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2020 Death Matters
Conference Highlights

In 2020 the second Death Matters Conference was held in Christchurch, New Zealand. As with the first, a wide variety of professionals, academics and specialists broadened our understanding of aging, dying and grief through a mix of presentations, workshops and Q&A sessions


—Another brilliant conference, thank you so much. Excellent speakers and subjects
—Diverse, thought-provoking, warm... a beautiful experience



Dr. Lotte Valentin

Physician N.M.D., Author and Psychic Evidential Medium

Dr. Ann Charlotte Valentin is an N.M.D., author, evidential medium, psychic, spiritual educator, as well as a dynamic inspirational public speaker.

‘I knew I was dying. The first thing I noticed was that I was still alive. I was still there, just outside my body!’ This was the reaction of Dr. Lotte as she came close to death in the ER in 1992. Before having her near-death experiences, Dr. Lotte was an atheist. Two years later as she struggled to heal, she again left her body, which resulted in a spiritual transformation and the activation of her life path.

In 2012 at the age of 54, she was guided to leave her job as a sales manager in the bio-tech industry in San Francisco and moved to Tempe, Arizona to attend medical school. Dr. Lotte is eager to share what she has learned and show others that it is never too late to transform one’s life path. Dr. Lotte lives in Phoenix, Arizona, where she operates her Centre for Integrative Medicine as well as her Spiritual Centre, Divine Spiritual Essence.

Michael Hempseed

Author, TEDx Speaker & Mental Health Educator

Michael Hempseed is the author of the book, Being A True Hero: Understanding and Preventing Suicide in Your Community. His Ted Talk on overcoming failure led to his becoming a sought-after professional speaker. In the last two years Michael has delivered more than 300 seminars on topics such as overcoming failure, mental illness and suicide prevention

Suicide Prevention - Everyone Has a Role.

When we think about suicide we often associate it exclusively with depression, yet there are many causes of suicide from, bullying, lack of sleep, and psychosis, to panic disorder, loneliness and failure. Michael’s talk last year was a hit with our audience and this year he was back to present a different take on suicide awareness

Mark Longley

Journalist and Editor at Newshub

Mark Longley was born and raised in London and moved to New Zealand in 2005 with his family. He is a journalist and editor at Newshub, and lives in Auckland with his daughter Hannah and two sons. He is also a trustee of the White Ribbon trust, which is helping end male violence towards women.

In May 2011 his eldest daughter Emily was murdered by her boyfriend after a short but increasingly violent relationship.

Emily was a bright, vivacious girl and her death almost destroyed Mark. For a long time he felt he would never move through the huge cloud of grief that encompassed him.

In 2019, after a long time thinking about it Mark decided to examine death and grief in a podcast called Death: Love Grief and Hope. The 3-part series looks at his personal journey and questions why many of us are so ill-equipped to deal with grief. It is often a taboo subject but is something that affects us all.

Kirsty Salisbury

NDE Speaker, Podcaster and Coach

Kirsty Salisbury is a speaker, podcaster and coach who speaks straight from her heart. Since a Near Death Experience at 12 years of age, Kirsty has been determined to live a very full life, and to help as many people in the process as possible.


Through her podcast ‘Let’s Talk Near Death’ Kirsty shares personal stories of life, death, and experiences in between. Outside of her podcast, her talks explore the topics of death, resilience, regrets, and how we can create opportunity through effective habits.


Kirsty blends her experience as an established wellness professional, her private coaching business, and her research in the areas of resilience, habits, and long term happiness to help empower others with practical tools and strategies to embrace living at their best. She is presenting on Ressilience, Regrets and Near Death Experiences.

Sue Dwan

Management & Business Coach and Change Agent

Sue is a management and business coach, a professional certified coach (PCC/ICF), a writer and ‘go to’ person for specific projects and initiatives. Three deaths and an extraordinary event at a crematorium led her to consider our predominant death-denying culture and its impact on individuals, their families, and employers. Sue has also authored the ‘Get Your Affairs in Order’ series of guidebooks.


Today Sue presented on the importance of getting your affairs in order, followed by why and how to fill out an Advance Care Plan.


Statistics show few adults (from 18 – 70+ years of age) ever prepare themselves mentally, emotionally, or in any practical way for their eventual death. This typically results in significant issues, work, stress and expense for loved ones left behind. Moreover, individuals tend to give little attention to thinking about the healthcare and treatments they may want/not want, in the future. An Advance Care Plan enables decisions to be made and recorded, before it is too late to do so. 

Dr. Rachel Wiseman

Palliative Medicine Physician and Respiratory Physician

Rachel Wiseman qualified as both a Palliative Medicine Physician and a Respiratory Physician in 2012. She currently holds a joint position in both Respiratory and Palliative Medicine in Christchurch Hospital, NZ.


Having trained in the UK, Rachel fell in love with New Zealand when she (and her now husband) arrived in 2004. Despite only intending to visit for 6 months, she stayed and completed training, managing to miss out on the Christchurch earthquakes by spending 18 months working in Australia.


Rachel’s current interests are advanced COPD, dyspnoea, oxygen therapy and advance care planning.  She participates in the motor neuron disease service for Canterbury and West Coast District Health Boards.  In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her two young children, mountain biking, tramping and skiing.


Today Dr. Wiseman led us into a deeper and thought-provoking look at euthanasia from a medical perspective.

Dr. Amy Fletcher, PhD

Assoc Professor at the University of Canterbury, Bachelor of Arts (University of Tennessee), Master of Arts (University of Georgia), Doctor of Philosophy (University of Georgia)

My major research area is science, technology and environmental policy. I focus on the integration of the computer science and biotechnological sectors and the impact of exponential technological change on public policies and society.


My current specific interests include artificial intelligence/automation and employment, the impact of AI on the higher education sector, and disruptive biotechnologies in health and the environment.


Research questions that I consider include:

  • What happens after new technologies ‘leave the lab’ and enter society?

  • What ethical and political challenges do new technologies pose?

  • How can scientific and technological innovation be fostered through smart regulation and community engagement?

  • What would it mean to ‘enhance’ humans with advanced technologies and what might be the political and ethical implications?


Today Dr. Fletcher presented on The Future of Death; Technology and Immortality.


Small Group Q&As with speakers allowed us to explore their speciality subjects with them in more detail after their presentations:
• Dr. Lotte Valentin, N.M.D.,
• Michael Hempseed
• Dr. Rachel Wiseman
• Kirsty Salisbury
• Sue Dwan

Donna Sutherland

Christchurch Coffin Club

The Coffin Club is a community group like no other - they make and customise coffins! Born in the back of a Rotorua garage ten years ago, the Coffin Club has since evolved into a bustling cottage enterprise with clubs springing up all over NZ.


Donna set up the Christchurch Coffin Club 5 years ago, and has been helping people paint and decorate their caskets ever since. She and her team mate Jill Newton work with the Bishopdale Menzshed [who build the Caskets and Angel boxes for them to decorate].

Melanie Mayell

Christchurch Death Café Host & MC
with Shirley Welsh host of Dunedin Death Cafe
and Richard Marchant host of Lincoln Death Cafe

This was a chance to experience what we do in a Death Cafe. The basic rules are: the conversation is group led, there’s no agenda, no speakers, no grief support and it’s not therapy. Everyone regardless whether beginner or expert is welcome to the table and each opinion, experience or question is valid. And all we talk about is death. Sounds quite dark and heavy but I always come away feeling lighter and more inspired about life.


—Absolutely fabulous, and well planned. The presenters were all inspiring and topics wove together perfectly. My biggest learning was a greater understanding of grief and suicide. 

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