Working with the chronically ill and dying would seem a daunting task, but Lani Leary sees it as a sacred opportunity. “I know that I am most myself when I am sitting at the bedside of someone who is dying, or comforting someone who is grieving,” Leary says.
With 25 years as a psychotherapist working with the dying and with those who have lost loved ones, Leary believes her first book, No One Has to Die Alone: Preparing for a Meaningful Death (Atria/Beyond Words, April), will give readers new insights and skills, as well as the confidence to cope with end-of-life situations.Caregivers who read the book will feel “the peace of knowing they participated” in compassionate, meaningful ways, she says, while the dying person will not feel abandoned.
What sets her book apart from others on death and loss, Leary says, is that No One Has to Die Alone is practical and helps readers know what to do and say to a terminally ill or dying person. The book is personal for her. “I wrote it as a full-circle story because I was not able or knowledgeable about how to help my mother when she was dying,” she says. “I never wanted anyone else to feel the same guilt, regret, and shame that I did because I did not know how to help.” The idea for the book germinated after Leary spoke at a leadership conference on “Ten Things I Wish I Had Known Before My Mother Died.”
Leary herself had a near-death experience at 29 that “proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that consciousness survives death; that death does not end relationships; and that there is healing in death,” she says, “I knew that I had to use that experience to make a difference, and I could be with the dying in a different way because I had absolutely no fear of dying.”
Leary spends her time working in her private practice, writing, and being on call to the dying and bereaved. To keep burnout at bay, she practices meditation centered on gratitude, equanimity, and openness to all of life and living. Location may help as well. “I feel blessed to have returned home to Kaneohe, Hawaii, on the windward side of the island of Oahu, where I was born and raised, after having lived on the mainland and moving every two or three years with my Coast Guard husband.” Leary has begun writing a novel about death and dying, and is currently working on an as-yet-not-contracted sequel to the first book, tentatively titled No One Has to Grieve Alone.