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Finding Peace And Meaning In Death And Bereavement

DR. LANI LEARY: “This is a conversation that everyone one of us needs to have, yet few are prepared for in life. Too many people in our society have no idea how to properly help a loved one who’s dying. We don’t know what to say, how to act or what needs the dying have. Similarly, many don’t know what to say to the grieving or how to act around their presence either. This Afterlife TV episode offers a revealing conversation with Dr. Lani Leary who is an authority on how to find peace and meaning in both death and bereavement.” ~ Bob Olson, Afterlife TV

Lani Leary, Ph.D. specializes in work with chronically ill, dying, and bereaved clients. She has worked for the past 25 years as a psychotherapist in private practice, as a chaplain in the intensive care unit of a hospital, and as a counselor in 6 hospices across the country.

She served as the director of mental health services at an AIDS clinic, as a professor of Death Studies at George Mason University, and as a researcher at the National Cancer Institute of NIH. Lani has spoken nationally at over 250 conferences including the American Holistic Medical Association, Virginia Association of Hospices, Spirituality and Healthcare, International Sudden Infant Death Symposium, and Omega Institute of Holistic Studies. She is the author of Healing Hands, an internationally best-selling audio tape about therapeutic touch and complimentary approaches to pain management. She is certified in grief therapy, EMDR, hypnotherapy, and Critical Incident Stress Management.

WEBSITE: Dr. Lani Leary’s website: http://drlanileary.com

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Afterlife TV is presented by Afterlife Investigator & Psychic Medium Researcher Bob Olson, who is the author of Answers about the Afterlife: A Private Investigator’s 15-Year Research Unlocks the Mysteries of Life after Death.

Check out Bob Olson’s other sites: BestPsychicDirectory.com (a directory of hundreds of psychics & mediums by location with reviews & Instant Readings) & BestPsychicMediums.com (his personal recommended list of tested psychics and mediums) or visit Bob’s Facebook Page. Bob also has a popular workshop for psychics and mediums at PsychicMediumWorkshop.com.

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Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Hi everybody. Bob Olson here with Afterlife TV. You can find us at www.afterlifetv.com. This is where we search for evidence of life after death and ask the meaningful questions around that subject. Today’s subject, it’s very meaningful, something that we have never covered before, something that I’m going to comment in a moment about how important I think it is. But our expert guest today is Dr. Lani Leary. Did I say that correctly?

Dr. Lani Leary: Lani, yes, Leary.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: We are so happy to have you here. Thank you very much for getting up early and doing this interview.

Dr. Lani Leary: Yes, you’re welcome, happy to do it.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Lani is the author of this book here, No One Dies Alone.

Dr. Lani Leary: No One Has to Die Alone.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: No One Has to Die Alone. Wouldn’t it be nice if nobody died alone?

Dr. Lani Leary: Yeah.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: No One Has to Die Alone: Preparing for a Meaningful Death. I’ll just speak to the audience here. I was just saying to Lani before we started that this is one of those books that to me is so important because in our society, in the United States especially, death is one of those subjects that people tend to not really want to think about, never mind talk about, never mind read about.

I want to give her credit for writing this and the publisher a lot of credit for publishing it because I don’t think this is ever going to be one of those subjects that someone writes about and becomes this big New York Times bestseller for that very reason. Yet at the same time, and the reason that I’m doing this show today is that I think it probably is one of the most important subjects that we need to talk about, that we need to talk about with one another, that we need to talk about with our children. This subject needs to be discussed. Do you agree?

Dr. Lani Leary: Yeah, we need to bring it out of the closet and put it on the dining room table and talk about it like we talk about birth and sex and finances and all the other subjects that used to be taboo.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Why is it that it became this way? I remember when my grandfather passed. He lived in our house, and I didn’t even really realize he had died. I wasn’t sure what happened. His room was empty. What’s going on? Why did our society become like this where some other societies are much more comfortable with talking about death?

Dr. Lani Leary: Well, yes, other cultures, societies, keep the elders in their home, and so they see the process of aging and declining. It’s part of the normal rhythm of life, so people are less afraid of it because it’s woven into the fabric of their life.

A hundred years ago we used to have a parlor where we would bring our deceased loved one down into the parlor. The women would cleanse the body and dress the body, while the men were outside in the workshop building the coffin. Everyone was participating.

There was a community, and in being that kind of community and working together they were already in the process of healing their grief. They were soothing each other, comforting each other by being there. Then they all walked the casket. They dug the hole, and they buried their loved one altogether.

So it was just part of life, and they didn’t push away from it. Now we have our aging and our ill loved ones dying in the hospital, where they don’t want to be. But they’re removed from us. When we don’t have the exposure, it becomes a mystery. So we start fearing death, and we move away from it. We do not become involved in it, and it becomes bigger than us.

We now have industries built around taking away the unpleasantness of life, so everything is anesthetized kind of. We don’t bury our dead. We don’t dress our dead. We don’t officiate at the ceremony, and we don’t dig the grave. We don’t put our loved ones to rest.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Well, that’s so true. When my grandfather passed I was 10. Do you think things have improved or gotten worse since then? That was ’73, I think.

Dr. Lani Leary: They’ve gotten worse. Yeah, they’ve gotten worse, except for the hospice movement and the palliative care movement. Hopefully, that’s going to bring it back into the public arena, and there will be more education and it’ll be more commonplace. But we don’t even have language for death and dying. We have euphemisms. We do our youth especially such a disservice because we teach them to be afraid of death and dying. Children are not afraid of it unless they’re taught to be.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: That’s interesting because I was kind of thinking it was more like we’re afraid of what we don’t know. We see this with all sorts of things in society. If you didn’t grow up with a certain race or something, you might be afraid of them because it’s unusual to you. I see that with homosexuality. You grow up; you don’t know anybody who’s gay. You might have some weird, odd thoughts and fears about it. Then all of a sudden you end up with a friend who is, and all that stuff goes away. Is that also a factor in this?

