The study of death and dying |
When we talk about studying the process of dying one name stands
out, that of Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (EKR). Born and raised in Switzerland EKR
came to America in the late 1950s as a young, newly married doctor. Being a woman
and a foreigner meant that she got the less attractive jobs at American hospitals,
but her compassion and empathy for her patients became legendary.
EKR did not
understand the way dying patients were treated in American hospitals. In Switzerland
the dying were cared for at home and they remained part of the family until the end.
There death was a natural part of life, but this did not seem to be the case in the
USA. Here the dying were treated as outcasts and once impending death had been diagnosed
the patients were left to die all by themselves. The dying were the lepers of the
American society and did not fit in well with its youth culture. They were a lost
cause and nobody seemed to care what they thought.
Courageously Elisabeth Kübler-Ross set out to change all that. Through her work with
the dying she realized that something had to be done to focus on the needs of people
approaching the end of life. She initiated a project in which she interviewed a number
of dying patients in the presence of medical students and nurses. Although her work
did not meet with the approval of the established medical profession, the dying patients
loved her for the attention they suddenly got. This work led to her book "On Death
and Dying" which was published in 1969.
In this book EKR analyses the stages of dying and suggests that the dying patient goes
through the following stages: First stage: Denial and isolation, Second stage: Anger,
Third stage: Bargaining, Fourth stage: Depression and Fifth stage: Acceptance. The
book became a great success and gradually the focus shifted towards putting more
emphasis on the needs of the dying. Innumerable seminars were held and EKR became a
very sought after lecturer all over the world. She has published close to twenty
titles to this day. Hospices where the dying are cared for according to her ideas
have been established in numerous countries.
After having been present at a very large number of deathbeds and after watching a
large number of people die, including many children, EKR was able to conclude that
there is no final death. At the hour of death something, which we could call the soul,
leaves the physical body behind just as the butterfly leaves its cocoon and flies away.
What is left is the cocoon, the physical vehicle, the discarded mantle, but the real
"I" has flown away.
EKR recounts the case of a child who had been seriously wounded in a car accident in
which, unknown to him, also his mother and brother had been fatally injured and had
been taken to a different hospital. Just before passing away the child looked at EKR
and said that now everything was all right, as his mother and brother were waiting for
him in heaven and he would now rejoin them. Then he died peacefully.
EKR's body of work is a strong argument for the non-existence of death. Based on her
own lifelong experience as a doctor specializing in death and dying, her writing establishes
a strong case for revising our traditional view of death. Death is not the end, but
merely a transition of our self to another plane of existence.
Among Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' many excellent books the following stand out: "On Death and Dying",
"Living with Death and Dying", "Death: The Final Stage of Growth", "To Live Until We Say Goodbye",
"On Life After Death", "On Children and Death", "Death Is of Vital Importance" and
"The Wheel of Life" (her autobiography).