ELISABETH KÜBLER-ROSS

ELISABETH KÜBLER-ROSS
The Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1926-2004) was the eldest of triplets. Although his father never wanted her to study Medicine, her strong vocation was decisive to forge her brilliant career focused on death as a life experience. In fact, she pioneered to study the emotions of people who know they are going to die and to propose palliative care for those. World authority in this field, she proposes to confront death with serenity and even joy.
 
In her books, she shares observations that could be performed to accompany terminally ill. She studied the process of mourning in depth and also approached the terminal cases caused by the AIDS virus. Thanks to her work, many dying have improved their quality of life in their last moments, people and their families and acquaintances have learnt how to support the patient and also to manage the pain of their loss. The findings of her research have resulted in almost twenty works, such as ‘On Death and Dying’, ‘Wheel of Life’ or ‘Life Lessons’.
 
Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross had two children, developed her research in the U.S. and received up to 23 honorary doctorates and numerous awards.
 
It is a necessary, profound, inspiring author. Reading her brings comfort in mourning processes or when facing our own death or that of a loved one. Beyond that, her writings, concerning the issue of death, loss or bereavement foster reflections on life, consciousness, the now, the values that unite us.

I want to share some excerpts from her delightful book ‘Life Lessons’. A necessary book worth having around and re-reading often:

 

We are here to heal each other and ourselves. No healing and physical recovery, but a much deeper healing. The healing of our spirits, our souls.

When we talk about learning our lessons, we are talking about getting rid of unfinished business. The unfinished business have nothing to do with death, but with life.

“Yes, I’ve had a good life but have I taken time to really live?”. There are many people who have been around, but never really lived. They spent huge amounts of energy to keep hidden their unfinished business.

Since the unfinished business is the biggest problem in life,  it is also the main issue we address when we face death. Many of us let life with a lot of unfinished business; some only a few left.

In ancient times, the community used to have meeting places where children and adults listened while the elders told stories of life, the challenges of life, and the lessons to be learnt from the last moments of a life. People knew that sometimes our most important lessons are in times of greatest distress.

We found many things in this long, strange trip sometimes, as we contemplate life, but basically we find ourselves. Who we really are, what we care about most.

The dying have always been teachers of great lessons, because when we are pushed towards the end of life is when we see it more clearly. By sharing with us their lessons, the dying teach us much about the immense value of life itself.

Deep down, we all know that there is someone who we are meant to be. And we can feel when we are becoming that someone. The opposite is also true: we know when something is not right and we are not the person we were meant to be.

Consciously or unconsciously, we all look for answers, trying to learn the lessons of life. We grope for fear and guilt. We search for meaning, love and power. We try to understand fear, loss, time. We try to discover who we are and how we can truly become ourselves.

However, too often we look at the money, the status, the perfect job, or elsewhere, only to discover that these things have no sense as we had expected to find and they even cause us anxiety. Following these false leads and a deeper understanding of its meaning inevitably leaves us with a feeling of emptiness, believing that life has little or no sense, that love and happiness are just mirages.

To know ourselves, to be true to ourselves, to discover what we want to do and what not, we need to engage with our own experiences. Everything we do we should do it because it brings joy and peace, from our job to the clothes we wear. If we do something to appear respectable in the eyes of others, we are not seeing the value in us. It’s amazing how much we live for what we are supposed to do more than for we want to do.

We can only find peace and happiness in love when we remove the conditions that we put to our love for others. And usually we impose the worst conditions to the ones we love most. We have been taught well conditional love, which makes the process of disappearing more difficult. As humans, it is not possible to find a fully unconditional love between us, but we can find more than the few minutes that we usually have in life.

One of the few areas where we can truly find unconditional love is in our children when they are very young. They do not mind about our time, our money and our achievements. Just love us. Eventually we teach them to put conditions to our love, to get it with their smile, as a reward for getting good grades, and being what we want them to be. But still, we can learn much from the way children love us. If we love our children unconditionally a little more for a little more time, maybe we would create a very different world to live.

Eventually we lose everything we have, but what matters ultimately is never lost. Our houses, cars, jobs and money, our youth and even loved ones have only been borrowed. Like everything else, we cannot always keep our loved ones. But acceptance of this truth does not have to make us. Conversely, it may provide the ability to better evaluate the myriad of experiences and wonderful things we have for as long as we stay here.

In many ways, if life is a school, loss is an important part of the curriculum.

When we experience a loss we also experience that who we love, and sometimes even strangers, care for us in times of need. The loss is a hole in the heart. But it is a hole that can contain love and and inspire love of others.

We learnt a lot about the loss thanks to the dying. Those who have been technically dead and been brought back to life they convey some clear and simple lessons. First, they claim to have lost their fear of death. Second, they say they now know that death is only discarding from physical body, much like taking off a set of clothes that are no longer needed. Third, they remember having a deep sense of integrity in death, have felt connected to everything and everyone, without any sense of loss. Finally, we know that they were never alone, someone was with them.

This is one of the purposes for which it serves loss in life: it unites us. It helps us to understand others in a deeper way. It connects us to each other as any other life lesson could. When the experience of loss unites us, we care for others and perceive them in a new and deeper way.

You will not have another life like this. You’ll never play this role and experience this life as it has given to you. You will never experience the world and in this life, in this series of specific circumstances, with these parents, children and relatives. You will never have the same friends again. Never experience again the earth at this time with all its wonders. Do not wait to take a last look at the ocean, the sky, the stars or a loved one. Go see it all now.

 

Get to know Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ work, read it, as it contains important insights on the art of living and therefore, on knowing how to die well.

All the best,

 

Álex Rovira

 

 

 

Alex Rovira