Dr. Lani Leary: It’s absolutely a factor. My book is very practical. What I hope to teach is how people can lean into the opportunity at the end of their loved one’s life because the closer we get to it, the more experience that we have with it, the less death anxiety we have and the greater our competency and our confidence is. So we see opportunities to be of service when a loved one is aging or ill or failing in any way, and we move closer. We are able to make a difference at the end of life instead of feeling hopeless and helpless.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Well, I love that. I love the phrase that you use, lean into. We’re going to talk more about that. I think that one of the greatest ways that you start the conversation in this book is you tell your own story. It’s so meaningful to me. I was telling my wife about it soon after I read it, and she just got all excited about it. It explains the reason that you do this work, and it just makes so much sense as to why. It explains why this is so important.

Why don’t you tell us the story that sort of became the catalyst for the work that you do that began at the age of 13?

Dr. Lani Leary: When I was 13 my mother was ill with Guillain-Barre. In the ’60s in Hawaii, where I was born and raised, there were seven known cases of Guillain-Barre, and everyone was dying. But in my family with the right intentions, I believe, my mother and father did not talk about her illness. They didn’t educate us, so we didn’t know what was coming. Therefore we couldn’t prepare.

So on a morning when I was 13 and my brother told me that my mother was especially ill, I did the only thing that I knew how to do when I was 13. That was to take my two younger brothers away from home to play at the beach, thinking that my mother would be able to sleep and rest. I didn’t know she was dying, so we left the home. Later that afternoon when I came home, I walked into her room. Her bed was empty, and she was gone. There was a note from a friend saying that she had taken my mother to the hospital. My mother died in the hospital without me ever being able to see her or say goodbye.

My family never talked about how she died, why she died, what the cause was. But just a week before that incident my mother was very loving and open, and I clearly remember her standing at the kitchen sink. I walked by. I was a typical 13-year-old. She turned around and looked at me and said, “Lani, I love you so much.” I don’t know whether she had a premonition of her death or not. She said, “Lani, I love you so much.” In a typical 13-year-old’s way trying to gain independence and break away, I just tsk-ed and rolled my eyes and walked on.

My mother died, in my mind, without me telling her that I loved her. So in the absence of information about why she died, I created my own reasoning. It was a fantasy reality, but in my mind and for decades afterward I believed that my mother had died because she believed that her only daughter didn’t love her enough and so hadn’t thought to live. I believed in my mind that my mother died alone.

So the fantasy was truly much worse than the reality, but I lived with that image and the meaning of her death in a very convoluted and shame-based way for years and years. But I remember after her death saying to myself, vowing, this will not be a tragedy in my life. I am going to find some good and some meaning in this. I couldn’t cope with the thought that another loved one would die alone or without me, so I was going to learn everything I could in my life so that that never happened again.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Of course, that set you off with the work that you do. We’ll talk about that in a moment. But at that young age, how do you educate yourself about any of this, bookstores, libraries?

Dr. Lani Leary: Well, what I did to take care of myself at that time, because my father was doing such a good job as a single parent, but he wasn’t talking about grief. Back in the ’60s nobody knew to do that. There weren’t support groups for children who had lost parents and things like that. I had no friends that had lost a parent.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Oh, wow.

Dr. Lani Leary: So I returned to school, but of course no one said anything directly to me. They just whispered behind my back. I felt very different and shamed about that too. So the way that I coped was just to write and write and write and write. I didn’t have someone to talk to. I didn’t have someone to ask questions of, so I just started journaling and writing. So I’ve been writing for a very long time in my life to take care of myself.

Then when I did go to college it was the focus of my work. I went into counseling. Then when I was 29 years old my life changed, and I had an accident and died. That clarified even more strongly for me what I was to do and that death was not the enemy and death was not a tragedy and really propelled me on into the second half of my work.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: So this is very interesting. I’m going to back up a little bit in a moment, but it’s always interesting for me to hear our guests stories because so often with this bird’s eye view you can see how the universe has sort of put things in their way so that they end up with the calling that they have. Certainly, your mother’s passing is the beginning of that. Then you go to school and you study, what was it, thanatology?

Dr. Lani Leary: Yeah, that was my doctoral work. My PhD was in psychology, and I specialized in thanatology, which was the study of death and dying. Then I went on to teach a university course, develop a program, to train others in that.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: By the time you were 29 and you had a near-death experience, now you’re out of school by that time or not?

Dr. Lani Leary: Well, I had my master’s degree at that time.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: You did, okay.

Dr. Lani Leary: But when I was 29 years old I was doing some side work but raising my only child, so when this happened I was a mother of a two-year-old.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Oh, you were, okay. Then you have this. But again, like I say, when you look at this bird’s eye view of your passion forming over time, for you to have the experiences that you had as a child and then go to school for the things that you went to school for and then to have this near-death experience amazes me to see that you’re getting all the education that you need and the experiences that you need to really be able to help people with the work that you do.

Dr. Lani Leary: Yeah. It was after some formal education that I went in to apply this in hospices, and it was really the direct contact with the patients that taught me the most. They taught me how to be with them, what they needed, and what made a difference. So they were my real educators.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: You say in the book, I mean you have sat with people while they were passing, over what, 500 people?

Dr. Lani Leary: Right, I’ve been with thousands of people in the dying process and grieving process but at the bedside of over 500 at the moment that they passed.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Oh my goodness. That’s amazing.

