Psychiatrist Studied Dying Patients

Author Pioneers New Field

“Death is a catastrophic experience.” That’s what college students heard Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross say during her four-part seminar at Winona State University, a liberal arts college in Minnesota.

She would become a renowned international author on death. I met her in 1973 after she published her first book, On Death & Dying. She was a Swiss-American psychiatrist and pioneer in studying terminally ill patients.

I didn’t know it then, but I’d realize later how lucky I had been to meet her and write a story about her for the Winona Daily News.

I’ve never forgotten my lead paragraph: “Death,” she said, “is a catastrophic, destructive force bearing upon us, and we can’t do a thing about it.”

That’s how Dr. Kubler-Ross defined death. She had studied the experiences of hundreds of dying patients at the University of Chicago Billings Hospital.

Eventually, she would be recognized for pinpointing the five grief stages that dying patients felt. The stages included denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The work she pioneered brought about the new field of thanatology (the study of death and dying and the psychological mechanisms of dealing with them).

What’s more, her work also achieved more respect for hospice care. She authored twenty-three books before she died in 2004 at 78.

Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross


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