And we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten, but the love will have been enough. All those impulses of love return to the love that made them; even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love; the only survival the only meaning. — Thornton Wilder

The best part of a good man never dies. You will see him in all the things here out of love and for love…The best part of a good man stays forever for love is immortal and makes all things immortal but hate dies every minute. — William Saroyan

What is the virtue in feeling sad? When you are feeling sad, you are regretting something. You are lonely for someone or something. It is a mourning. Perhaps you regret that you didn’t enjoy another Being more when he or she was right here before you. And so you enjoy them now with your sadness. — Gloria Wendroff

It may seem strange for me to start a discussion about how to handle loss and the death of loved ones by saying that death is not the worst outcome. There is a point in everyone’s life, no matter their species, when one’s body no longer will function and is not a comfortable place to be in. I see this in the actions of pets and people I have loved and cared for.

Symbolically when people draw purple balloons, butterflies and kites going up into the sky they are telling me, often unconsciously, that they are ready for the healing which comes when they make the spiritual transition and leave their bodies. Death is about beginnings and not endings. We do not call graduations terminations we call them commencements and so is death. Every caterpillar and butterfly understands what the transformation means better than most people.

Saroyan shares these words at the end of a story in which a young man dies; he becomes “dreamless, unalive, perfect.” And I know that he is right. I have experienced a near death experience as a four year, old choking on a toy I aspirated, and I can tell you when you leave your body you will most likely not want to come back. Even blind people see when they have a NDE and are upset when resuscitated and find themselves back in their body and blind again.

Harry Chapin’s song entitled Circle, shares these words, “It seems like I’ve been here before; I can’t remember when; But I have this funny feeling; That we’ll all be together again….Our love is like a circle; Let’s go ’round one more time.” Yes, when the circle ends we grieve the loss of our loved ones and that is appropriate but to live in the darkness is not what we are here for.

I can remember building a cairn over the grave of one of our dogs who died and bringing a rock to the site every morning as I walked by his grave. Then one morning I thought what I wanted to bring him was beauty and I picked a flower to place there. From that morning on I looked for beauty because of my loss and not a cold stone. I have written about the candle which represents every one of our dead loved ones and I do not want to put out their candles with my excessive grieving and tears.

I have learned to forgive myself as I know they would forgive me and to use my pain to nourish myself and others and make our lives meaningful. When one is hungry one does not get angry at one’s body. You seek nourishment and so use your feelings to help you nourish yourself and your life by finding what you need.

The animals and children are complete and can be our teachers. When a cat named Missy came into our home, and I didn’t notice she wasn’t eating well, I felt enormous grief and guilt when she developed liver failure and died. Her grave and cairn lies in the yard outside our door and I think of her often but I also know she has forgiven me and wants me to enjoy the day. In her honor I do more for animals and so as a young man who died said, “What is evil is not the disease but to not respond with compassion to the person with the disease.” And so we must use our loss and express our compassion and when we do the curse becomes a blessing and helps us to become complete too.

The key is enjoying the day as all animals do. When I thought one of our sons, who was seven at the time had cancer, due to an abnormal x-ray, and a year to live I was not doing well. He came to me and said, “Dad can I talk to you for a minute? You’re handling this poorly.” (His tumor turned out to be a rare benign tumor but he taught me a great deal.) I learned from him to enjoy the day and the time we were experiencing and not grieve over what I thought would be.

The way to die laughing is to accomplish what you are here to accomplish and animals do that much better than we do. To quote a veterinarian who let her patients help her through surgery, “I can amputate a leg or jaw and they wake up and lick their owner’s faces. They are here to love and be loved and teach us a few things.” A Hindu myth shares the words of a seven year old who is about to give his life to save another, “Consider this, sooner or later my body will perish at any rate but if it perishes without love, which the wise declare is the only thing of permanence of what use will it have been” and “Let me be born again and again on the wheel of rebirth so again and again I may offer this body for the benefit of others.” When he is about to die he bursts into joyful laughter and everyone stops and clasps their hands together in an attitude of prayer.

The other, and more practical aspect of dying laughing, is to remember the things you or others have done and tell stories about what you remember. Let your departed loved ones bring a smile to your face and life. Animals have no trouble doing this but we, the incomplete species, need to learn to let the child out and to not be normal, which is only for the inadequate to desire. Be a character and live my WWLD when in doubt. What Would Lassie Do? Or if you want to, ask yourself what your departed beloved pet would want you to do and do it.

Also remember we have a great deal to say about when we die. So do not feel guilty if your beloved dies when you are not present. I have seen this with our pets, which wait for family members to leave, and with my parents and patients. My father and some of our animals had no problem sharing their last minutes sharing stories while I knew my mother and some of our animals would not die when their loved ones were in the room with them. So share your love but also give them time to be with others and leave the room if you think they will feel better with you not experiencing their death.