Dr. Lani Leary: It was such a sacred opportunity. It overwhelms me to be invited in to the most intimate time of a person’s life. It was such an honor.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: I think people are going to recognize as we go forward though also why it’s such a gift for them to have you there. That was definitely clear from what I understand about you and the way you treat people during that time.

I want to back up a little bit because I’m a little more interested in your grief experience as a child. It was interesting because it’s probably not that unlike the grief experience of some adults knowing that you really just didn’t know what to do. You were uneducated in this area. Again, so many adults are as well because they’ve never had these conversations. I find it interesting that you had mentioned in your story that you went back to school fairly early just kind of hoping maybe it would be a distraction to you, right?

Dr. Lani Leary: I did, right. So I was in eighth grade at the time that my mother died, and it was the only place that had some routine and some boundaries that I just knew what to do. I could kind of go through the motions. Of course, at home people were flailing but not talking about it, so it was a little more crazy-making at home.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Yeah. Yet that had its issues in itself because of the way people treated you or looked at you or all sorts of things, right?

Dr. Lani Leary: Right.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: I like the idea though you wrote about what one girl said to you in school. Tell us what she said and why that was so significant to you.

Dr. Lani Leary: Well, after all these years, so we’re talking 45 years ago this happened to me, and I can still so clearly remember the kindness, the kindnesses of a few people who did risk and step out to say something to me, even though I’m sure they were thinking, oh my gosh, I don’t want to say the wrong thing or I don’t know what to say. But clearly I remember one friend who walked over three miles each way to get to my mother’s memorial service, the kindness of a 13-year-old to do that.

Then the other thing was another girl, another 13-year-old, was the only one to write me a note, and just said in her note: I’m sorry to hear about your mother. You must be so sad. But just acknowledgment, that validation that I was seen and that this was a real event in my life and that it was important was so touching. I will never forget her or her kindness.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: That’s a big part of it, isn’t it? I mean part of your message, which is that people just don’t want to ignore the elephant in the room, they need to talk about it with somebody, right? I mean you can’t fix it obviously. You don’t necessarily have anything to say that’s necessarily going to help, just listening really.

Dr. Lani Leary: Right. So my goal is that no one has to die alone, but also that no one has to grieve alone because the greatest pain in dying and in grieving is feeling emotionally abandoned. That’s our greatest suffering. So if we can connect, what I tell people is you don’t have to know how to do it perfectly. There is no perfect, but just participate. Please participate. Again, lean into another person’s dying or lean closer to another person’s grieving and just be an authentic presence for them that shows your own unique way of sharing compassion.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: All right. So now in 2003, how many years later, this is 40 years later or something—I don’t even now—this story sort of comes full circle. Tell us about that.

Dr. Lani Leary: It is a full circle story because I had spent my life vowing that another loved one would not die alone. I had prepared myself both academically and also experientially. I really felt as though I knew how to make a difference at the end of someone’s life. Sure enough, in 2003 I was 50 years old and I was teaching death and dying at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. I was in private practice helping others grieve and cope at the end of their life.

I got a phone call from my father, who at the time was 83, I think, saying, “Lani, you know that pneumonia that we thought I had? Well, it turns out that it’s end-stage lung cancer.” I said, “Okay, we can do this.” I closed my practice. I cancelled my university classes. I said to my husband, “I’m going home to Hawaii, and I’ll probably be gone for six months.” I hoped it would be six months.
So I flew home and I moved in with him. I was his primary caregiver. It was a great relief to him. He wasn’t going to have to do this alone. He knew that there would be someone there to advocate for him, to emotionally support him, and to physically care for him. When you have stage four cancer usually hospice will say you have up to six months to live, so of course I was hoping for six months.

When I got there I was very direct about everything. I had a family meeting and talked about his dying and asked him directly what he wanted, very direct questions so that everyone could hear the same message at the same time in his language. I asked him questions such as where do you want to be when you die, who do you want to be with you, who do you not want to be with you, what do you want to be hearing, what do you want to be seeing, very, very direct experiences that we could set up.

What I was trying to do was give him as much control at the end of his life as possible because when a person is dying what happens is they lose control. I wanted him to be the author of his death as he had been the author of his life. I was there as his advocate to make sure that his wishes were followed.

So we laid that all out, and just 13 days after I arrived I was sitting at his bedside holding his hand, and he reached up and took the oxygen tube out of his nose. I said, “Dad, you need the oxygen or you’ll die soon.” He said, “No more.” I said, “Are you saying you don’t want the oxygen anymore?” So I’m clarifying what his decision is. He says, “No more.” I said, “Do you want me to turn the oxygen off?” He said, “Yes.” So I said, “I’ll be right back.”

I ran down the hall, turned off the noisy oxygen machine, came back, got on his bed, held him in my arms, and just gently caressed him and sang to him. His eyes were closed, and they were closed for about 30 or 40 minutes. I was just there breathing with him very gently, telling him the very few things that are important at the end of his life: I love you. Your life mattered. I will never forget you. Thank you.

After about 40 minutes his eyes opened wide and he looked at the corner of the room. He said his nickname for my mother, Duchess. I said, “Of course she’s here dad. You can go to her. Just let go and go to her.” He took his last breath. I was singing a favorite Hawaiian song to him. He took his last breath and he died in my arms. It was gentle. It was his death. It was a perfect death.

Experience changed my grief. So sad, but I didn’t grieve in the same way that I grieved with my mother because I knew I had made a difference. I knew I had done everything I could. I knew he knew, and there was no shame and there was no regret. It was my last gift to him. It was his last gift to me because there was such healing in it.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: That’s beautiful, absolutely beautiful. I still have to move on from that. Let me just say, I think we can learn a lot from that story. I think that one of those things is I know when I was reading about it, and even while you were saying it, what goes through your mind is, oh, I want to know what to do. I want to know what to do the way she knew the proper things to say, the proper things to do.

