Category Archives: Life & Death

Heath’s Death

A friend of mine suggested I should write about Heath Ledger’s unexpected death.

In fact he suggested I should do some media publicity about the material I have about taking sleeping pills safely since Heath was found with sleeping pills and anti-anxiety pills in the room.

Well I wasn’t up for a media campaign, and I wasn’t even going to write about this subject on this blog. A little too raw, the story is still a little unclear, and it’s always awkward for readers of this blog who might find death a personal topic of interest. This is where the disclaimer comes in.

However there was one post I found to be worth a read from a self help perspective:

Also, if you are taking sleeping pills, or considering doing so, then I urge you to check these videos out for your own safety:

-Dr Martin Russell

Dicken’s Therapy

Once in a while it’s worthwhile therapy to ponder your own death, Charles Dickens’ style.

The world ain’t so focused on you that it wouldn’t keep going if you died, so it’s a valuable exercise to try it out your mortality for a while.

When I suggest this to people in counseling I often call it Dicken’s Therapy.

It comes from the Dicken’s story of “A Christmas Carol” where elderly miser Scrooge is made to examine his life.

Scrooge is not swayed by reviewing his past life, nor by seeing the life of those around him in the present, but he is moved to massive change by being taken to his future funeral and finding that it is not at all what he hoped for.

The therapy of imagining your own death.

I also call it Mark Twain therapy, based on the Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer version that has the two boys go off on wild adventures and come back to find everyone in the town’s church giving them a funeral because they have been given up as dead.

At their funeral they listen in and hear people speak about them in ways they’d never known when they were alive.

Therapy by mentally extrapolating on from your own death is a common enough idea.

Visit your own funeral Dicken’s style. Hover over your casket. Write out your own eulogy.

What would you WANT people to be saying about you?

What would they ACTUALLY say about you?

Are these two the same? And if not what can you do to close the gap?

What will you leave behind when you are gone, ie what is your legacy?

I often add in a sense of urgency and comparison by asking, “What if you died tomorrow?”

And yes I ask myself these questions too.

In fact it helped me make a decision just last week.

This online self help work is part of the legacy I want to leave to the world, but much of it is still being developed. I have much more I want to offer here.

However when I asked myself the “What if I died tomorrow?’ question, it cleared up one piece.

Hopefully this piece will be ready this week.

When I announce it, if you agree it’s worthwhile then you can join in. You’ll be able to make a difference to the lives of others and add it as another part your legacy too.

Oh, and if I do die tomorrow, then the few people who I’ve already spoken to about this can take this as part of my last will and testament. Go-ahead to find a way to do it for me. Thanks.

-Dr Martin Russell

The Importance Of Dying – Part 3

Part 1 introduced the last lecture of 47-year-old Randy Pausch who summarized the lessons he wants to pass on from his life.

Let me give you Randy’s most important lesson from his entire life…

“Find the best in everybody. You might have to wait a long time, sometimes years, but people will show you their good side.

Just keep waiting, no matter how long it takes.”

Or as he restated it in the ABC interview…

“If you wait long enough other people will show you their good side, and if there’s anything I have learned this is absolutely true, and sometimes it takes a lot longer than you might like, but the onus is on you to keep the hope and keep the waiting.”

This might be very easy to read, acknowledge, and then dismiss.

But ponder for a moment that a man who is distilling his entire life’s experience into a single, solitary idea, comes up with that.

So let me dissect Randy’s comments just a little.

At first sight it could be simply a garden-variety positive affirmation, or as a part of a PMA (Positive Mental Attitude), that just marks Randy as one of those guys who thinks the best of everyone.

But it is not.

Notice two things.

First, Randy is giving this as something he discovered during his life.

Therefore he did NOT always think this, and changing to this made the most valuable difference in his life that he wishes to pass on to others.

In other words he isn’t a ‘positive-only’ guy!

He’s tried out not thinking this way, and it wasn’t as good for him. In fact it was so much better when he changed that he is recommending this to everyone else too. He’s a raving fan for this idea!

In my own counseling, this belief about people that Randy begins assuming, also underpins my work. It is the biggest lesson that I gained from my non-medical training, and it changed forever the approach I was given as a medical student into one that I too think works much more effectively.

Second, and just as important, Randy is giving much more than a positive attitude.

He is outlining a method for HOW to start and KEEP this attitude.

So many beliefs and positive affirmations are set up in ways that just fall apart.

Saying “People Are Good” in the mirror each morning is unlikely to hold water for many of the 6 billion people on this planet, starting with the ones who don’t have access to a mirror, or even enough water to see their reflection in.

Instead of attempting to declare definitively that people have a good side, he is giving you a way to act and respond, EVEN IF IT IS A LIE!

Truth is not the issue. In fact, trying to find what’s true and what’s not just creates distracting arguments, usually inside your own head.

Randy is saying, here is how to act AS IF it was true, and that by behaving this way you will live your life more successfully.

It is only way one to do it, but if you are having difficulty believing what he says is useful, then you won’t believe my version. So start with Randy’s version.

“If you wait long enough other people will show you their good side.”

[You can find the original 1 hour 44 minute lecture, and the short ABC interview here in The Importance Of Dying – Part 1.]

-Dr Martin Russell

The Importance of Dying – Part 2

A week ago I posted a video of a 47-year old university lecturer and his last speech.

He is dying of pancreatic cancer.

If you haven’t watched it then check it out here:

The Importance of Dying – Part 1

The full version is 1 hour 44 mins, but the 9 minute interview is much more pithy.


How do you summarize a life in one lecture?


You can’t. Randy doesn’t.

As a counselor I wanted to let Randy Pausch present to you himself before I commented. Because I want to talk about his story behind the story, or at least what can be glimpsed from his lecture.

So many people come to me, and they tell me how wonderful life is for everyone else. Everyone else has more confidence, more success, more fun, more of whatever they feel they are lacking.

It’s not my experience.

I see people who come in and drop the facade that they present to others every day, and they are just as fragile underneath as anyone else.

From politicians to performers, from business people to house wives, I have seen them all in a very different light. My line of work gives me an alternate bias to understanding life.

I see its apparent failings more than its successes.

And so in the light of the inspirational video I want to give you this perspective too. That in all the inspiration there are very human underpinnings we all share.

Randy is not lying when he says “Don’t pity me”, and “I’m not in denial”, he is selecting. He has a purpose for the end of his life, and no time or opportunities to waste.

What you see compressed into his talk is like seeing the final work after you have put all the rough drafts into the bin. But he got there by the rough drafts, and don’t let anyone forget that when they try to emulate him.

His humor he acknowledges, tends to be black. He has had tears, and will have more. His death is unlikely to be pleasant.

He gives a lecture because that is what his training has been for much of his life. An artist might paint, a poet might write, but his self-expression is a lecture.

Could we all be an inspiration to others?

I say yes.

As long as you understand that there is 9/10ths below the tip of any iceberg, no matter how high it towers. Like Randy, at least acknowledge that the other 9/10ths exist, then ask yourself what you are going to put in that 1/10th and what flag you fly at the very top.

-Dr Martin Russell

Read The Importance Of Dying – Part 3 here…