Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, www.ekrfoundation.org, the Swiss-born psychiatrist and author who gained international fame for her landmark work on death and dying, died in her suburban Phoenix home on August 24, 2004. She was 78. In 1999, Time magazine named Elisabeth Kubler-Ross as one of the “100 Most Important Thinkers” of the past century. I might add that she is also the “First Pioneer of the Final Frontier Called Death.”
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was recognized as one of the leading authorities in the field of death, dying and transition. It can be said that she was the one responsible for creating this field of study. She was the author of many books including: On Grief and Grieving (2005), Questions and Answers on Death and Dying (1972), To Live Until We Say Goodbye (1978), Living with Death and Dying (1981), On Children and Death (1985), Working It Through (1997), The Wheel of Life (1997), The Tunnel and the Light (1999), Life Lessons (2001), On Life After Death (1991), and On Death and Dying (1969).
In her book On Life After Death collected for the first time information drawn from her years of working with the dying and learning from them what life is all about, in-depth research on life after death, and her own feelings and opinions about this fascinating and controversial subject. Her development of the model of the stages of grief, known as the Kubler-Ross Change Curve, has even been applied to various applications such as business. The following is an excerpt from her book in which she described one of the most interesting near-death experiences she has encountered.
My most dramatic and unforgettable case of “ask and you will be given,” and also of an NDE, was a man who was in the process of being picked up by his entire family for a Memorial Day weekend drive to visit some relatives out of town. While driving in the family van to pick him up, his parents-in-law with his wife and eight children were hit by a gasoline tanker. The gasoline poured over the car and burned his entire family to death. After being told what happened, this man remained in a state of total shock and numbness for several weeks. He stopped working and was unable to communicate. To make a long story short, he became a total bum, drinking half-a-gallon of whiskey a day, trying heroin and other drugs to numb his pain. He was unable to hold a job for any length of time and ended up literally in the gutter.
It was during one of my hectic traveling tours, having just finished the second lecture in a day on life after death, that a hospice group in Santa Barbara asked me to give yet another lecture. After my preliminary statements, I became aware that I am very tired of repeating the same stories over and over again. And I quietly said to myself: “Oh God, why don’t you send me somebody from the audience who has had an NDE and is willing to share it with the audience so I can take a break? They will have a first-hand experience instead of hearing my old stories over and over again.”
At that very moment the organizer of the group gave me a little slip of paper with an urgent message on it. It was a message from a man from the bowery who begged to share his NDE with me. I took a little break and sent a messenger to his bowery hotel. A few moments later, after a speedy cab ride, the man appeared in the audience. Instead of being a bum as he had described himself, he was a rather well dressed, very sophisticated man. He went up on the stage and without having a need to evaluate him, I encouraged him to tell the audience what he needed to share.
He told how he had been looking forward to the weekend family reunion, how his entire family had piled into a family van and were on the way to pick him up when this tragic accident occurred which burned his entire family to death. He shared the shock and the numbness, the utter disbelief of suddenly being a single man, of having had children and suddenly becoming childless, of living without a single close relative. He told of his total inability to come to grips with it. He shared how he changed from a money-earning, decent, middle-class husband and father to a total bum, drunk every day from morning to night, using every conceivable drug and trying to commit suicide in every conceivable way, yet never able to succeed. His last recollection was that after two years of literally bumming around, he was lying on a dirt road at the edge of a forest, drunk and stoned as he called it, trying desperately to be reunited with his family. Not wanting to live, not even having the energy to move out of the road when he saw a big truck coming toward him and running over him.
It was at this moment that he watched himself in the street [sic], critically injured, while he observed the whole scene of the accident from a few feet above. It was at this moment that his family appeared in front of him, in a glow of light with an incredible sense of love. They had happy smiles on their faces, and simply made him aware of their presence, not communicating in any verbal way but in the form of thought transference, sharing with him the joy and happiness of their present existence.
This man was not able to tell us how long this reunion lasted. He was so awed by his family’s health, their beauty, their radiance and their total acceptance of this present situation, by their unconditional love. He made a vow not to touch them, not to join them, but to re-enter his physical body so that he could share with the world what he had experienced. It would be a form of redemption for his two years of trying to throw his physical life away. It was after this vow that he watched the truck driver carry his totally injured body into the car. He saw an ambulance speeding to the scene of the accident, he was taken to the hospital’s emergency room and he finally re-entered his physical body, tore off the straps that were tied around him and literally walked out of the emergency room. He never had delirium tremens or any aftereffects from the heavy abuse of drugs and alcohol. He felt healed and whole, and made a commitment that he would not die until he had the opportunity of sharing the existence of life after death with as many people as would be willing to listen. It was after reading a newspaper article about my appearance in Santa Barbara that he sent a message to the auditorium. By allowing him to share with my audience he was able to keep the promise he made at the time of his short, temporary, yet happy reunion with his entire family.