Dr. Lani Leary: It’s in the book.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: It’s all in this book. Again, if people were to buy 12 copies and give them to their closest friends and family members, the gift that they’d be giving them for just this reason alone that you described. For instance, how many people would try to get him to put the oxygen back on? I mean isn’t that just sort of a common reaction?

Dr. Lani Leary: It is a common reaction, and when we are prepared ahead of time, you see, there wasn’t a fear. First of all, I knew he was going to die, so there wasn’t a denial about that. I wasn’t afraid about the process because I knew what to look for. I knew he was dying. To put the oxygen back on is often for the person who’s grieving. We’re afraid of his death rather than him being afraid.

But again, I go back to what were his wishes? That became the mantra in my family so that there was never any disagreement about his care. Because the question always was, what would dad want? What did dad lay out for us? It was very clear who he was and what he wanted. I say that a person gets this death. They get this life. They get this death, and they get their vote. It wasn’t my vote. It should’ve been his vote, and he got it.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: You gave another example in another interview that I listened to about an elderly woman who wanted to go back to some community meeting or something and she wanted to smoke on the way there. Could you tell us that story, because I think it’s significant in relation to what we’re talking about?

Dr. Lani Leary: Yeah, I love good ol’, I’ll call her Eva. She was a very feisty woman and an important member of her community. She was a real advocate out there, and she was dying of lung cancer. She smoked like a chimney. Hospice had been called in, and I was the primary person there.
At the end of her life she wanted to go to this one community meeting. There was a vote that was important to her, and she couldn’t walk there. So we put her in a wheelchair, and she was smoking like a chimney into the meeting. Later the hospice was very angry at me because they said that I should have taken the cigarette away from her because she was setting a bad example.

This is her life and this is her death. If this comforts her at the end of her life, who are we to take that comfort away? In fact, that’s what we are here for, and everyone has a different self-soothing method. Another cigarette was not going to cause her death, and if it did, it was still her choice.

Again, I would be there to support a person’s choice. Whether I agree with it or not, and that’s very, very important, that if I’m there in service to another person, of course I bring information that might affect and help a person’s discomfort or pain. But I am not there to change their mind. I’m there to support their choices.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Yeah. The last choices that they get to make, right?

Dr. Lani Leary: Understand, I have to accept. A big difference if I can teach that to families that mom’s wishes, we’re there to accept them, not to agree with her or understand them but to accept them.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: That’s beautiful. That’s such a difference between those two things.

Dr. Lani Leary: Yeah.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Wow, all right. You talked about your father’s, what I would refer to and maybe some of our audience here would refer to as a deathbed vision when he saw your mother. Having sat with over 500 people during their death process, I’m sure you’ve seen many of these, have you not?

Dr. Lani Leary: Right. It’s very, very common. One of the things that I try to teach through hospices and in family situations is that we can offer comfort when we validate a person’s experience. So these deathbed visions, as you call them, pre-death visions, are of such comfort to people who are dying because pretty consistently they’re always a visit from a loved one who’s previously deceased, and those loved ones come to the person who’s dying to say, don’t be afraid, you won’t be alone, I’m here, and you’ll be okay.
Why would anyone take that sense of comfort from a loved one? So my response to those situations is usually, of course, they’re here. Where else would they be?

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Well, certainly. First of all, I want to say I like pre-death visions a lot better than I like deathbed visions. I don’t know why. It just sounds a lot nicer. Of course, having had the near-death experience that you had, I mean in your mind it’s also an of course. I mean but it would have been even if you hadn’t had that, correct? I mean to not argue with them about what it is that they’re experiencing is sort of the key here.

Dr. Lani Leary: Right. I want to honor a person, so honoring means accepting their experience and the meaning that they attribute to it. I want to hear someone. I want to listen. I want to listen.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Well, let’s take this then to the next section, which is what dying people want and need. I want to talk a little bit about this. You have a chapter titled “How we die matters.”

Dr. Lani Leary: It does matter.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Tell us a little bit about that chapter, “How we die matters.”

Dr. Lani Leary: Well, how we die matters because what the dying, all these thousands of people that I’ve been with, have taught me, what they’ve taught me, this is their legacy that I want to pass on. This is their voice. What they have taught me is that at the end of life it is not their pain that they’re most afraid of, especially if they’re connected to hospice or palliative care. We can take care of people’s physical pain.

The emotional pain is often more difficult because it addresses the need for forgiveness and to forgive others, to finish our business, and to find meaning in our life. But it’s not pain that the dying are most afraid of. It’s not even their imminent death that they’re most afraid of because at the end of life when the body can’t be repaired or put back together and the quality of life is no longer there, death is a way out. Death can be a relief. I want people to honor that too, that experience, that it’s okay if it’s a relief.

But what the dying have told me is that their greatest pain, as I’ve said, is the feeling, the experience, of being emotionally abandoned. When people do move away, when they don’t talk about what’s really going on for the dying person, when they dismiss, when they minimize the dying person’s visions or what they want to talk about, and they lose such an opportunity. This is their last opportunity to connect to their loved one and to love and to be of service. But when we don’t talk about what’s real, there’s no connection. It’s such an empty, empty feeling.

So we can change. We can make a difference. I’m talking about those of us who are caregivers, those of us in the family. We can make a difference in how the dying experiences their death, and we can help the dying person to live right up to their last breath because we can bring quality and intimacy and connection and love. Because one of the things is that a person who has just received a terminal illness, the people around them start treating them right then as though they’re already dead, as though they’re already gone.

