Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

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Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir


Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was born in Switzerland in 1926. She was part of a package deal--a triplet (and a two-pounder at that). That she survived the birth (as did her two sisters, another two pounder and a more robust six pounder) is something of a miracle. As she explains, her early childhood was filled with other more memorable experiences around death as well, including a long battle with pneumonia and deathbed scenes of neighbors in her small town.

In the aftermath of World War II, she was a volunteer in IVSP, International Voluntary Service for Peace. She spent time in Poland and then Germany, aiding survivors of the concentration camps, as well as the defeated Germans, to rebuild their lives. She returned to Switzerland and went to medical school, eventually marrying an American student studying there.

After practicing as a small town family doctor, she came to the U.S. in the 1950s. Her plans to serve a residency in pediatrics were changed to psychiatry (because they didn’t want someone who was pregnant). In Denver, after residency, she was asked to lecture to medical students. She chose a topic that was out of the ordinary, but something she felt at home with--death and dying.

In 1965, in Chicago, she continued her work in this area. At the urging of some theology students she began a weekly seminar with dying patients, health professions students, (and eventually ) their more skeptical teachers. This experience led to the publication, in 1969, of her book, On Death and Dying. It is in this book that the "stages" of dying are discussed. The remainder of The Wheel of Life deals with more controversial aspects of Kubler-Ross’s life.

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