Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, 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. Read
the news articles about her passing and the Tribute to her
by P.M.H. Atwater.
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 several books
On Death and Dying and
Life Lessons. Another book of hers,
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. The following is
an excerpt from her book in which she described one of the
most interesting near-death experiences she has encountered.
most dramatic and unforgettable case of "ask and you will
be given," and also of a 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 whisky 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
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 a 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.
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
by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
make progress in society only if we stop cursing and complaining
about its shortcomings and have the courage to do something
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
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.
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.
my children that when I die, to release
balloons in the sky to celebrate that I
graduated. For me, death is a graduation."
- Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Copyright 2007 Near-Death Experiences & the