PUBLISHED: 4:58 PM on Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Building a foundation to cope with death
Dr. Lani Leary to hold seminar on end of life care
Some may avoid thinking about the end, but Dr. Lani Leary speaks on how to find meaning in loss and how to not only grieve in a healthy way, but to make passing easier for those that are leaving this world.

Leary will give a lecture titled after her upcoming book Ten Things I Wish I'd Known Before She Died this weekend at Centennial Hall.

Leary, a clinical psychologist has worked with the chronically ill, dying and bereaved for 25 years. She also is a thanatologist (someone who studies death), trauma specialist and lay chaplain in ICU at a county hospital, among other things.

  Dr. Lani Leary
"I knew when my mother died when I was 13 that I had to make sense out of her death and that's one of the themes I'll be talking about," Leary said. "If we can find meaning in loss then we're really able to grieve in a healthier way and we are able to change tragedy into something much more productive."

Leary went back to school and earned a doctorate in counseling and psychology with an emphasis in death and dying and became a university professor on the subject. She then went into private practice as a psychotherapist, helping people around death and grief issues. After already losing her mother at an early age, in 2003 her father was diagnosed with cancer.

"I was able to help him die well. I wasn't able to help my mother die because I was 13 when that happened and had regretted that, but I felt I did a good job with my father," she said.

Leary said the upcoming seminar in Juneau will show people that they really can make a difference, helping people to die in the way that is authentic for.

"There is such a thing as a dignified death," she said. "We can make a significant difference by being present and we have to learn how to be present. Part of learning that is to confront our own fears about death, and that's a lot of work. It's personal work that we have to do to face our own myths about death and dying and all of our own shadows about that."

The Saturday morning roundtable discussion from 10 a.m. to noon will be cross-generational. "I would like to see younger, adolescent audience members to be able to speak with elderly people or those who have been ill and to be able to help each other define what a dignified death means and to listen," Leary said.

If not fearful, Leary said death can be a sacred time filled with peace and joy. She has been with over 500 people at the time of their death.

"There are competencies and skills that are teachable and learnable and when we gain those then we approach an inevitable and difficult stage that we're all going to have to go through," she said. "How we die is as important as how we live."

These seminars are presented by Juneau's Foundation for End of Life Care and are free of charge. The presentations will be held Friday, April 25 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, April 26 at 10 a.m. at Centennial Hall. For more information call 586-3806.