Lessons learned – three decades of caring for the dying


Powerful stories of living, loving, and letting go ~

Understanding the last phase of life

and the gifts that can be found in honoring the journey.



~ Book Reviews ~


Must read 🏆 – by Jocelyn Soriano, Reedsy Reviewer

A heart-warming and beautifully written book about people who found unforgettable value in the most difficult days of dying and letting go.
Stepping Stones written by Ellie Atherton is so rich with life-changing wisdom that I didn’t know where to even begin my book review. Should I begin by describing how much I admire the author for her priceless work among the dying? Should I begin with the courage and generosity of people who, in the face of death, thought more about their loved ones than about themselves? Or should I begin with the people who grieve and who must face the difficult path of living without the presence of those who gave meaning to their lives?

Maybe I should just begin with my own thoughts about death. One day, I would also face death, whether as one who leaves or as one who will be left behind. By reading this book, I was able to see the many faces of death. Death that often comes unannounced, surprising us all, leaving us gasping for whatever consolation we may find.

In the end, however, this book teaches us how death can impart so many gifts to us. In the face of loss, we become more aware of the blessings we have received. In the face of pain, we are given the opportunity to love to the very full.

I recommend this book to anyone who ever desires to live a more meaningful life. It would teach you to make the most of the time you have and to never take for granted the chances given you.

I also recommend this to all of those who are nearing the end of their life’s journey, as well as to those who are accompanying the dying. The wisdom of this book comes from first-hand experience and it would teach you how the last days of a person need not be the least. Death is as much a part of life as birth, and the final transition in a person’s last moments may yet unveil for us a deeper understanding of life beyond all that we could ever see or touch.

In the face of today’s pandemic and worldwide grief, may this inspiring book be like a radiant light
that shines through our darkest days, giving us consolation as we cry and allowing us to believe that sorrow and joy can mingle beautifully within lives filled with love.

More reviews from my readers:

“Thank you, for sharing these experiences and your dedication to these “experts” and their families. I had a hard time putting it down. It touched me greatly and brought me back to when we dealt with hospice and Mom’s transition. The book is beautifully written, and I will forever be changed because of it!”

~Robin Vigliotti, Liverpool, NY

“First of all your writing style is flowing and beautiful and fun to read. I love good grammar and good descriptive phrases, I’m an ardent reader. I usually don’t tell people I love their books because I rarely do. I felt everything you talked about deeply. Mostly though I felt how much we need to apply these end-of-life experiences to the things we go through all throughout our lives. Thank you for writing such a meaningful and well-written expose on change, life, death, and growth. Loved it!”

~Connie Mercier, Director Auburn Montessori School, Auburn, NH

“There is much that doulas can learn from Ellie in how she interacts with the families. Some examples are her determination to be the best advocate she can be for the dying person’s expressed wishes, while respectfully walking the tightrope of loved ones’ denial, heightened emotions, and conflicts. Modeling how to help the dying person by honestly and bravely answering their questions about death and dying.  Ellie demonstrates precisely how she manages her own emotions and interactions with all the players through a variety of scenarios, often giving us the words, she used to navigate these conversations.”

~Patty Brennan, owner of Lifespan Doulas and author of The Doula Business Guide, 3rd Edition

“I met Ellie Atherton over 20 years ago as my nursing student. After Ellie’s first day in her Hospice rotation she had found her calling. Her two books about her work as a hospice nurse, fill me with pride. She is truly a gifted nurse.

“Her most recent book, More Stepping Stones, offers the reader an inside look into what it is to be a hospice nurse and an unblinking view of the end of life.

“Given that we prefer not to talk about dying and death, it is a wonderful opportunity for the reader to enter into the world of hospice care. What we find in More Stepping Stones are true stories of people facing the end of life and the people who are with them on this incredible journey. This book is a “must-read” for all mortals.”

~Marianne Matzo, PhD, APRN-CNP, AOCNP-Emeritus, ACHPN, FPCN, FAAN  textbook coauthor of Palliative Care Nursing, Quality Care to the End of Life, 5th Edition and Children’s book coauthor of: Everyone Dies

“I too worked as an RN for over 40 years and found it to be the most gratifying work. I absolutely loved the ethics you upheld throughout this book. What a privilege it must have been, to be one of your patients. I completely understood what an honor and privilege it was for you, as well.
“There are very few people out there that can do your line of work, honoring the patient, their wishes and gently helping them move through the dying process with such grace and dignity.  I have a huge amount of respect and gratitude for all the work you’ve done. Your book should be a must-read for anyone working with people, terminal or not. It’s an amazing teaching tool.”

~JanMarie Peterson, RN, Salt Lake City, UT

“Your book was especially comforting to me because of the information about the stages of development as someone nears death. That the stages follow a predictable progression was not a surprise to me, but I learned so much more about them by reading your book.”

~Barb Robidoux, Candia, NH

“The topic of dying is often taboo with people. You took the opposite approach. You were very open about the process of dying and explained it very positively. It seemed like a natural process of life, which of course it is, but many people cannot talk about it because it is so emotional for them. Some of the things included in the book that I had not thought about beforehand and found very helpful, was all the information you gave about the process of dying. There was great info included about what to expect and where to obtain help. With all of this said, I feel that your book is a definite read for people.”

~Lois Dziergowski, Londonderry, NH

“You have captured the beauty in living and in dying in your book. You allow the rawness of these experiences to become so beautiful and sacred, as they are. You were blessed to have such a beautiful, spiritual, and extremely kind mentor for you. Thank-you, for being the caring, compassionate woman that you are. This book envelopes that in beautiful words.”

~Bett Daley, LCSW, Jonesport, ME

“Having done oncology nursing for years I’ve experienced many of the same family dynamics, only in the hospital setting not in the homes. The book for me was easy to read and often reminded me of patients I’ve had. I would recommend your book for nurses working in this area and for families to see they are not alone.”

~Lyn Micklovich, RN, BSN, MA, Retired Faculty Nursing Instructor Manchester Community College, Londonderry NH


The following reviews are from a small, varied group of people, ages 60-92 male and female, religious, spiritual but not religious and no belief at all, or as one described himself skeptical. I called them my sample readers group; they read the first book before it was fully edited and published.

“I was so pulled in and fascinated by this experience. I learned something I didn’t know for sure. I’ve heard that when dying, a person sometimes recounts visits from departed loved ones, but I never knew about other visualizations. Very interesting.”

~Priscilla Drouin, Candia, NH

“Your stories help provide clarity in a very interesting way about perhaps the world’s most difficult subject. Your audience is huge because none of us are exempt and the older we get the more interested we become in what others have gone through.”

~Don Rosner, Placitas, NM

“Every baby boomer in America needs to read this book.”

~Barbara Rosner, Placitas, NM