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Listen May 22, 2012

Posted by ijwoods in Blog+.
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I have never met a person whose greatest need was anything other than love. Real unconditional love.” 

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross from her book, The Wheel of Life  – A Memoir of Living and Dying.

I recently received a copy of The Wheel of Life, by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, in the mail from an unidentified source. Although I am familiar with her work and have seen her book, On Death and Dying, on every recommended book list that concerns itself with caregiving, I never read it. I suppose that’s due to some contrarian tick that I have. Nonetheless, here was a gift in the mail from someone who obviously thought it would be of help to me so I thought I should give it a shot. Since I had a round trip flight to Minneapolis this weekend the flight seemed like the ideal time to dig into it and see if I really liked it. And indeed I did. I read the entire book.

This book is a memoir of an amazing life. I found Kubler Ross to be a very loving, caring doctor who had the consciousness to treat her patients as human beings. Although she was academically bright, for me her strength was her fiercely independent nature, the ability to think for herself and the courage to follow her heart above everything else.

Most people are aware of her 5 stages of grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The Wheel of Life takes us through the experiences in her life, and the processing that she used, to come up with those observations along with many other very helpful insights on the living/dying process. It’s a fascinating story with a glimpse into the creative work she pioneered despite opposition from the established medical community and many others.

Kubler-Ross comes across as a person who found her greatest fulfillment in giving. As a student, on her way to doctor-hood, the most basic ethic taught to her was to heal first and consider money later. If the money didn’t come, then it didn’t come. End of story.  At one point, later on in life while she was living and working in the USA, she quit a very good position in a hospital because she wanted to help someone who showed up without healthcare coverage or money. The a hospital administrator told her she couldn’t help the person because “they had a business to run.”  That mentality didn’t fly with her. Kubler-Ross, although certainly not opposed to money, worked from a different standard.

Kubler-Ross was someone who moved according to life. I read with great fascination about her first job in Psychiatry in which she acted mainly by what her heart commanded. Her assignment was a section of the Manhattan State Hospital for people with severe mental disabilities. In what seemed to others a hopeless situation she saw hope and brought improvements to the lives to more than 90% percentage of the patients who were previously treated like animals.

After Kubler Ross becomes well known for Death and Dying, she moved on to taking on the experience of death itself. Once again she charted new territory by working with a team to interview thousands of people who were clinically dead and came back to life. To the teams astonishment the experiences these had people were remarkably similar no matter where in the world the person lived, what their culture was or what religion they had. The findings were exciting and painted a very compassionate and beautiful picture of what death may be like. It wasn’t so scary after all.

Some of the areas she gets involved with after this may seem unusual, such as channeling spirits from the past. Although this doesn’t match any of my own experiences,  I could easily keep on reading because Kubler- Ross was a very down to earth, unpretentious individual. She was an academic, a doctor and a scientist, but she never seemed to let that come in the way of learning.

Having read this book I now understand there is much to learn from this woman about caregiving and humanity. Kubler-Ross listened to people who were sick and dying. These people were aching for someone to speak to about what they experienced. When she began to engage with them it was an incredible relief and remarkable things were shared. She had the utmost respect for their lives, their process and their wishes, except for suicide (she believed that life was to learn important lessons tailored to us individually and that suicide stopped that process).

Reading this book I thought so much about the kinds of conversations I could have had with K while the cancer was spreading.  It made me remember one time when she said to me, “how come you aren’t talking to me more about things?”  It was a wakeup call and I responded but I don’t think  I really heard what she was saying until I read this book.

Be conscious. Listen carefully to your loved ones. Don’t let the moment slip by.  Elisabeth Kubler Ross was brave and paved a path of great compassion for those who are in the midst of an end-of-life illness and for those who are caregiving. We can learn from her.

Oh, and after contacting several people I finally tracked down the person who sent the book. Thank you Harry, it was a good find. Now I’m ready to read the rest of her work.

Comments»

1. blessedbebeth - May 26, 2012

Once again your words are close to the core. I continue to find small ways to let mom know I am listening. And I surely am, when she talks about wanting to visit the cemetery, or put flags on graves. I listen and ask gentle questions. Sometimes it really is that she wants to go there physically, sometimes it is far more than meets the eye. I did finish “Final Gifts”, and “What Matters Most”. I have always been a fan of EKR but haven’t read the book you speak of. I will see if I can get it from my library. Thanks again for your courage.


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