Book Review- "The Secret Gift: Growth in Times of Loss", By Barbara Bernard

  • The Secret Gift: Growth in Times of Loss, by Barbara A. Bernard, is elegant in its simplicity. From the cover design to the symbolic fireweed – a plant symbolizing renewal through death – which is used as art throughout, The Secret Gift stresses the beauty of the cycle of life and death.

    Within four day’s time, Bernard’s mother was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and her father suffered a massive stroke. The family was, understandably, devastated.

    Bernard writes of the weeks following her father’s stroke and her anger about what was happening to her family. When a friend, unaware of all Bernard was going through, ask her what was happening in her life, she filled her friend in and then said, “My life is hell.” Bernard writes, “That statement jarred even me.”
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    Language has had great meaning in Bernard’s life and she is aware that the way we speak shapes our actions and our lives. She says, “I began to see that those angry words were expressing my fears – fear of the unknown and fear of the ultimate loss...I made the conscious decision never to speak those words again.”

    In The Secret Gift, Bernard takes you through her personal growth as she discovered new strengths in herself and new generosity from others. She and her family and friends spent eight intense months caring for her parents. First, they ushered her father through his last weeks and his death. Then, with Bernard’s mother’s degenerative disease progressing, the need to care for her mother became apparent. Each parent was brought to Bernard’s home to live their final days and to die. Bernard was determined to make life a part of the death process.

    She speaks of a troubled past with her father and how she found that accepting her own part in their relationship and the imperfection of each of them - their shared humanity - helped heal their relationship. Her father’s last weeks were a time filled with mutual love.

    Bernard’s parents were not suffering from dementia. But her experiences in this insightful book will help us all. She is uncommonly aware of the lessons she learned on her journey. Bernard writes, “I realized, first of all that I can trust myself...”

    She writes, “I’ve found that if I deliberately look for the best of the human spirit, it will be there to amaze me.” She writes, “I learned that if I can be patient and let go of the rigid timelines in my mind, I will receive all that I need.”

    In writing The Secret Gift, Bernard has given all caregivers a gift. One of the most profound gifts is her sharing of the words of Brenda, who coached Bernard as she helped her father die. Brenda told her, “If you stay quiet, you will gain new understandings.” I found this statement to be true during the deaths I’ve attended. I’ve found this statement to be true during all troubled times in my life and all joyous times, as well. When we take time to be still, we will find gifts no frenzied action can give us.

  • I recommend reading The Secret Gift over a period of time. Let each of Bernard’s revelations sift through your mind. Absorb what she has absorbed. It will help you care for your Alzheimer’s patient. Or a dying loved one. It will also help you live a quality life. The Secret Gift is available from and from
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Published On: November 06, 2006