Elizabeth Kubler Ross
In the late 1980’s, while working at the Sydney Healing Centre in Balmain, I attended a week-long workshop conducted by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, a world-renowned psychiatrist who was internationally acknowledged for her work on death and dying and well-known author of many books on that subject. When I returned, I was asked by my fellow workmates to write down my impressions of that week. What I wrote is as follows.
The “Life, Death and Transition” workshop was an experience that was almost beyond words. It was a highly emotional, cathartic, self-confronting and incredibly uplifting experience.
Our group, of one hundred and seven, came from all different backgrounds and all walks of life - medical professionals, people with grave illnesses, parents of terminally ill children, to just name a few.
There were certain rules to follow, one being no communicating with other members of the group. If you were sharing a room with someone you knew, we were asked to “go and change your room and have no contact with that person for the week.”
Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has a purpose.
We were also told “... there will be runners ...” We were yet to discover what was meant by that.
The whole week was very intense. It consisted of lectures, questions and answers, sharing and working through suppressed emotions of grief, anger, fear, pain and loss ... each one’s “unfinished business.” Everyone sat on the floor, and we worked all day - often well into the evenings.
To openly share, on such a close personal level, one’s anguish, grief and fears that had been suppressed for so long, was emotionally confronting. Some of the “unfinished business” was heartbreaking and beyond comprehension. The room would be silent, except for the person sharing their experience. Occasionally an audible sob would be heard, and you would be suddenly aware of a swift movement when someone would run from the room so they wouldn’t have to stay and listen to something that may have been too close to their pain. They were followed as swiftly by one of the facilitators, and after a few minutes would come back into the room together.
Every day there would be more and more “runners” as the intensity built. I identified with much of this pain and anguish, but the closest I came to “running” myself, was when I knew I was ready to share ... to ‘go on the mat’. When you ‘go on the mat’ is your own choice; you could sit through the whole workshop and not share if that was your choice.
Listening to everyone’s outpouring, I had been unconsciously rocking backwards and forwards with my arms around my knees – much of what I was hearing brought to the surface my own long buried memories.
There are no mistakes, no coincidences.
All events are blessings given to us to learn from.
Facing the facilitators and with my back to everyone else, my sharing was done with my eyes closed. Somehow it felt safer. I didn’t know where or how to begin, and it seemed ages before I finally found my voice. But my strength came from somewhere and I began pouring out my heart – my suppressed grief in the loss of my daughter Lorraine, and the guilt I had carried since her passing – believing I had hastened her death when I agreed to increase the morphine. The doctors had used the word euthanasia, a word, and it’s meaning, I had never previously known.
When I finished speaking, I was told to turn and face everyone and to open my eyes. I turned but kept my eyes tightly closed - afraid of what I might see on their faces. But when I did open them, what I saw was compassion, empathy and many tear stained faces. At that moment I felt I had been ‘set free.’ It was an overwhelming feeling of release - of freedom to be able to openly share those feelings of guilt and remorse, those self-imposed bonds that I had supressed since my daughter passed away.
The next day I had the opportunity to speak with Elizabeth, and during our conversation, I asked her what I could do ... how best I could spend my time. I did not expect her blunt reply.
“And you ask me that! You, who reduced everyone in the room to tears – even my facilitators! There was not a dry eye in the room. You could have heard a pin drop. And you ask me that!” She did not elaborate further, and my question remained unanswered.
At that workshop, I felt a deep connection to, and appreciation for, the people around me – I empathised and understood their pain. Quite often during that week, I had to overcome a desire to put my arms around someone and hold them, but the rule was ... ‘no comforting – no touching – no contact during the sessions.’ Each one of us was to feel completely alone and isolated while confronting our own experiences.
By the end of the week, the same group of people looked very different; outwardly, as though an immense weight had been lifted, and inwardly? ....... Well for me, it was beyond words.
Elizabeth would say, “No one is a teacher; we are all students at different levels in the school of life. If you want to be in the business of healing, you must first heal yourself. If you want to heal others, you must first heal your children, and you cannot heal your children before healing the child inside yourself, your own unfinished business, suppressed emotions, which we all carry, and which are the greatest killers of our society.”
“If we would raise our children”, she says, “with unconditional love and firm discipline, allow them to say ‘no, thank-you’, allow them to externalise their grief and fears ... then the next generation would need no healers.”
“Healing,” she would say, “has to do with openness; openness to acknowledge all the negativity and the unfinished business that each one of us has bottled up inside. Heal yourself ... get rid of your suppressed emotions, your negativity - then you will become the whole human being that you were meant to be. Ultimately, the lesson we all have to learn is unconditional love, not for only others, but for ourselves as well.”
Elizabeth Kubler Ross has since passed away. She touched the hearts of millions around the world and was indeed a healer of humanity ... a teacher, by example, of unconditional love. She is best known for her work with the dying - especially with seriously ill and dying children and has helped millions of people around the world see dying as not something to be feared, but merely as the natural and final stage of life.
The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not “get over” the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal, and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.