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“On Death and Dying” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

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“On Death and Dying” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is an easy to understand look at important issues, attitudes and factors that contribute to society’s anxiety about death presented in a kind but factual manner. It is based on hundreds of actual patient interviews and conversations with dying patient which provide a better understanding of the effects which death has on patients and their families. She illustrated the many problems that can arise from not discussing death and dying and the heartache it can cause to the terminally ill and their families. She explains what the dying have to teach, their reactions to the awareness of their own finality. She stated 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.”

She identified the five stages of dying of which many terminally ill patients progress through when they are told about their illness. The stages go in progression through denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages may exist side by side or one may experience any number out of the five and lasts for different periods of time. The one thing though that usually persists through all of the stages is hope. The process of dying has a universality to it which connects us all.

Her work was considered a classic and also included in our textbook. This model has been widely adopted by other authors and applied to many other situations where someone suffers a loss or change in social identity.

The model is often used in bereavement work but not all workers in the field agree with her. Some critics feel the stages are too rigid. Other workers in this field criticized her work and have alternative views. Two examples is in our textbook, John Bowly’s stages of grief theory. The four proposed stages are: numbness, yearning, disorganization and despair and finally reorganization. Another one is by Catherine Sanders’, she proposed five stages of grief; shock, awareness, conservation/withdrawal and finally healing and renewal.

In my opinion, Dr. Kubler-Ross has successfully struck a balance between clinical facts and human compassion, combining both elements into a very informative and heart-warming book.

Death is unavoidable, it will find us, young or old, ready or not. Life is natural, so is death. It is a step that we are all going to take sooner or later. How to cope with the inevitability and finality of death was one of the more disturbing of many troubling questions that I have that made me choose to read this book. Hopefully, when that time comes, I will remember this book and help me understand what I’m going through.

For now, let’s live to our fullest potential and be happy.

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