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Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's book, 'On Death and Dying', is one of the classic works in the field, still used to educate and inform medical, counseling, and pastoral professionals since its original publication in the 1960s. Kübler-Ross did extensive research in the field by actually talking to those in the process of dying, something that had hitherto been considered taboo and an unthinkable, uncaring thing to do. Kübler-Ross asked for volunteers, and never pressured people to do or say anything they didn't want to. One of her unexpected discoveries was that the medical professionals were more reluctant to participate than were the patients, who quite often felt gratitude and relief at being able to be heard.
Kübler-Ross also spoke to families, and followed people through their ailments, sometimes to recovery, but most often to their death. She let the people guide her in her research: 'We do not always state explicitly [to the patient] that the patient is actually terminally ill. We attempt to elicit the patients' needs first, try to become aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and look for overt or hidden communications to determine how much a patient wants to face reality at a given moment.'
This caring approach was often an aggravation for Kübler-Ross and her staff, because they would know what the patient had been told but was not yet ready to face. Kübler-Ross recounts stories of attempts to deal with death in different ways; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance -- in fact, the various stages of grief were first recognised in Kübler-Ross's research.
There are those who dislike the 'stages' theory of grief, but it is important to know (as the quote above indicates) that these are not set-in-stone processes, but rather dialectical and perichoretic in nature, ebbing and flowing like the tide, so that where a person was 'stage-wise' would vary from meeting to meeting.
Kübler-Ross explained her interest in this research by saying that 'if a whole nation, a whole society suffers from such a fear and denial of death, it has to use defenses which can only be destructive.' Her work is primarily geared to health-care providers, and provides verbatim transcripts of conversations with a wide range of people in different classes, races, family situations, education levels, and ages. The reader can then get a sense of how to better communicate with someone in a terminal situation.
'Early in my work with dying patients I observed the desperate need of the hospital staff to deny the existence of terminally ill patients on their ward. In another hospital I once spent hours looking for a patient capable to be interviewed, only to be told that there was no one fatally ill and able to talk. On my walk through the ward I saw an old man reading a paper with the headline "Old Soldiers Never Die". He looked seriously ill and I asked him if it did not scare him to 'read about that'. He looked at me with anger and disgust, telling me that I must be one of those physicians who can only care for a patient as long as he is well but when it comes to dying, then we all shy away from them. This was my man! I told him about my seminar on death and dying and my wish to interview someone in front the students in order to teach them not to shy away from these patients. He happily agreed to come, and gave us one of the most unforgettable interviews I have ever attended.'
She concludes with a chapter explaining the reactions of doctors, nurses, counsellors and chaplains, professionals who deal with the dying every day, on how the kinds of listening and care she outlines can change their work and lives as well. It is remarkable to see some of the transformations which take place among these people.
I have used the advice and insight given by this book in my own ministry, and heartily recommend it to everyone, regardless of medical or ministerial intent, for it can give guidance on how to deal with the deaths of friends or family members and, ultimately, our own death.
Death will never be a happy subject, but it needn't be a dark mystery devoid of meaning and guidance.
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on June 29, 2001
When I first started teaching an undergraduate course in Death & Dying in 1972, I could correctly assume that every student had already read Kubler-Ross. Now, they've never heard of her, which is a pity. Despite the total lack of evidence to support her five-stage paradigm, she did us all a favor by pulling the shroud off of the topic. She was the first popular writer to deal with feelings of the dying patient. Her book, which cost $1.95 back then, was hot stuff. She actually talked to terminally ill people and didn't beat around the bush. Now we've got any number of pop psychologists applying her five -stage theory to all sorts of things she never even thought of: grief, marriage problems, alcohol treatment, you name it. I tell my students that the staging theory has been around for 32 years now. If it is going to have any experimental support, perhaps it might have emerged by now. The fact is that people are much more complex than any five stages can account for, and people can hold more than one emotion at a time. I've heard Kubler-Ross herself say this many times. But, we can remember five ideas, so there you have it. If she'd proposed a 16-stage hierarchy, she would have never gotten big. At any rate, there are no real scientists in thanatology that now credit her much at all any more, but for historical purposes this is still a valuable book.
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on February 12, 2003
Kubler-Ross's work is as valuable today as it was 30 years ago. She described the five stages of dying, while never maintaining that one had to go through the stages in perfect order or that one couldn't have other emotions along with, e.g, anger. No one would argue that death is loss--loss of one's self, or loss of someone dear to us. Many of us have other kinds of loss, i.e., a missing child--a child we have no hope of ever seeing. Is that not death of another kind? The tenets of Kubler-Ross continue to be popular because they have been empirically tested.
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on November 8, 2004
I don't think any of us are prepared for death when it comes, be it accidental or even if it involves a long-term illness. Something about the finality and enormity of it makes it impossible to grasp. So "On Death and Dying" has to be the ultimate "handbook" if you will, on the subject. Most of us are familiar with the "stages" but there's more to this gem than just an explanation of that. The book really revolves around the terimally ill more so than those unexpected deaths that we so fear. Even so it's a worthwhile buy. I've been reading any and everything I can find on this subject, from books like Albom's "Tuesday's With Morrie" to the quirky and compelling looks at the different types of loss as pictured in Jackson McCrae's "The Children's Corner." "On Death" is a must for everyone. Afterall, it's something all of us will be experiencing.
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on October 12, 2001
I am almost 18 now and my mom died at a car accident when i was 13 years old. I never knew how to cope with it and still dont really. This book is extremely well written but it didnt really help me. THe book is for terminal ill and for their relatives and friends, but it doesnt help a lot, when a loved one has died a sudden death. This book is great and it touched me but noone has ever told me that this book is not a great deal having to cope with a sudden death. In that case, better read "I wasnt ready to say good-bye" by Brook Noel, Pamela D. Blair. Because life goes on...
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I have always wondered about offering this book to people. While a theoretical piece of writing, the terminology has become a part of the modern-day understanding of grief and mourning. This book was a catalyst in getting people to talk about their experiences, understandings, and concerns about death. I always recommend this people because it aids people in understanding the issues about surviving the death of a loved one; similarly, it helps people find solace in experiencing their own death. A must read for someone who is grieving.
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on October 16, 2001
"On Death and Dying" is an excellent resource book for someone who has or is about to lose someone close to them. As a counsellor I have counselled many individuals through grief and while each family/individual is unique, the patterns are generally the same. The book deals with the five stages that accompany grief: 1)Denial and isolation, that is shutting yourself off from family and friends, social or work related activities and refusing to accept the reality of what has happened. 2)Anger, "the why did this have to happen to me" stage and the need to blame. 3)Bargaining, for example, if I could just have this person back, I would not do this, or I would do that. 5)Depression, the feeling there is no reason to go on and a sense of being constantly overwhelmed, often feeling loss of control over their life. 5)Acceptance, of the way things really are and choosing to live the best possible life you can, anyway.
While these stages can be applied to death under any circumstance, I found the book primarily revolved around the terminally ill as opposed to someone who has died suddenly without prior warning. However, it is important to remember that even though death may not be anticipated at a particular moment in time, most of us go through the same stages of grief regardless of whether or not the death is anticipated or unanticipated. The book will NOT lessen the grief, but the words found here may help readers to understand the grieving process and that grieving is a natural life process, even though it feels very un-natural, confusing and totally devastating at the time.
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on September 28, 2002
This book initially brought professional as well as public attention to a seriously neglected subject. It remains one of the best on the subject, for both the dying and those close to them and for those whose professions involve helping such people.
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on September 29, 2016
Dr. Ross takes us on an adventure with many research and interviews, opening our eyes to the world where, let’s be frank, most of us do not wish to think about, let alone deal with. What can you do or say to comfort someone that you know is dying? How do you deal with this situation? And how can you survive after the loss?