Since consciousness is not local there is still a part of all our departed loved ones which is still there for us to experience and share with. I could tell endless stories about the experiences of loved ones who have lost family members or animals and had them return spiritually or symbolically after their death. After my mother Rose died we kept finding roses and pennies everywhere. Finding pennies is my way of knowing I am on the right path and my Mom’s great grandchildren started spontaneously calling them pennies from heaven. This consciousness will eventually become a part of the consciousness of those who come after us so remember life is a school and the more you learn the more you can pass on to future generations. A perfect world free of afflictions and death is a magic trick and not creation so share your love and make life meaningful and creative.

When our beloved Smudge Bunny died I played a tape someone had given me as I drove to pick up her body. Dear Barbra Streisand sang to me…“They say there’s a universal plan for every woman, for every man; But in our darkest hour it’s hard to understand why did the right road take the wrong turn? Why did our heart break and why did we get burned? Just like the seasons there are reasons for the path we take. There are no mistakes; just lessons to be learned.”

I will stop now with this thought for you to reflect upon. If death were the worst outcome would Abraham, Jesus and Noah have done what they did by following their Lord’s desires? Why didn’t Abraham bargain with God over His request for his son to be sacrificed or Jesus, who could walk on water, hop off the cross? And how come Noah didn’t argue for more people and animals to be saved? Maybe they knew that the problem is living and death is not the worst outcome but a chance to go home and be perfect again. Or as my quadriplegic father-in-law called it, “You just fall up.” And when he was tired of his body he did just that and spent no time dying. He just refused his vitamins and dinner and fell up that evening.

Death is the greatest teacher there is about life; so live and learn. Remember graduations are commencements and rings have a center everywhere and an end nowhere.


Bernie Siegel

Dr. Bernie Siegel, who prefers to be called Bernie, not Dr. Siegel, was born in Brooklyn, NY. He attended Colgate University and Cornell University Medical College. He holds membership in two scholastic honor societies, Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Omega Alpha and graduated with honors. His surgical training took place at Yale New Haven Hospital, West Haven Veteran’s Hospital and the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. He retired from practice as an assistant clinical professor of surgery at Yale of general and pediatric surgery in 1989 to speak to patients and their caregivers. In 1978 he originated Exceptional Cancer Patients, a specific form of individual and group therapy utilizing patients’ drawings, dreams, images and feelings. ECaP is based on “carefrontation,” a safe, loving therapeutic confrontation, which facilitates personal lifestyle changes, personal empowerment and healing of the individual’s life. The physical, spiritual and psychological benefits which followed led to his desire to make everyone aware of his or her healing potential. He realized exceptional behavior is what we are all capable of. Bernie, and his wife and coworker Bobbie, live in a suburb of New Haven, Connecticut. They have five children and eight grandchildren. Bernie and Bobbie have co-authored their children, books and articles. Their home with its many children, pets and interests resembled a cross between a family art gallery, museum, zoo and automobile repair shop. It still resembles these things, although the children are trying to improve its appearance in order to avoid embarrassment. In 1986 his first book, Love. Medicine & Miracles was published. This event redirected his life. In 1989 Peace, Love & Healing and in 1993 How To Live Between Office Visits followed. He is currently working on other books with the goal of humanizing medical education and medical care, as well as, empowering patients and teaching survival behavior to enhance immune system competency. Bernie’s realization that we all need help dealing with the difficulties of life, not just the physical ones, led to Bernie writing his fourth book in 1998 Prescriptions for Living. It helps people to become aware of the eternal truths and wisdom of the sages through Bernie’s stories and insights rather than wait a personal disaster. He wants to help people fix their lives before they are broken, and thus not have to become strong at the broken places. Published in 2003 are Help Me To Heal to empower patients and their caregivers and 365 Prescriptions For The Soul, in 2004 a children’s book about how difficulties can become blessings, Smudge Bunny, in 2005 101 Exercises For The Soul and out in the Fall of 2006 a prescriptions for parenting book Love, Magic & Mud Pies. Published in 2008 Buddy’s Candle, for children of all ages, related to dealing with the loss of a loved one, be it a pet or parent, and to be published in 2009 Faith, Hope & Healing with survivor stories and my reflections about what they teach us. Woody Allen once said, “If I had one wish it would be to be somebody else.” Bernie’s wish was to be a few inches taller. His work has been such a growth experience that he is now a few inches taller. His prediction is that in the next decade the role of consciousness, spirituality, non-local healing, body memory, and heart energy will all be explored as scientific subjects. For many, Bernie needs no introduction. He has touched many lives all over our planet. In 1978 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 an 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. He continues to assist in the breaking of new ground in the field of healing and personally struggling to live the message of kindness and love. Dr. Siegel appeared on the radio show “Healing the Grieving Heart” with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss Finding Thanksgiving After Loss.

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