Learning from Larry

by Bev Foster

Earlier this month, Canada lost a great Canadian. Dr. Larry Librach, MD was a palliative care champion and mentor to many across this country. A full list of Larry’s professional accomplishments can be found here at the Temmy Latner Centre.

The Room 217 Foundation lost a valued Board member.

I first met Larry in 2005 at his Temmy Latner Centre (TLC) office in Toronto. As a “newbie” to the Hospice Palliative Care (HPC) world, I could see that Larry was an in-demand kind of person. Yet I felt like he had all the time in the world in that hour we met to explore the idea of “comfort music” in palliative care and the Room 217 concept. He knew the need and liked the idea.

His warmth, encouragement and sense of presence continued over the next several years as we would meet again at provincial (NHPCO) and national (CHPCA) HPC conferences. He always showed interest in how things were developing. In 2010, his eyes danced as we envisioned what a broader music care education program for caregivers and health care providers might look like.

I’m not sure that Larry was an avid music lover, but he believed that music could support someone at end of life and that it could enhance quality of life. In June 2011, Larry joined the Board of Directors of the Room 217 Foundation and contributed on both the Fundraising and Education Committees. Grassroots, ground up work was no stranger to Larry.

While thousands of Canadian health-care providers and people around the world have gleaned their knowledge of palliative care medical practice from Dr. Librach, my learning from Larry has not been about pain and symptom management (although I did sit in on one of his constipation and opioid presentations.) For me, learning from Larry has been more about human character, the personal values that shape attitudes and behaviors.

In his living, Larry taught me about the value of perseverance. Vision that benefits dignity, especially at end of life, is worth working at. He modelled this over several decades as he pioneered palliative care practice in its humble beginnings in Ontario, across Canada and beyond.

Larry showed me that collaboration is the way work needs to be done. Vital to the collaboration is respect, nurtured over time, bound by shared conviction, seasoned with care and communication.

Larry reflected a positive attitude. This was neither push-over nor Pollyanna; it was an outlook. Larry was a realist who consciously decided not to waste his energy being overly frustrated, angry or discouraged. He had a great sense of humor. This was palpable as he served on our Board.

In his final months, Larry showed me what was most important– his cherished family, his Jewish roots, and living each day as fully and meaningfully as he possibly could. For Larry, legacy encompassed more than professional achievement. He wanted to be successful in his most intimate relationships. I saw Larry’s congruency, integrity that is rare.

Larry demonstrated generosity. He and Faye and their family allowed friends and colleagues to share their final journey through visits, email, phone calls. And they did it with grace. One such generous interview was filmed by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. Larry had recently become their scientific advisor. This is a significant learning piece for all of us as Larry shares about his own cancer journey. http://www.partnershipagainstcancer.ca/2013/08/16/larrylibrach/

I wrote a song for Larry in which I wanted to inspire courage, say thank you and provide a container for our collective grief and shared hope. The bridge of the song says it best: we teach by who we are, how we live, how we die. For me, this encapsulates Larry Librach, a mentor and friend for so many.

Teaching that is going to make a difference is about embodied action. That’s why Larry was an effective teacher. His knowledge wasn’t abstract, it was concrete, real, connected and lived out. I’m grateful for his influence in my life.