How It Began

Picture this.

It’s the fall of 2009 and gathered around a conference table in a high-powered Silicon Valley law firm are half a dozen seasoned technology business executives. I’m the one who convened this gathering of colleagues and friends, so I take the lead.

As a go-to person for venture capitalists seeking new CEOs for their young companies, I have a track record of building market leading businesses and high performing teams. Three times in the last decade, I have gone into companies, gotten them on a fast track to revenue growth and profitability, and successfully engineered their acquisitions.

Having just completed the sale of my latest venture, I am ready for my next challenge. What better way to explore new options than bringing together a trusted group of people I’ve worked with before – and would love to work with again – and brainstorm new business opportunities? Who knows where it might lead?

Naturally, the group talks about opportunities in today’s “hot technologies” – mobile, social media, green energy. Sparks fly, but nothing ignites.

Then, over the course of several meetings, the conversation takes a different turn than anyone expects. In an idea session with a ground rule of “no idea is a bad idea,” we start talking about web-based businesses with lifestyle themes: college students entering the job market for the first time; the first wave of 78 million baby boomers turning 65; and so on.

And then someone says: “What about a website for people who are dealing with death and dying? Either their own or because they are caregivers for someone else?”

The room falls silent.

The speaker continues: “Look, death is the last taboo in America. No one wants to talk about it, let alone deal with it. I read somewhere that only 45 percent of adult Americans have a will when they die. What is that about? We plan for our kids’ college educations and for our retirement. Why don’t we plan for death?”

Slowly and tentatively at first, and then with growing energy and commitment, the group turns its attention to death and dying. Some of us are onboard immediately and fully engaged in the conversation. Others hold back, clearly uncomfortable talking about death.

All of us have personal stories about how we have dealt with the death of a loved one. One woman is caring for her sister who has a terminal illness. Another is helping a friend cope with the imminent death of her 8-year-old son. Several of us recently lost parents.

We observe that even in this small group of seven people, our reactions to the topic run the gamut from complete acceptance to utter denial, from growing comfort to continuing unease. At the heart of it, our feelings about death and dying mirror those of all Americans, no matter how old they are, where they live, or what do they do for living.

You might think that talking about death and dying for several hours each week would be sad or depressing or cause anxiety. Instead, we found that the more we talked, the easier it became and the more energized we felt about engaging others in the conversation. Over time, we delved deeper into even the most difficult aspects of the topic. As we learned more about how Americans deal with death and dying, we became wiser. And as we became wiser, we became more comfortable and confident.

We decide: Death is part of life. We have all experienced it in our lives. We will all die someday. Talking about death and dying is a necessary conversation.

DeathWise is born.

So even as I moved on to my next CEO assignment, I made the decision to found DeathWise® as a non-profit organization with the mission of changing the conversation about death and dying. I am deeply and passionately committed to making DeathWise® a valued resource for anyone who is dealing with the immediate aftermath of the death of a loved one, planning for his or her own death, or seeking emotional support.

The idea for DeathWise® came to life in December 2009. The non-profit organization, DeathWise, was formed in April 2010. The website,, launched in December 2010. In between was a lot of hard work. Along the way, many others all over the country have joined us, giving generously of their time, talent and financial support. Together, we are shaping what DeathWise® will be.

Please join us.

Anne Bonaparte
Founder and Chairman of the Board