The initial impression you may get when you look at this book is to feel that, it is going to be one depressing encounter. Talking about death and dying, losing your loved one, stages of death and the psychological impact it has on both, you and your precious one, are not easy topics to discuss.

However, fear not, surprisingly this book makes you calmer and more relaxed about ever having to deal with a situation like this, or if you are already in one, then you will feel more in control.

‘Control’ in my opinion, is one the most important factors that affect human nature behavior. Once you know that the power of control has been taken away from you, your reaction can no longer be calculated or foreseen. I will give you an example. When a Mother loses her young or has a terminally ill child. She has no control anymore over protecting her loved one. The universal motherly love is to protect her young. Having no control takes away any condition she felt she had. Hence, the mother feels anger, starts bargaining, gets depressed, finally accepts yet secretly has hope and then finally, she has to let it go.

These are five stages that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross discusses in detail with examples of real life situations in her book.

I recommend this book to anyone that wishes to know more about the psychology of death and dying, and if you have a terminally ill loved one or have recently lost someone special.

Written by Jeyran Main
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on November 2, 2000
Loved the book. I think there are only two types of people who need not bother with this book: a) those who are not mortal, and b) those who can't read. All the rest of us should look into it. Rather than duplicate the excellent book description and synopsis above, I will try something else to let you know if this book will interest you at all. Early on in the first chapter, the author makes three statements, and I quote:
1) "In simple terms, in our unconscious mind we can only be killed; it is inconceivable to die of a natural cause or of old age."
2) "The more we are making advancements in science, the more we seem to fear and deny the reality of death."
3) "When a patient is severely ill, he is often treated like a person with no right to an opinion."
If those type of blanket statements provoke your interest, or make you want to hear more, then this book is for you, because the author never leaves them in blanket form. The book is an enfleshment of those ideas. The author states her objective very clearly midway through the book by saying "If this book serves no other purpose but to sensitize family members of terminally ill patients and hospital personnel to the implicit communications of dying patients, then it has fulfilled its task."
The book is clearly written, no technical jargon to trip over. I found the whole genesis and history of Kubler Ross's interdisciplinary seminar on death and dying fascinating. The actual patient interviews revealed that (more often than not) the people most willing to TALK about dying are... the dying. I found these interviews for the most part very ennobling. They exalted the human spirit and showed the importance of faith and hope.
Above all, the book will make you "think". I've finished reading it, but I certainly haven't finished thinking about it. And that is always my criteria for the fifth star!
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