The following are anecdotes from a recent conversation with Dr. Bernie Siegel about healing.
As Mother Teresa said, “I will not attend an anti-war rally, but if you happen to have a peace rally, call me.” That woke me up. When you are waging a war you empower the enemy. What are you focusing on? The battle. But if you look at how can I heal my life, how can I find peace, then your internal chemistry changes. This is not a miracle. This is the way you heal your finger if you cut it. It’s built in.
When people give up being the submissive suffering patient and become what I call a responsible participant in their life, they’ve got a chance. Give it a shot. What have you got to lose? It’s not about oh, I failed, I didn’t love enough, I didn’t get well. No. It’s, let’s see what can happen.
I have a letter from a woman that I have saved for over 25 years. Her parents committed suicide and told their children to commit suicide. And this woman was so enraged. She’s the only one alive in her family and I’ve known and cared for her. And she found faith. “I had no control over the parents who raised me or the experiences I was subject to. But when I let love into my prison, it changed every negative item in it, meaning the experiences in my life, and turned them into something beautiful.”
There was a young teenager I knew who was HIV positive due to sexual abuse from his parents and their friends. His home was like a prison where he had to do favors for everybody. He called me one day and I was trying to help him survive, and he said, “Dr. Siegel, I’m going to commit suicide, I want you to know that.” I said “Tony, why don’t we kill your parents? Why kill yourself?” His words were, “I never want to be like them. I’m going down to the subway and I’m going to jump in front of the A train.” And a few hours later I heard from him, and this, I would say, is a miracle. He said, “Well, I was standing in the station and there was no train. It didn’t come. And I saw the hotline number for suicide prevention so I called them and they came and rescued me. They’ve taught me about love.” And that’s when you begin to feel there must be an angel. We don’t know why the train didn’t show up. But it saved his life. And he’s always been a teacher to me. He wasn’t battling, hating, cursing, wanting to kill his parents. He was able to let go, have a quiet mind and be at peace.
I don’t have a problem helping people die. They get tired, well, my father’s words were “I need to get out of here.” He was tired of his body and he let my mother and I know. I didn’t go out and get him a bunch of drugs and say here, take these, you’ll be dead. We helped him live his last few days and share wonderful stories about his life and he died, literally, laughing, looking wonderful, at the stories my mother was telling as he was surrounded in a room full of loved ones.
A doctor called me and said, “My mother’s been brain dead for two years.” I said get her in the hospital and I’ll meet you in the hospital. The family was standing around the bed, she was getting an intravenous. I said, tell your mother, it’s ok for her to go, her love will stay with you. And they all started crying. I went over to the bed and I said to the mother, who again was in a coma, brain dead, but I know she hears me, so I said, “Your family is standing around the bed. They love you. If you need to go, it’s ok. Your love will stay with them.” Fifteen minutes later she died. That’s what doctors need to be taught. And families.
For many, Dr. Bernard Siegel—or Bernie, as he prefers to be called—needs no introduction. He has touched many lives all over the planet. In 1978, he reached a national and then international audience when he began talking about patient empowerment and the choice to live fully and die in peace. As a physician who has cared for and counseled innumerable people whose mortality has been threatened by illness, Bernie embraces a philosophy of living and dying that stands at the forefront of the medical ethics and spiritual issues our society grapples with today.