It is a strange experience to go to your healer's funeral, and it is especially strange when he was only 58 and died from a disease that might well have been cured by Western medicine.
I consider myself a very rational person, not the sort to believe in "healers." Some years ago, I got a call inquiring whether I would be willing to host some television show featuring tales of the occult — because I could bring such credibility to the topic. I laughed and said my credibility would be gone if I did.
But I am also a very anxious person, a worrier, but not about the mundane stuff — and when you think of it, so much is mundane. I worry about what matters: that the people I love will be healthy and safe. I have tried the conventional stuff, pills and therapy, read all the books about "learned optimism" and what a counterproductive waste most of my worrying is, but I still worry. Before she died, my mother's first words to me, and mine to her, were always: "What's wrong?"
Peter helped me. My old and dear friend Pat, who saw tragedy too young, is my soul mate when it comes to anxiety. When she found Peter, she told me he was the real thing. I figured I'd try — once. I went every Saturday for years, until he decided to refuse conventional treatment for his cancer.
The living room in his house in Glendale, where he was booked every hour of the day, six days a week, displayed an array of diplomas. I'm not sure from where or whom. He would look at me, run his hands in the air and have me repeat simple statements ("I am safe." "I am strong."). Then I would lie down on the big chair, and he would begin the healing. His hands were unnaturally hot. My kids called him "Peter the Feeler," but it wasn't that at all.
I don't believe in X-ray vision. I don't believe that you can "see" the future, as opposed to just seeing clearly and rationally. I don't really believe in "hot hands."
But this much I know: I always left Peter's house feeling better than when I came. His telling me that whatever it was would be OK, that whoever it was would be safe, would recover, gave me comfort. My stomachaches got better. If he didn't have X-ray vision, he had an intuitive gift that was almost as miraculous. If there is a mind-body connection, and I certainly believe in that, his ability to put my mind on my side, to turn it from a negative force to a positive one, was a saving grace.
His "insights" were not always proved right: My friend Kath did have cancer, terminal cancer, and even though he saw her, he didn't see that. He once told me to take an earlier flight to New York, and I did, on virtually no sleep, and ended up collapsing on a street corner from exhaustion and dehydration and who knows what else. But he was "right" more often than not, and his generosity, compassion and understanding were gifts on their own.
And then he got sick. Blood in the urine. He delayed seeing a physician. When he finally went, to a good doctor, he agreed to the biopsy, but refused to have his bladder removed. He would not even consider chemotherapy. He admitted that he could not heal himself, he knew that, but he could not abandon his faith in the powers of nontraditional healing, his faith (and he was a deeply religious man) in the power of prayer. Was he afraid? I don't know.
He needed the surgery. He had a real chance of a cure. He refused. I told him I could not watch him die without a fight. I had been to that movie before. If he would fight, I would fight with him. I stopped going. It was the strongest message I could send.
Sometimes I hate being right. Shortly before he died, predictably, he agreed to the surgery. Of course, it was too late. And it broke my heart to think he died believing he had been wrong. So I went to his funeral angry. And as always, when I saw Peter, I left holding on to the other part, to the love he showered upon me, the endless compassion. To the end, he was a healer.
To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.