RN, BSN, MA
I grew up in a family that normalized death and had a lot of it (big Irish family, lots of people, so lots of weddings and funerals). In college, I observed autopsies at the morgue in New York City during a death and dying course. I started my career at a cancer hospital caring for patients with brain tumors at the age of 20. My Nursing career continued into critical care where I met patients and families that often avoided discussions about end of life wishes. Patients and family members were often left with confusion and guilt when decisions needed to be made.
I’ve learned a lot from the many opportunities of being with people when they were dying.
I slowly became comfortable with the uncomfortable. I began to see this time as a sacred privilege and the benefits flowed over into my personal life. I saw my own mortality reflected in my patients and it shifted how I valued my experiences outside of work.
Eventually, death wasn't so scary and it became a companion that walked beside me encouraging me to say yes to opportunities that fell outside my comfort zone. Sometimes those adventures got me pretty cozy with death.
It was the mystery of death that piqued my interest in Eastern philosophy and Buddhism and led to training as a hospice volunteer through Zen Hospice Project. I’ve been a dedicated student and practitioner of meditation for two decades which has steadied my mind and heart to turn toward what is difficult.
These days, I spend a lot of time with the beginning of life when babies take their first breath. Even here, death makes an appearance in the loss of an infant or a mom; a devastating loss that is always unwelcome. That’s the thing about death, with every birth comes death. It can happen at any time and if we live with that knowledge, we might live more intentionally. If we have conversations about it, we might loosen up the fear and anxiety around it. If we prepare and share our wishes, we can give our loved ones the gift of clarity and direction so they feel confident they are following our wishes and have the opportunity to grieve without further unnecessary stress.
When I’m not working in the hospital or facilitating meditation groups at San Francisco Insight, Faculty for Jack Kornfield & Tara Brach's Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program, and Cloud Sangha, you can find me adventuring in nature and working as an active travel guide for international hiking and biking trips. Occasionally, Nursing, travel, mindfulness, and adventures all come together and I’ve assisted people recovering from illness home from Argentina to Japan or helped check off a bucket list item by providing care on a white water rafting trip in the Grand Canyon.
Master of Nursing: Holistic Nurse Practitioner: May 2001
New York University, New York, NY
Received Distinguished Student Award for Excellence
Bachelor of Science in Nursing: May 1990
Adelphi University, Garden City, NY
Integral Coaching Certification, 2014
New Ventures West, San Francisco, California
Specialized training, experience and accomplishments include:
Spirit Rock Meditation Center
Two year Community Dharma Leader Program Graduate -2016
Two year Dedicated Practitioner Program Graduate - 2018
Zen Hospice Project Volunteer trained under the guidance of Frank Ostaseski
Upaya Socially Engaged Buddhism 2020-2021 with Roshi Joan Halifax
2013-2014, completed the professional training program under the direction of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Saki Santorelli and Bob Stahl
Began teaching the 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in 2014
Barbara Brennan School of Healing, 1995-1999
In addition to offering courses here, Eileen teaches in various capacities:
Faculty for Jack Kornfield & Tara Brach's Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program, teaches through Cloud Sangha, San Francisco Insight.
She also has been a key note speaker and created customized mindfulness programs for Stanford Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente through The Balanced Nurse.
I believe that death and grief are sacred and essential parts of being human.
In my work as a hospice and palliative care chaplain, I have been honored to companion many people who are dying and grieving. Death and grief can be tremendously difficult, but they can also bring tremendous wisdom and perspective that make life more beautiful.
There are many ways to foster an intimate and honest relationship with death and grief. In addition to being a chaplain, I am a certified meditation and qi gong teacher. I’ve worked with people from many faith traditions and with many people with no faith tradition at all. I celebrate the vast diversity of practices and philosophies that help us live meaningful lives and honor our full selves in mind, heart, and body.
Leigh Ann Mertens
I am a very passionate, enthusiastic and inquisitive lover of life. I especially love connecting with others around what excites and enlivens them. The small miracles in life that are happening all day, every day, became evident to me the day Patrick, the chaplain for Haywood County Hospice & Palliative Care, came into the bookstore to use our beautiful space to interview a friend for a piece he was doing on dying and grief.
I shared with him what I was learning in the last few months of The Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program in which we studied many topics including trauma, pain and death.
This began a conversation that found me in a role as a hospice volunteer and a co-facilitator for Haywood County’s monthly Grief Gatherings. The “path,” so to speak, found me.
I strongly believe that if we choose to accept, and even lean into the fact that we are going to die, our lives instantly become much more meaningful and much more appreciated.
I began my relationship to illness as a very young child when my mother's seizures led to a diagnosis of a “nervous breakdown.” As her condition worsened; it was revealed that she had an inoperable brain tumor. By the time of her death in 1998, she was a mere shell of herself after fifteen years of being bedridden.
Having witnessed her struggles my whole life, I was sad but relieved when she died. My relationship with death deepened when my grandmother (her mother) died a couple of years later. And my father unexpectedly passed away ten years ago. Though they were both elderly, their deaths were more difficult for me emotionally, yet I still felt a sense of peace around death.
I think it was watching my mother’s struggle with incapacitation that led me to begin dancing and I danced for the first 30 years of my life both as a teacher and a performer. I then transitioned into teaching yoga for twenty-three years.
I was completely alarmed when my body, somewhat abruptly, requested I take a two-year sabbatical due to what I thought was an injury, but turned out to be a spinal condition. Serendipitously, at the same time, I had enrolled in the MMTCP with Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield. Both my spinal condition and this in-depth program have helped me accept, befriend and even love my aging, and now more challenged, body. As the mother of two daughters, now beautiful young women, I wish to model living a life full of joy while accepting the inevitability of pain and suffering. Life is a mysterious paradox of both pleasure and pain, and it is through this work of befriending death where I have discovered that I can hold both with grace.