So they miss this last lap of life, and so much can happen. Because the people who really engage when a person is dying, both the dying and the family will say this was the richest time of our relationship. This is the time that I felt closest. This is the time that was most real and honest. This is when we said the most important stuff. But if you don’t lean in, if you don’t see this as an opportunity, you’ll pull away.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Another chapter you have, “Making a difference in a dying person’s life,” you give a lot of examples of different things that people can do. I’m curious, even for someone who’s not able or willing to make a commitment like you made with your father or even near that, what about the nieces and the nephews and the grandchildren? What kind of things can they do to make a difference in maybe their grandparent’s life, last days?

Dr. Lani Leary: That’s a really great question. One of the things that I do in hospice is to go in to a family and really try to encourage the entire family from the oldest to the youngest to participate; because a young child, that five-year-old, first of all, here’s an opportunity to not teach them to be afraid of death, to see the process. It doesn’t have to be a mystery. In fact, the child can understand some of the things as a five-year-old.

But it’s that five-year-old that I want to put up on grandma’s bed and have him snuggle into grandma. It’s that five-year-old who will say to grandma, tell me again the story of your life. Because one of the things that the dying need is that they need to tell their story so that they can find the meaning of their life. But so often adults will say to that person who is repeating stories, oh, you already told me that.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Right.

Dr. Lani Leary: So again, they cut them off. They minimize the importance of this step toward the end. But a child will participate: Tell me again, grandma. Tell me again. Tell me again. So it’s a great service. Also, you see that little child is leaning into grandma and touching her, which is another thing that the dying need. They need the physical contact. They need the warmth. They need the feedback that they are still alive and that they’re beautiful and important in the world. It’s that child that can do that.

So a child can listen. A child can touch. I’ll have that young child brush grandma’s hair or massage lotion into her dry hands. A child can sit and do their homework with grandma just to companion them. There are a lot of things that children in the family can do.

Maybe there’s someone in that family who is not comfortable with touch. Okay, there’s a lot that can be done. One person who’s comfortable with a computer but isn’t necessarily a people person, they can be doing a lot of the research about this illness. Someone else could be in charge of errands and going and getting the medication.

Another person can be in charge of keeping a binder of all the medical information that continues to change. It’s a big job. Someone else can be the person who just sits up at night and watches over the dying person so that other people can sleep so that they can do the work during the day. There are a myriad of jobs that are very, very important. It takes a village.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Is it a comfort to someone in this situation when others are just sitting there, maybe there isn’t necessarily a conversation going on, or do many of them feel as if they have to entertain from their bed? Is this a conversation you need to have with them to let them know I’m just here to be with you, you don’t need to entertain me?

Dr. Lani Leary: Yes, it is. But that has everything to do with that caregiver’s level of acceptance and peace about this process. So someone who’s not comfortable with the dying process might walk into the room and be very busy plumping pillows or adjusting blinds or talking about the weather. That is not hurting.

But someone who just sits at the bedside and is comfortable with silence, offers to listen when the dying person wants to talk but doesn’t offer advice, is just there almost as a container: Let me hold your experience for you is often the way I want to see myself. I think so often we can feel another person’s level of anxiety. If you’re anxious and I’m a mother, yes, I might try to take care of you even though I’m dying. It’s exhausting. So I would prefer to have someone with me who feels okay, who isn’t afraid of me or my dying process and can just be, offers me their presence.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Right, right, that’s interesting, presence. You talk a lot about that too. But that seems really, really important and really important for any one of us to learn how to just be present. So many people, you can’t be with them unless somebody’s talking. Silence bothers them. This is one of those situations where you want to learn how to be silent, how to be present.

Dr. Lani Leary: How to listen.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Be there for them. Would this be a good time, or is this a bad idea for anyone to record one’s history in one way or another?

Dr. Lani Leary: That’s a lovely idea. Yeah, at the end of my father’s life I recorded a lot of his stories because one of the things that the bereaved tell me is I miss their hand. So one of the things I do is I’ll say, take a picture of your loved one’s hand and take a picture of your loved one’s hand holding your hand. Another thing I’ll suggest is to record because so often after death one of the things we miss is their voice. So yes, record their stories. Record them in photos. Have them tell their stories.

Another thing that I do and I did with my father is that you can write your loved one’s obituary with them, which is a wonderful opportunity to sit with them and review their scrapbooks and just say, dad, what does this picture mean to you? Why is this important? Who was this person in your life? Who were your heroes, dad? How did they help shape you?

Together my dad and I wrote the story of his life, and I was so glad we did that because I thought I knew him better than anyone in the world, but in fact right up at the end I was learning all these fabulous things about him that I have now, you see. Then he could say, again, he was the author of his life. He could tell people how he wanted to be remembered.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Well, that’s it. I mean are some people uncomfortable writing their obituary or even talking about death? I mean you have to find out whether they are or not at the beginning, right?

Dr. Lani Leary: Yeah, absolutely. But if we are comfortable as a caregiver, then there’s an invitation for them to explore or to bring things like even their feelings: I’m angry about dying, or I’m sad about dying instead of, oh, don’t think that way; don’t think that way; don’t talk like that. No, let them explore it. Let them process. Let them be where they are.

Then also, I never try to take away someone’s denial, and I never take away someone’s hope. Let me say that even at the end of life, and this is kind of a different concept, but even at the end of life when you have a received a terminal diagnosis and the doctor has said there is no more treatment left, there is no hope for being cured, we are not without hope.

