Greater Seattle area for 15 years; serving both adults and children at end of life. After leaving her work in the field, Heather served as the bereavement coordinator for Hospice of Snohomish County as well as the Director for Camp Erin, a grief camp for kids.


She has returned to the field and is now caring for those being served by Frontier Home Health Care in Bozeman, MT


Karen Wyatt, MD

Keynote Speaker

Tips for Talking about Death

Most of us avoid talking about death and grief, even with people we care about, because they are difficult subjects that make us uncomfortable.


Learn how to discuss death with friends, family members, and strangers in a variety of situations.

Greater Yellowstone Threshold Choir

Threshold Choir is a national organization of choirs whose mission is to sing for those at the thresholds of life. Our vision is "A world where all at life's thresholds may be honored with compassion shared through song."


The Greater Yellowstone Threshold Singers was founded in January 2019, and is launching our public service at this conference.

Music at the Threshold


The Mystery of Mortality and the Need for Meaning

Tommy Donovan, PhD



The need for crafting a meaningful life is not an option in the face of mortality. The very fact that death is a mystery compels humans to fashion stories that give explanation and meaning to death. This talk will explore both the role of meaning-making in navigating finitude with equanimity, and the imbalances when meaning is absent.  



Thomas Patrick Donovan has served as a Faculty Fellow in the Honors College at Montana State University since 2011. He holds a doctorate in Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute. Inspired by Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death, he is particularly interested in the existential questions regarding living a meaningful life in the face of awareness of inevitable finitude. 

Suffer Out Loud: Preventing Suicide and How to Deal with Your Grief in the Aftermath

Cassie Jackson and Molly Basta, LCPC

The statistics are heartbreaking. Montana has the highest suicide rate in the United States. Join Cassie and Molly to explore the high suicide rate in Montana, including a look at why the rate is so high, how we can all help, and how to deal with the grief of losing someone to suicide. Their different perspectives on this crisis have led them to the same conclusions. 


Cassie Jackson is the co-founder of the nonprofit Suffer Out Loud. Suffer Out Loud was formed with the mission of reducing suicide rates in Montana. Cassie is passionate about starting conversations about mental health and reducing the suicide rate in her home state and beyond. 


Molly Basta is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor practicing in Bozeman Montana.  She received her Master’s of Science in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling from Montana State University Billings.  She has been working in mental health services for 10 years and currently serves on the Gallatin County Mental Health Advisory Council and Compassion Project board.


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Advanced Directives Advance Directives: What they are, why they are important and how they are used to honor your wishes

Nona Chambers MSG, LCSW  

During this session we will explore the types of advance directives available, including Living Wills, Durable Power of Attorney forms and the POLST form. We will explore how they are created, when they should be reviewed and updated. We will also share examples and real-life stories of how these documents are utilized in health care settings to make your wishes known.


Nona is a social worker at Bozeman Health. She is part of the Palliative Care team at the Deaconess Hospital. Nona has been working in the social work field for more than 35 years with specialization in Mental Health, Geriatrics and Hospice and Palliative Care.Geriatrics and Hospice and Palliative Care.

Your Options for End of Life Support: Patients and Families

Panel Discussion



This panel with provide you the information necessary to navigate the often difficult and stressful time patients and their families face at the end of life. There will be presentations by numerous organizations providing options for this much needed support. Plenty of time for questions and answers.  Contact information for these organizations will be provided.


Panelists will include representatives from

Stephen Ministries;

Palliative Care;

Hospice and Cancer Support.

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What Might We See and Hear at the Bedside at the End of Life

D. Laurel Desnick MD FACP




Learn about common signs and symptoms of the dying process, why mom stopped eating and drinking, who grandpa is talking to and compassionate, evidence based strategies to help comfort patient, family and friends.






Dr. Desnick is a Board Certified Internal Medicine and Hospice /Palliative Care physician. 

What Not to Say to a Grieving Person and What to Say Instead

Panel Discussion

This interactive discussion will cover the difficult topic of what not to say to a grieving person and what to say instead. Come hear our local experts share their first-hand experiences and perspectives. Great questions and participation are encouraged. 


Panelists include:

Katie Michael, Bereavement Coordinator/Chaplain with Hospice of Bozeman Health;

Kristopher Drummond, Bozeman Renewal Network;

Lorca Smetana, Restoring Resilience;

Rev. Kathi Gregoire

and others.

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Gallatin Valley Circle of Compassion is a volunteer group of local community members who are professionally and/or personally touched by the human experience of death and dying.

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