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Excerpted from Healers on Healing by Richard Carlson and Benjamin Shield (editors). Copyright © 1989 by Carlson and Shield. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.
 


"My attitude is that if I should die tonight or tomorrow, my life has been complete."

Bernie Siegel, "Love, the Healer" in 
Healers on Healing
, Part 6

Lastly, love in the therapeutic relationship is facilitated by the knowledge that we are mortal, that we are all going to die someday no matter how much we jog or love or eat organically grown vegetables. With this awareness I make the most of my life in the present moment, doing today what I would most like to do with the rest of my life. My attitude is that if I should die tonight or tomorrow, my life has been complete; I have been fulfilled because I have loved fully. This is part of the message I share with people at workshops: the sense that we can use our own mortality in a positive way to get the most out of life.

Therapists also need to develop the idea that death is not a failure. In traditional medical training, of course, success is measured in terms of removing disease, or "curing," and therefore a patient's death is regarded as a failure. But with this attitude we start to distance ourselves from patients, losing sight of ways to help them in their transition through death.

It is not always possible to cure; AIDS reminds us of this. Fifty years ago diphtheria took many lives; in another fifty years no doubt we will have some new disease that resists treatment. People are always going to die, to have incurable illnesses; but they will also always have disorders that can be healed.

I tell people, healthy or not, that they should live as if they were going to die at any moment. Then it is easy to help others, because there is never a point at which such advice is no longer valid. You say you are going to die tomorrow? Fine, then live as if you were going to die tonight. Then, who knows, you might feel too good to die tomorrow. Or you may indeed die because you are tired and feel like going. We have much more control over the time of our death than most people realize. It is all right to die if that is what one needs to do. Because everybody dies someday, dying can't be a failure. With this attitude, death can be a healing.

Of course, there is always grief when we lose a loved one. But we must learn to take that pain and to love others with it. Consider those who have lived ninety, ninety-five, or one hundred years. They may have lost their spouses, their children, and many other loved ones. Yet after such terrible losses, people find the strength to go on, because they learn to love others. We cannot outlive everyone we love if we choose to keep loving new people. This is what survivors do: They roll the love on continuously. Thus healing, like love, becomes a never-ending process.

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