We can reframe hope, and that’s one of the things that we can do for our loved one is we can point out the many, many things that we can still hope for right up to the end. We can hope for compassion. We can hope for a comfortable or peaceful death. We can hope for no pain. We can hope to be surrounded by our loved ones. We can hope to die where we choose. See, there’s still a great deal of hope in the how we die.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Right, right. What about those people who are still hoping for a recovery? Now, you were with a lot of people; you say maybe thousands of people. Any of those have a miraculous recovery, walked out of the hospice? I’ve actually heard of stories that people have walked out of hospice. Did that ever happen with anyone you knew?

Dr. Lani Leary: There are cases where people are fired from hospice, and yes, they recover and the doctor no longer says, you have less than six months. They might go in and out, and they might return to hospice. Again, oftentimes I’ll get the question: Well, how long do they have to live? How long do they have to live? I don’t think it’s about length. I think it’s about quality. So my question back to them is, whether it’s three weeks or three months, the real question is, what are you going to do with whatever time you have?

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Yeah. So you do talk about your near-death experience in the book and other things. How helpful is it to the person who’s dying to learn about the afterlife?

Dr. Lani Leary: I follow their lead.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: You follow their lead. I mean can you try to open the subject and see if they’re interested at all?

Dr. Lani Leary: Yes. I think a person can ask the dying what are their beliefs. One of the ways to do that is: What’s your greatest fear about dying?

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Are there common ones?

Dr. Lani Leary: Well, I would say the most common one is that no one’s going to be with me when I die. I’m going to be left alone. Another common fear is I won’t be remembered. So if I know that that is their fear, then I’m going to spend a great deal of time comforting and talking to them about how I will remember them, how they will be with me for the rest of my life, how I will see them in the world, when I will remember them, what their legacy/life means to me and what they have passed on to me. So when I identify a person’s fear, I know what the solution might be.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: That’s beautiful, absolutely beautiful. Now with you, you’ve had the near-death experience. Did you ever have that conversation with your father?

Dr. Lani Leary: I did.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: You did.

Dr. Lani Leary: Yes. I didn’t talk about that experience for about five years because I didn’t know anyone who had had that experience and I didn’t even have the language really to discuss it. This was in the early ’80s. But it was also the most profound experience of my life, and I didn’t want people nitpicking it apart. I didn’t tell my father for about maybe 10 years.

Then finally it dawned on me that I might die before he did and that I just needed to pass it on, not proselytize, not try to change his mind, but just share my experience because I had seen his wife. I had been in the presence of my mother again, and it healed me; so perhaps it might make a difference to him.

So I did tell him, and I prefaced it by saying, I just want to share an experience with you and I’m not asking you to believe me or anything. I just feel that I have to pass it on, and you may do with it whatever you want. As I told him my story, tears ran down his eyes. The only thing he said was, “I needed to know your mother was okay.”

I learned so much, Bob, in that experience which has helped me with my work with the dying, but I don’t think someone needs to have that experience in order to be helpful. But in the near-death experience I learned without a shadow of a doubt, I mean with every fiber of my being I know that in death there is healing. So my mother died broken, and when she was there in the tunnel to catch me, she was vibrant and beautiful and whole and healed. So I also know that we never die alone, that there’s always someone there to greet us.

I know without a shadow of a doubt that there is no such thing as even needing to be forgiven, that this light that you can call by any name, it doesn’t matter, this unconditional love is what we’re all made of and what connects us all. I know that there’s no fear and that death is not a tragedy.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Breathtaking. I read the whole chapter about your near-death experience last night to my wife. I just had to share it with her, one of those things. We could spend a whole episode on it. We’ll just talk about it. People can read about it if they want to. Because I feel like this other information is something that we haven’t covered yet, and therefore is important. But it’s there.

What I loved about it was it was sort of classic near-death experience, not wanting to come back. I thought it was interesting you talked about some of the guilt even you went through later about not wanting to come back where you have a husband and children.

Dr. Lani Leary: Right.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: But it teaches you about what that experience is like, what it’s like to be there, and we’re all going to be there one day.

Dr. Lani Leary: So much love and peace and serenity. Oh my goodness. Yeah, I argued. I said no, I didn’t want to come back, which was why I didn’t talk about it in large part for five years because I thought no one would understand a mother saying no when she had a young child who needed her.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: That’s right.

Dr. Lani Leary: It wasn’t that I was saying no to my child or my husband. It was that I was saying yes to this love.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: That’s right, exactly. You’re looking at it from a completely different perspective there. I’m sure even at that moment you probably didn’t feel disconnected from your family members.

Dr. Lani Leary: I didn’t feel disconnected, but I wasn’t an ego. I wasn’t a personality.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Yeah. It makes it very, very different, doesn’t it?

Dr. Lani Leary: Yes, there was a much higher perspective.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Yeah.

Dr. Lani Leary: Everything is right with the world.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Yeah. So we just have a few minutes left, and I just want to let people know that this book isn’t just about dealing with people who are dying. This book is also about people who are grieving. So I just want to cover a couple things briefly.

Dr. Lani Leary: Bob, actually a lot of people have said to me that it’s not a book necessarily about dying or grieving. It’s a book about how to live.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: And certainly opens up conversations about death—you know what I mean—that we never probably have ever had before. We get to hear from someone who has had a great deal of experience around death. You open up the conversation in ways that many of us wouldn’t even know how to open it up.

In talking about grief, you talk about the key to resolving grief. Tell us what that is.

Dr. Lani Leary: The key to resolving grief is validation. Again, like the dying process, to be held and validated, to be listened to that this is my experience, these are my feelings, to be companioned in grief is the greatest, greatest support.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: So there’s a theme going on here. People just need to be listened to and not judged and just accepted. Accept their experience as it is.

