Bethlehem Press

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Press photos by carole gorney 09: Dr. Byock autographs advance copies of the 10th anniversary edition of his book after his lecture in Bethlehem. Press photos by carole gorney 09: Dr. Byock autographs advance copies of the 10th anniversary edition of his book after his lecture in Bethlehem.
Grief counselor Wendy Littner Thomson created the Littner bereavement lecture series in memory of her grandparents, who met and worked at St. Luke's Hospital. Grief counselor Wendy Littner Thomson created the Littner bereavement lecture series in memory of her grandparents, who met and worked at St. Luke's Hospital.

Speaker offers advice for living

Thursday, June 19, 2014 by CAROLE GORNEY Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

"Mortality teaches us a lot if we let it, but most of us don't want to talk about it," award-winning author Dr. Ira Byock told a capacity audience at this year's Dr. and Mrs. Max Littner Memorial Lecture May 14.

The fourth in a series of bereavement lectures was presented at Central Moravian Church by the St. Luke's University Health Network. The lectures are funded by an endowment established by Wendy Littner Thomson, a Bethlehem grief therapist, in memory of her grandparents.

Byock is author of the best seller, "The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book for the Living," and a longtime advocate for patients and families dealing with terminal illness. He said in the beginning he considered the four things to be most important only before we die, but he later concluded that you don't have to be dying for them to be important. Then he felt he needed to share what he had learned.

"I wrote the book to give this talk," he admitted. "When you have something to say, you had better write a book because if you don't, no one will invite you to talk."

The four things discussed in his book, he said, are practical for self care, and the need today for self care is great.

"These four things may be the most important things we can do for our well being and that of our families."

The first thing, according to Byock, is to realize that human beings are imperfect.

"We blame ourselves for never having followed or fulfilled our dreams. My advice is 'Get over it.'"

In a speech spiced with humor, much of which was aimed at his own life, Byock chided his listeners to have some mercy for themselves.

"Say to yourself, 'I am not a bad person.' Say it until you can say, 'I am a good person.'"

The second lesson, according to Byock, is that relationships are important.

"This is universal," he explained. "So many lives are based in past and present relationships, but if it weren't for mortality, there would be no urgency to deal with relationships."

He told the audience to use the 11 powerful words that he said "can change your relationships and your life."

These words are found in four sentences: "Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you."

Byock said his work has affected his own life and relationships.

"I've learned how to apologize. I apologize more fully and a whole lot earlier."

Another reason Byock said he wrote his book was to tell stories of damaged relationships that were made whole, so that people would understand his third lesson, which is that healing is possible.

"If you cannot imagine that healing is possible, you won't try," he said.

In his fourth lesson, however, he cautioned that "you can only take care of one side of a relationship."

Providing yet another word of advice in a presentation that lasted more than an hour, Byock urged parents to tell their children how proud they are of them.

"This is a gift that keeps on giving."