On Death and Dying
By Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
For my book review, I read On Death and Dying, by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Dr. Kubler-Ross was the first person in her field to discuss the topic of death. Before 1969, death was considered a taboo. On Death and Dying is one of the most important psychological studies of the late twentieth century. The work grew out of her famous interdisciplinary seminar on death, life, and transition. In this paper, I give a comprehensive book review as well as integrate topics learned in class with Dr. Kubler-Ross’ work.
Like Piaget’s look at developmental stages in children, there are also stages a person experiences on the journey toward death. These five stages are denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. On Death and Dying can be used as an aid to doctors, nurses, clergy, and the patient’s family. Issues such as unfinished business, therapy, and hope for a cure for the terminally ill are discussed within this book. Each chapter uses interviews with patients to express the key factors surrounding their illness. Every patient knows that they are destined to die, and Kubler-Ross uses one-on-one therapy to help in the healing process.
To understand the process of death, it helps to have had someone close to you decease. When I was nine, my grandmother had been suffering from a series of strokes and heart disease. She had also been a smoker for most of her life and was an alcoholic. The poor woman was not in such good health. I watched her go through these stages with pain in my eyes. Before the strokes and the heart disease struck, she was very much in denial of facing the inevitable. I remember her being angry and depressed about her situation, but did not like to express much emotion.
In one section of the denial analysis, Kubler-Ross states that it “is usually a temporary defense and will soon be replaced by partial acceptance” (53). In relation to the experience with my grandmother, who had a partial acceptance at the time of her death, the majority of my family was struggling to find answers for things they could not explain. My grandmother wanted to discuss how financial security and wellbeing matters for her family would continue to thrive after she went to heaven. I agreed with Kubler-Ross when she mentioned that this action not only served the interests of the patient (my grandmother), but of the whole family’s “defensiveness”.
My grandmother was fairly hostile when she was in the pain before her death. Kubler-Ross mentions that “as the family reacts personally to this anger, they respond with increasing anger on their part, only feeding into the patient’s hostile behavior” (65). Another important quote from the section on anger states, “Nobody can put on frosting when you are hurting” (85). This is true for many people. It seems that if one is feeling angry and upset, surely enough the wheel of anger will revolve around to those around them. They show examples of the importance of our tolerance to others rational or irrational not only in dealing with terminal patients. Our ability to listen to others will help to express the needs (such as comfort) of the dying patient.
Many times, the reason for dying is associated with bargaining for more time. I am certain that through the whole process my grandmother thought, “if only I had done this differently, maybe God would give me more time to clean up my act and change my behavior.” I feel we can learn a lot from this section in our day-to-day lives. We all ask our individual “if only” and if we are struck with an illness, we fight for the time we have and attempt to make it worth while. If we did not live with this pain, such as my grandmother had, we may lead different lives. Life is either more concerned with materialistic values or of a greater faith in ourselves and in the Lord above. Some may not believe in God or a Creator, and perhaps they may not experience this stage in the game because there is no one to bargain with. The hands of time may be an atheist’s threshold.
When people experience death, it is only natural to feel depressed. To make others endure the medical burdens and other forms of grief prepare the person for the final separation from this world. Kubler-Ross sees depression as an initial reactive depression and then moving to a preparatory depression. The second one is an expression of the family member’s needs in particular and less verbal than the first type. I agreed with one of the chaplain’s in the interview which states, “?hard work isn’t going to resolve the kind of conflicts that life has created at this point.” We either choose to let the depression consume us, or we decide to accept death.
To resolve most conflicts in our lives when we are dying is when we are able to accept the inevitable. The ability to come at peace with one’s situation is important not just in terms of dying but also in other issues in society. I learned from this section that we need to live one day at a time and quit planning our activities – we have today, but we may not have tomorrow.
On Death and Dying is written in a documentary style since Dr. Kubler-Ross analyzes her work through a qualitative approach. She uses metaphoric language and incorporates faith-based reasoning to understand the ills of the people. With a taste of death from the past, I feel as if Kubler-Ross’ words are healing and made sense to me. I can not say one bad thing about this book because Kubler-Ross was an innovator in her field and the first to voice her opinion about death. In a way she opened the doors to conversing about death other than behind them. Upon finishing this selection, I learned that death is a process and a journey of grief.
Overall, I feel families who are dealing with a death should read this book. Kubler-Ross’ theories and insights were a valuable resource in the field of helping professions as a career or in voluntary experience. When loved ones are suffering from a terminal illness, we need to be open to the stages they are going to pass through and how it is going to affect us in the process.