Dr. Lani Leary: Right. Each grief is different, so that if I’m going to be helpful to you when you’re grieving, I need to not compare how you grieve to someone else because then I judge, right? So I don’t want to judge. I don’t want to compare. I don’t want to make any assumptions about how you should grieve, and I certainly don’t want to give you a formula about how long you should grieve. A lot of people do that, even when they say, aren’t you over it yet?

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Yeah, yeah, move on. Right.

Dr. Lani Leary: Grief, lifetime.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Where did you learn that in your work? I mean, did you always know this? Did you go into working with hospice knowing this already? Is it something you learned in school, or is this something you learned through experience?

Dr. Lani Leary: Well, I think I learned a lot of it through experience. I think I learned a lot of what was helpful and meaningful to me starting from when I was 13, what was helpful and what wasn’t. Then I just listened to other people who were grieving. People ask for help because there are so many people in our culture who just don’t want to go there. They don’t want to listen. They want you to quick, quick, quick, move on, move on.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Yeah. Well, I guess they get nervous. Then I think there’s also a point where they recognize now they’re grieving the friendship because that person’s no longer the same person they were or the friendship’s not the same as it was. So that comes from a very selfish place, I would imagine.

Dr. Lani Leary: Well, I think it comes from a place of their grief that they have not resolved or touched. So a person who’s doing grief counseling really can only take another person as far as they’ve gone.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Yeah, yeah. That’s great. That’s classic right there. You also talk about how children grieve differently than adults. Can you give us a couple examples?

Dr. Lani Leary: Well, children do grieve differently because there are concepts of death that a child needs to understand in order to fully understand death. Depending on their family, depending on their experience, the vocabulary that’s used in the family, and what’s shared, a child doesn’t necessarily fully understand death until maybe they’re about 10.

So at age five a child might not understand that there is a cause for death. So death doesn’t just happen to someone, there’s a reason for death. Children also need to understand that death is irreversible. When you and I were growing up we used to see the Roadrunner cartoons. Remember Roadrunner was smashed by a boulder and what happened? He immediately jumped up and came back to life. So children need to know that once dead, they don’t come back.

Another concept that a child needs to understand is that a body doesn’t function after death. So it would be very common for a five-year-old to ask me, does daddy go to the bathroom in heaven, still believing that the body functions. To know where a child is in their understanding of death, again, listen to their questions.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: So there are some things you should not say to children in reference. There are some common ideas; there are common things that are said to children. I heard in an interview that you gave, you were sort of giving a little list of some of the things that probably shouldn’t be said to children, such as they’ve gone to sleep.

Dr. Lani Leary: Right. Just like sex education, body parts have very specific, real vocabulary attached to them, and we should use the real terminology with death. So when I’m talking to a child I will say, mommy died. I don’t say mommy went to sleep forever. I don’t say mommy went away. I never say that because the child feels abandoned and then we go into the whole shame and meaning of that. But mommy died and mommy can’t use her body anymore.

Then depending on the family’s belief system I’ll either support their belief about we believe mommy is in heaven and what does that mean to you? But we need to repeat the facts often, often, often to children. Sometimes if adults don’t understand that, they’ll get exacerbated by why that child comes back every night and says, where’s daddy? Because they don’t understand that daddy is not coming back. It’s a very long process to really integrate that information.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: If you don’t know, though, the proper way, the proper things to say, what’s something good to sort of go by? Is it honesty? What would it be, aside from maybe religious beliefs, that sort of a thing, in how to answer some of the children’s questions?

Dr. Lani Leary: Yes, I would be honest and I would let the child lead. So I want to answer the questions honestly and specifically and shortly, succinctly, depending on their question.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Yeah, yeah. Like the whole sleep thing, what would be the reason not to tell them that they’ve gone to sleep?

Dr. Lani Leary: Because that child becomes afraid, terrified of going to sleep because if daddy died because he went to sleep, then I could die when I go to sleep. But even more important than the child being fearful that they’re going to die is being afraid that mommy’s going to die.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Every time she goes to sleep.

Dr. Lani Leary: When a parent dies, the child’s first concern is for their own safety. Who’s going to take care of me? Who’s going to take care of me? So if daddy has died, mom wants to be very careful about I am here; I am going to take care of you. You are safe. I’m not going anywhere and all of that. We really need to create a nest of safety for a child.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Okay. I was going to say, what can we briefly say knowing that we only have a couple minutes left about finding meaning in loss?

Dr. Lani Leary: Well, meaning is everything because, you see, death is death. But for example, in my instance, my mother died. How my family saw her death changed depending on the meaning. So one child in the family might think that mommy died, and what it means is that she left me and I’m a bad person.

Somebody else’s meaning is mommy died because she had an illness and her body gave out. She didn’t want to leave me. So those two children, the same incident happened in the family, but because the meaning is so different those children will grieve very differently. Their wounds will be very different, and really the relationships in life with others will be very different.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Yeah, yeah. Well, because we’re running out of time and again, as much as we’ve talked about, we’ve just covered a fraction of what you have written about. So again, I highly recommend this to people. This is going to be one of my favorite books to give away. Again, the book is No One Has to Die Alone. Below this video are links that people can buy it on Amazon. There’s going to be a link to your website. What is your website domain name?

Dr. Lani Leary: drlanileary.com. So it’s drlanileary.com.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: That’s great.

Dr. Lani Leary: I also blog for Psychology Today.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Oh, really?

Dr. Lani Leary: I blog there, and that column is called “No one has to be alone.”

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: That’s beautiful.

Dr. Lani Leary: It covers the gamut.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: That’s great, that’s great. Let me just say, I really appreciate you taking the time and getting up early. You’re in Hawaii. I’m in Maine. We were able to make this work thanks to Skype.