We do not know what happened to this man since then, but I will never forget the glow in his eyes, the joy and deep gratitude he experienced, that he was led to a place where, without doubt and questioning, he was allowed to stand up on the stage and share with a group of hundreds of hospice workers the total knowledge and awareness that our physical body is only the shell that encloses our immortal self.
Quotes by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
“And after your death, when most of you for the first time realize what life here is all about, you will begin to see that your life here is almost nothing but the sum total of every choice you have made during every moment of your life. Your thoughts, which you are responsible for, are as real as your deeds. You will begin to realize that every word and every deed affects your life and has also touched thousands of lives.”
“As far as service goes, it can take the form of a million things. To do service, you don’t have to be a doctor working in the slums for free, or become a social worker. Your position in life and what you do doesn’t matter as much as how you do what you do.”
“Death is simply a shedding of the physical body like the butterfly shedding its cocoon. It is a transition to a higher state of consciousness where you continue to perceive, to understand, to laugh, and to be able to grow.”
“Dying is an integral part of life, as natural and predictable as being born. But whereas birth is cause for celebration, death has become a dreaded and unspeakable issue to be avoided by every means possible in our modern society. Perhaps it is that in spite of all our technological advances. We may be able to delay it, but we cannot escape it. We, no less than other, non-rational animals, are destined to die at the end of our lives. And death strikes indiscriminately — it cares not at all for the status or position of the ones it chooses; everyone must die, whether rich or poor, famous or unknown. Even good deeds will not exclude their doers from the sentence of death; the good die as often as the bad. It is perhaps this inevitable and unpredictable quality that makes death so frightening to many people. Especially those who put a high value on being in control of their own existence are offended by the though that they too care subject to the forces 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.”
“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.”
“Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.”
“How do the geese know when to fly to the sun? Who tells them the seasons? How do we, humans, know when it is time to move on? As with the migrant birds, so surely with us, there is a voice within, if only we would listen to it, that tells us so certainly when to go forth into the unknown.”
“I believe that we are solely responsible for our choices, and we have to accept the consequences of every deed, word, and thought throughout our lifetime.”
“I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but the goal of my life was profoundly molded by this experience – to help produce, in the next generation, more Mother Teresas and less Hitlers.”
“I say to people who care for people who are dying, if you really love that person and want to help them, be with them when their end comes close. Sit with them – you don’t even have to talk. You don’t have to do anything but really be there with them.”
“It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we’re alive – to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are.”
“It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on Earth — and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, we will then begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.”
“I’ve told my children that when I die, to release balloons in the sky to celebrate that I graduated. For me, death is a graduation.”
“Learn to get in touch with silence within yourself and know that everything in life has a purpose.”
“Live, so you do not have to look back and say: ‘God, how I have wasted my life.'”
“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”
“Should you shield the valleys from the windstorms, you would never see the beauty of their canyons.”
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
“The ultimate lesson all of us have to learn is unconditional love, which includes not only others but ourselves as well.”
“There is no joy without hardship. If not for death, would we appreciate life? If not for hate, would we know the ultimate goal is love? At these moments you can either hold on to negativity and look for blame, or you can choose to heal and keep on loving.”
“There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace. You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden or even your bathtub.”
“Those who learned to know death, rather than to fear and fight it, become our teachers about life.”
“Throughout life, we get clues that remind us of the direction we are supposed to be headed if you stay focused, then you learn your lessons.”
“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.”
“We have to ask ourselves whether medicine is to remain a humanitarian and respected profession or a new but depersonalized science in the service of prolonging life rather than diminishing human suffering.”
“We make progress in society only if we stop cursing and complaining about its shortcomings and have the courage to do something about them.”
“We need to teach the next generation of children from day one that they are responsible for their lives. Mankind’s greatest gift, also its greatest curse, is that we have free choice. We can make our choices built from love or from fear.”
“We run after values that, at death, become zero. At the end of your life, nobody asks you how many degrees you have, or how many mansions you built, or how many Rolls Royces you could afford. That’s what dying patients teach you.”
“When we have passed the tests we are sent to Earth to learn, we are allowed to graduate. We are allowed to shed our body, which imprisons our souls.”
“When you learn your lessons, the pain goes away.”
“You will not grow if you sit in a beautiful flower garden, but you will grow if you are sick, if you are in pain, if you experience losses, and if you do not put your head in the sand, but take the pain as a gift to you with a very, very specific purpose.”
“Instead, the goal of life becomes not to elude death but, because one’s fears do not center so much on it, rather to live in concert with it. After an NDE, the survivor finds a new lease on life; she/he is more willing to try new things and to fit as many things as possible into it because she/he is no longer so afraid of what will happen at death. After the NDE, life is more cherished, and the relationships that gave that life more meaning are emphasized upon. The NDE encourages growth and exploration; its acknowledgment helps for those in a society to desire continued testing of the limits and possibilities of life.”