Healing versus Curing


With graduate school, comes a great deal of writing...papers, discussion board posts, and note-taking. I let the tears flow as I wrote this post in a message board the other night. I reread it...cried again and thought I should share it. There is a very important message for those who are on a pilgrimage to healing. Healing and curing are NOT the same. Once we accept this, we can embrace the actual process of healing and not let the absence of a cure be a total failure. 

Healing is a process of coming to a resolution between the mind, body and spirit. Curing is the removal of disease, or achieving physical wellness and balance. Curing involves the physical body, while healing involves the mind, body, and spirit as a whole (Ritberger, 2013).  I believe whole-ness is not achieved until we transition to the next life in heaven. It is something we strive for but is not completed until our time here is over. We are then released from our pain, suffering, and imperfections. Holmes shared some very powerful thoughts from religious professionals who are using a holistic approach with end of life in individuals, particularly hospice care. He mentions that some see, “death as the door to ultimate healing, whereas for some in the medical profession it is the ultimate, inevitable defeat” (Holmes, 2007).

I was fortunate enough to witness ultimate healing in my mother-in-law 11 months ago. My job during her journey with cancer was to be a source of information and support with her doctor visits. As a nurse, I recorded the information at appointments and typed up notes, and would explain what everything meant. I came up with medication logs once the pain medicines started, developed eating plans based on her symptoms, and did hundreds of hours of research. I never forced my own personal opinions on her. Just let her take it all in and make her own educated decisions, respecting those that she made even if they were different that what I would have done. I was her daughter-in-law in that she saw me emotionally hurt by the pain and situation she was in. I went back and forth from “nurse-mode” to “family mode”. She saw that I loved her dearly and treated her as I would have my own mother. For that I think she respected me for my loyalty and honesty. She said I was her angel, but in all actuality, she was mine.

Her and our family had hoped and prayed for her doctors to cure her cancer, but once we realized she would not be cured in the medical sense, we shifted our focus more to her healing. We consulted Alive Hospice chaplains and utilized the nursing staff to guide us through the process, making her transition as comfortable and as dignifying as possible. The nurses answered our phone calls at all hours of the day and night and they shared their personal stories. This sharing and connecting allowed us to further embrace the loss we were feeling while gaining the knowledge we needed to feel comfortable about the care we had to provide. I vividly remember talking to her, even after she was no longer responsive, holding her hands, putting essential oils and natural lubricants on her body, giving her massages, playing music that she enjoyed, and even putting her favorite football team on the TV during game time. We continued life in her presence knowing she would not be with us long. As her breathing changed, we took shifts laying on the floor at her bedside. I had a fear that I would not be there for her death. A very kind nurse shared her personal story of how her father passed from this life after everyone finally left the room. She said, “They will go when they’re ready.” Her story and words gave me peace and relieved my fear. When the time came, I was there, however. She allowed me to be there with her, holding her hand and praying over her as she took her last breath, one that can only be described as full of energy! It was as if her body said, “It is done.” When I read in Dossey & Keegan that the right relationship is the “process of connection among parts of whole that increase energy…” (Dossey & Keegan, 2016, p. 101) it made perfect sense to me. Even in her death, there was energy and that energy was a physical observance of her complete healing. Her body had sustained much longer than any of the doctors or even Hospice nurses had expected. It is my feeling that, she needed time to emerge into her something new. When her mind, body and spirit came together and were in agreement, her healing transitioned her through death. It really was a beautiful process, and I am forever blessed for being a part of it. That connection we shared has enriched my life, made me so much better for it, and is a big part of the reason I sit here typing this now. The grief since her passing has been difficult, especially for my husband, his siblings, my father-in-law, and countless others who were impacted by her life. Acknowledging all that I have above, doesn’t make grief any easier. It has however, made me less afraid of death. Understanding the difference between healing and curing is actually a weight lifted, and I’m grateful for the role nurses play in the process and acknowledging that there doesn’t have to be failure when there is not a cure. 


Dossey, B. M., & Keegan, L. (2016). Holistic nursing A handbook for practice (7th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Holmes, T. (2007, May 8). Curing vs. healing: religious professionals subscribe to a holistic approach to health. Retrieved from Oakpark.com: http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/5-8-2007/Curing-vs.-healing/

Ritberger, C. (2013). Healing vs curing: they're not the same. Retrieved from Wisdom Magazine: http://wisdom-magazine.com/Article.aspx/1026/