One of my heroes

elisabeth kubler ross+ mother teresa
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross & Mother Teresa

If there was an Olympics for original thinking and indomitable spirit, Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross would win double gold. She is the most spirited and spiritually broad-minded person I’ve ever read about. Disobeying her father’s wish that she become a secretary, she quit her family home in Switzerland and hitchhiked through war torn Europe in the 40s. Her goal was to reach Warsaw and help heal the poor and dying. Her patients paid her with root vegetables and once, a little bag of soil. She later trained as a doctor, married an American and landed her first medical residency in a Manhattan psychiatric hospital. Within a year, she cured and released 94% of her so called ‘incurable’ schizophrenic patients. She took them off all their prescribed drugs, got them involved in activities like art and shopping trips to Macys and listened to them.

She spent a lifetime listening to people; finding out what they wanted rather than what the medical profession – or anyone else – felt they should have. By listening to dying patients she discovered they didn’t want to hear about the state of their organs, but rather to have someone ask them about how they felt. Instead of treating them as an embarrassment (or medical failure), she came to understand the beautiful transition they were undergoing and how they could teach us about the afterlife and spirituality. She nurtured the US hospice movement and in the 80s opened her home as a healing center for AIDS patients. Irate neighbors burned the place to the ground. Non-plussed she chain smoked, drank coffee, ate chocolates, laughed and remained true to her ideals no matter what.

For Kubler-Ross, the veil between this world and the spirit world became so thin because of all her experiences with the dying that she talked to spirits herself. According to her autobiography The Wheel of Life, she fully believed in the existence of an afterlife, in reincarnation and unconditional love as the the purpose of our being. She saw butterflies as positive spiritual signs. She saw ghosts (even got one to sign its name as proof of its existence) and managed to photograph her own spirit guide – a muscular Indian man (in a weird double exposure). It made me think of how I twice captured a mysterious pink streak in the year after Laura died (see the post Think Pink!). Her husband, another doctor, divorced her – most likely because he thought she was lovely but nuts. But she had the last laugh. She made him promise that if he died first and her spiritual ideas were right, he would send a specific sign. And there it was at his funeral; red roses ‘blooming’ everywhere in the deep snow.

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3 thoughts on “One of my heroes

  1. My mother died the first week of 1980. When I went to clean out her closet at my dad’s insistence only a few weeks later, I found a copy of Death and Dying shoved in the back in a brown paper bag. How hard it must have been for her to read that book “under wraps”.

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    1. Your mom must have been quite enlightened. That was in the early days of people discussing the stages of (at least in the 20th century). My mum just read Peter Fenwik’s book On Dying (beautiful tales of people seeing their loved ones before they pass), but didn’t want to take it on vacation in case anyone thought she was odd or depressed.

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