About Us

Dr. Michelle PeticolasSecrets of Life and Death began as a documentary film project created by filmmaker/sociologist Dr. Michelle Peticolas to change the way people think and talk about death. The three-part film series, Secrets of Life and Death, is used in universities, hospitals and hospices across the country to encourage thought and discussion on this most important life transition. A sought-after-speaker, Michelle provides film screening-workshops for cancer organizations, hospitals, universities and churches throughout the Bay Area. In addition, Dr. Michelle Peticolas provides individual grief transformation coaching in an eight-session series for people dealing with death, divorce and other profound life changes.

Our vision is to transform the way people think and deal with death and loss, from fear and aversion to curiosity, awe, hopefulness and gratitude. Death and loss are teachers and our motivation to see life in a more conscious and fulfilling way.

  • A schedule of workshops and teleconferences may be found at Events
  • Learn more about Grief Transformation Coaching or download our illustrated guide, Essentials for Grieving Well using the form at the upper right of the page.
  • Organizations interested in scheduling an educational workshop on Facing Death, Caring for the Dying, or Grieving Loss may learn more about our Speaker Service

My Professional Background – Dr. Michelle Peticolas

Trained as a sociologist at Indiana University, I wrote my doctoral thesis, “Reality Transformation in Gestalt Therapy Groups, about the mental adjustments people must make when facing drastic life changes. Producing the film series, Secrets of Life and Death took me deeper into this exploration of “reality transformation” with its spotlight on death — the ultimate reality change. My grief transformation coaching applies this framework to loss. In all cases, crisis is treated as the impetus for necessary change.

The spark for the Secrets of Life and Death film series was ignited by the loss of both my parents in 1998, barely six months apart.

A spiritual explorer for many years, I returned to my family home full of glorious notions about the mystery and sacredness of dying. I was met with the blare of the radio, the smell of cat pee, family bickering and paralyzing emotional demands. I tried talking to my mother about what she was going through as she succumbed to metastatic breast cancer. I soon realized that she was more interested in finishing up her projects than in exploring any inner journey of the spirit. My father, dying from Alzheimer’s, was inaccessible, at least on a conscious level. I felt confused and regretful. I blamed it on American culture, my parents’ upbringing and my own lack of experience. My ignorance set me on a path to explore death and my vehicle was documentary film.

I interviewed people who were open to the more mystical sides of dying. I wanted to  understand the gifts death provides to those willing to face it openly.

Inevitably, I was exposed to death in all its aspects, the nitty-gritty of failing bodies along with glimpses of the divine. These two sides of death, the sacred and the profane, ended up taking my films and me to a deeper and truer vision of the process of dying and its meaning for life.

In the mid-1980’s, I started what has become a 25 year “post-doctorate” with a Sufi master from Baghdad (a study which continues to this day). This association has had a profound effect on my filmmaking, workshops presentations and coaching.  Stylistically my approach in the films was a joining of the story-weaving style of Sufi tales with a documentary form. Not the usual sort of fly-on the wall reportage, the films provide a lyrical, poetic glimpse of the interior landscape of death and loss. Enter into the films and you get an infusion of what it is like to face death with awareness and what it’s like when you don’t. Multi-layered with stories within stories, the films take you on a journey through loss, missed moments, regret, discovery and ultimately redemption.

Using the emotional power of these films to open people up in workshops on death, caregiving and grieving, I invite viewers to explore their thoughts, beliefs, fears and concerns around death and loss.

Within the safe and supportive space of the workshop, people are encouraged to be brave and share their stories. Feelings are explored, beliefs uncovered, information exchanged, and insights realized. In the process death becomes a little less scary and a lot more interesting.

In grief coaching, I offer my work at its most personal and focused level. As part of the journey of making my films on death, I worked in hospice for ten plus years, first as a hospice volunteer and later as a grief group facilitator. Certified by the American Grief Academy, my coaching applies the framework of life transformation. Individuals are safely guided through grieving towards a reclaiming of life, spirit and hope. Beginning with the most basic challenges of loss such as lack of energy, concentration, emotional overwhelm, negative thought-loops, paralyzing fear, and hopelessness, each person is provided with a set of tools and practices for shifting and transforming the underlying mind structure that supports suffering and delays healing. At the same time these practices develop the mental muscles that enables a reality transformation and the reclaiming of joy and meaning.

Secrets of Life and Death Mission Statement

Our purpose is to open people up to the extraordinary opportunity of this experience we call death. It is a once-in-a-lifetime event offering once-in-a-lifetime chances to learn about one’s self, one’s purpose and one’s existence. Through films, workshops, and private consultations we facilitate individual and communal exploration of the mysteries and magic of life and death.