I want to thank you for writing this because you allowed me to help open this conversation up with my loved ones, my family, my friends, in ways that I never would have been able to before, given me more confidence in being able to deal with people who are in this situation. I know when I get to that point, it’s my turn to go, I’ll be educated on the best way to do it for me.

Dr. Lani Leary: And less fearful and more peaceful.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Yeah. So thank you for all of that, and maybe we can have you back again. We can talk about your near-death experience or something else.

Dr. Lani Leary: Thank you, Bob.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: All right, take care now.

Dr. Lani Leary: Aloha.


Afterlife TV is presented by Afterlife Investigator & Psychic Medium Researcher Bob Olson, who is the author of Answers about the Afterlife: A Private Investigator’s 15-Year Research Unlocks the Mysteries of Life after Death.

Check out Bob Olson’s other sites: BestPsychicDirectory.com (a directory of hundreds of psychics & mediums by location with reviews & Instant Readings) & BestPsychicMediums.com (his personal recommended list of tested psychics and mediums) or visit Bob’s Facebook Page. Bob also has a popular workshop for psychics and mediums at PsychicMediumWorkshop.com.

Don’t miss another Afterlife TV episode. Join our email list to get new video announcements (and to download a free excerpt of Bob’s book): CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP FOR NEWSLETTER.

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Comments

  1. Rosella Birnbaum says:

    Thank you. This interview has helped me better understand how much my husband and I didn’t know about preparation his recent death. I don’t know if it was instinct, intuitiveness but I had to figure out what was going on for him and myself. I wish I knew about all this 3 months ago. I am sorry to say that once in the hospital, little information about dying or what’s going on or what to do is offered . The problem was the conflicting opinions of each of my husbands doctors whether he was dying or not caused unnecessary pain and suffering for the both is us. I was practically at the hospital all the time. I went home at 10 pm and then for a call my husband was moved out if intensive care to a regular floor. Why did they wait till I went home to do thus and not tell me? Because my husband told the nurse he wanted to die and refused his Meds. By law she could not give oral or Iv Meds anymore and she had him moved out. Also at that moment a psychiatrist was brought in. At that point I was needed to be with my husband during the evening. He was not suusidal. He just didn’t want to be alone and was scared about knowing he was dying. If I knew more about what I just read in this interview , i could have used this precious time without physically exhausting myself. When I walked in the room the nurse said to me “thank God you are here, I couldn’t take it any more, his thrashing all over the place. She said she kept giving him shots of something. At the end I was urgently left alone with my husband when he died very heavily with sedation. However he was throwing himself out of the bed as I tried holding him down he was. Almost choking me. I have never seen anyone die and I’m 63. It was like trying to save someone in a burning fire. After he died I was in shock. Please help me find closure and stop my night mares.

    • Bob Olson says:

      Hi Rosella,

      I’m very sorry to hear about the experience you went through during you husband’s passing. What I can tell you from my work in this field is that your husband is without a doubt fine now — and was the second after he passed. So from his perspective, he has moved on from that experience; it is now your turn to find a way to not carry that heavy burden around anymore. And I’m sure it’s what he wants for you too. If it’s any assistance at all–because I recognize that what you’re dealing with is very difficult–try to remember the happy memories you had with your husband instead of the last months, days or hours. If you can, don’t allow all those happy memories you’ve had together to be forgotten or clouded by these final days.

      I would certainly recommend getting some counseling around this, and Dr. Lani Leary is the perfect person to help you with this. Her email address is on the same page as the video, or you can go to http://www.DrLaniLeary.com. Reach out to her even if you choose to not get counseling. I’m sure she will have helpful advice for you.

      The only other advice I really have to offer you is to keep watching the video interviews on http://www.AfterlifeTV.com. Many people have told me that they gave them comfort in all sorts of ways. There are many to watch, so there’s a lot there from which to find comfort…and hopefully the closure you seek at some point.

      My very best wishes to you,
      Bob
      AfterlifeTV.com

  2. Rebecca says:

    What a wonderful article! I loved everything she had to say on the subject of grief. 7/6/12 I lost my 23-year old son in a trajic accidnet; 7 months later my mom died unexpectedly. Since that time, the friends I had are long gone. My own family thinks I should have ‘moved on’ by now. I like that Dr. Leary said Grief is a lifetime. At 3 years, I don’t see where I will ever be ‘ok’. I await the day when I have my predeath vision and can see my son once again. Thank you!!

    • Bob Olson says:

      Hi Rebecca,

      Very sorry about your loss(es). You might benefit from watching some past Afterlife TV episodes I’ve done with people who have lost children: Terri Daniel (Roadmap to the Afterlife), Dave Kane (The Signs & Signals Spirits Send Us), and Scarlett Lewis (Afterlife Love Story) come to mind. And I believe my book can be helpful to you too, Answers About The Afterlife at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0965601986/?tag=ofspiritcom07-20 And grief counseling might be very helpful to you too. Dr. Lani Leary works by phone, and her contact info is under the video.

      Warmly,
      Bob
      AfterlifeTV.com
      BobOlson.com

  3. Becki Hawkins says:

    Really enjoyed this. I’m a retired Hospice nurse and I totally agree with all this information. Yes, my dying patients taught me how to be present to them, how to honor their wishes. And yes, some did share their pre-death visions and some shared their previous NDEs and they were not afraid to die. Truly an honor to be with each one. I call it Holy Ground and feel like a mid-wife to the other side.
    I will recommend this book to everyone!!

    Blessings to you both for this interview!!
    Becki

    • Bob Olson says:

      Thanks Becki,

      I appreciate your comment. More validation.

      Warmly,
      Bob
      AfterlifeTV.com
      BobOlson.com

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