“There are no mistakes, no coincidences.
All events are blessings given to us to learn from”.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is one of the most prominent psychiatrists and medical doctors of the XX century. All of her life she has been studying the problems of dying with dignity, and these researches resulted in publishing a landmark book, On Death and Dying, which was based on her practical experiences and became a bestseller. She is also known as “Mother of Hospice”, who contributed a lot into public transformation of seeing death and the process of dying.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was born in July 1926, in Zurich, Switzerland, and was one of the triplets. In the beginning of the World War II Elisabeth became a volunteer for working in the hospitals, and this experience helped her to discover her vocation: medicine. After the war she entered medical school in the University of Zurich and graduated from it in 1957. A year later she moved to the United States of America.
In New York Kubler-Ross continued her studies and started practicing in the hospitals, dealing mostly with terminally ill people. Life and social traditions seemed to be very different in the USA than those in Europe, and the young doctor was impressed with the standard way of treatment of hopeless patients. She could see that doctors were almost refusing to provide them with care. Thus, Elisabeth started getting interested in ethical and psychological problems of facing death.
In 1963 she completed education in the University of Colorado and received a degree in psychiatry. Working in Medical Center in Denver, Kubler-Ross interviewed hundreds of terminally ill patients, studying their perception of death, as well as their mental and psychological contradictions. She used to combine this work with giving lectures in Colorado Medical School and sharing her discoveries with the students, encouraging them not to feel uncomfortable when confronting and providing medical treatment for terminally ill people.
To illustrate her findings and concepts, she used to invite her patients right to the seminars in the Medical School. Old or young people, who were getting ready to meet the death, shared their experiences and thoughts with future doctors. This way Kubler-Ross tried to promote the idea of learning more about death: “For those who seek to understand it, death is a highly creative force. The highest spiritual values of life can originate from the thought and study of death.” (Dyer, September 2006)
In 1965, when assisting the students from the Chicago Theological Seminary in preparing their graduation project on death as a major crisis in human life, Kubler-Ross started thinking over the idea of writing her own book. Based on her extensive researches and innovative personal conclusions, the book named “On Death and Dying” appeared in 1969.
This work became a significant point in the historical development of medical ethics and psychiatry, and it still remains obligatory for studying in all medical educational establishments. The importance of the book is in its subject itself: it was written about the issues that the majority of doctors did not want to touch. Therefore, the book became pioneering in exploring the phenomenon of death.
Besides, this work publicized a new theory, which generalized personal emotional reactions of people on grief (in particular, when learning about own terminal disease), which is known now as Kubler-Ross model. The researches revealed that there are five stages, which people usually experience when trying to cope with grief or a tragedy. Those stages include: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
The first stage of denial means refusal of the tragedy and attempts of the person not to believe in objectivity of the situation. It is frequently accompanied with personal withdrawal or isolation. The second and the third stages are mostly focused on communication with God, when the grieving person is trying to trade good behaviors for cessation or ease of pain and suffering.
Depression is usually the hardest phase of the process of grieving, because through the depression the person comes to the last stage and starts accepting the fact of tragedy. Depression can be very hard, and it is frequently accompanied with nervous breakdowns or other disturbances. The last stage is acceptance of the tragedy and focusing on possible solutions.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross described these stages in her book, emphasizing that still the process of grief management is extremely individual for every particular person. She claimed that not everyone can go through all these five stages, though any grieving person experiences at least two of them. Also, she supposed that these stages may not happen in the stated sequence, and a person can firstly suffer depression followed by anger and bargaining, etc.
After publishing the book, Kubler-Ross had to confront with rather fierce opposition. In those times doctors, medical practitioners and psychologists did not support her great beginning in exploring the problems of death and treatment of terminally ill patients. The majority of specialists did not feel enthusiastic and comfortable with the necessity to study this issue. However, Kubler-Ross was very determined in importance of her work and continued the researches.
She wrote more than 20 books and worked in association with other famous writers and psychologists, like Ram Dass and others. She carried out very live activity on attracting attention of medical specialists to the problems of terminally ill people as educator and instructor, giving lectures and teaching in different medical schools and universities in the United States.
Also, Kubler-Ross initiated so called Death with Dignity Movement, which had an objective to increase public and individual concern about providing terminally ill people with proper care and attention. She created new approaches and attitudes to treating hopeless patients, which included medical assistance in coping with pain and suffering, satisfaction of their emotional and spiritual needs, helping their families and close people, and so on.
Nowadays there are many supporters and opponents of the movement and activities of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. The proponents continue promoting her ideas and studying emotional side of the process of dying. It was found out that the model of Kubler-Ross is valid not only for coping with grief or bereavement, but also for living any significant change in human life, like divorce or adultery.
The opponents claim that Kubler-Ross model is too very controversial, unclear and lacks perspective. Opposition of the model mostly takes source from objection and disagreements with the latest activities and interests of Dr. Kubler-Ross. By the end of her life she started looking for proofs of her theories through out-of-body experiences and attempts to connect with the dead.
Anyway, scientific work and findings of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross were highly appreciated while she was alive and after her death. She received more than twenty honorary degrees from major American universities, a number of awards, including Golden Plate Award from American Academy of Achievements, as well as the Modern Samaritan Award and the Ideal Citizen Award. She died in 2004 at her home in Arizona after a series of strokes.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross devoted her life to investigating and promoting the beauty of death. “Watching a peaceful death of a human being reminds us of a falling star; one of a million lights in a vast sky that flares up for a brief moment only to disappear into the endless night forever.” (Dyer, September 2006) Her innovative researches contributed the most into the development of such fields of medical science, like thanatology and others.
The legacy of Dr. Kubler-Ross is not only her written works and pioneering researches. It is also hundreds of grateful students, friends and colleagues, who used to draw inspiration from her enthusiasm and true devotion. In addition, it indirectly includes appreciation and love of thousands of her terminally ill patients, who received priceless help and understanding form her in their last weeks or days before passing away…
Some people may not agree with her findings and conclusions, but her influence and impact on our understanding of the concept of death are undisputable. She showed the humanity how to die in dignity and not to be afraid of death. “Dying is nothing to fear. It can be the most wonderful experience of your life. It all depends on how you have lived.” (Dyer, September 2006)
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· Elisabeth Kubler Ross. (2006). Official Site. Ed. Ken Kubler Ross Retrieved October 16, 2006, from the World Wide Web: <http://www.elisabethkublerross.com/ >.
· Pioneer Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. (1999). ABC Online. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved October 16, 2006, from <http://www.abc.net.au/science/slab/inspire/kubler.htm>.
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