To Live Until We Say Good-Bye

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9780139229558: To Live Until We Say Good-Bye

The methods of Dr. Kubler-Ross, the world-renowned psychiatrist and authority on death, are revealed in this exploration of her counseling work with terminal patients to help them come to an acceptance of death.

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About the Author:

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D., is a medical doctor, psychiatrist, and internationally renowned thanatologist. Her books include The Wheel of Life, the classic On Death and Dying, AIDS, and Questions and Answers on Death and Dying.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

Beth

Beth, the first of our friends in this book, was a most remarkable and beautiful woman -- both in terms of her outward appearance and her inner sensibilities. She was 42 years old when we met her and had been full of cancer for a couple of years. Pictures of a few years earlier revealed an outstandingly handsome woman, who had been a model in New York.

Her appearance was impeccable, and therefore, the cancer was a devastating intrusion, not only because of its ultimate fatal outcome, but because of the effect it had on the looks of a pretty young woman for whom appearance was of the utmost significance.

Childless, but surrounded by friends, she sought help from the best medical centers. She finally had surgery in Europe and returned to New York hoping for a little more time. Toni, her best friend and confidante, was her main support system. Lucy Kroll, her friend and neighbor, introduced Beth to us; the result was an all too brief but deeply moving relationship.

She managed to stay at home as long as possible, taking care of her own environment and medication without the help of a nurse. During the three months that we knew her, she had already stopped eating regular meals, was sustained by a food formula. She finally signed herself into the hospital just a couple weeks prior to her death.

Beth was also a poet and philosopher; she had spent many hours at the foot of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Riverside Drive near her apartment. It was a place surrounded by greenery, a place to think, reflect, and meditate, but also a place to be reminded of the transitions of life and the risks of life. It was a meeting place for young lovers and old people. It was not a coincidence that Beth chose this very place, which had been so meaningful in her life, as the place where she wanted her ashes spread after her cremation.

What Beth demonstrated to us is that when human beings have the courage to face their own finiteness and come to grips with that deepest agony, questioning, turmoil, and pain -- they emerge as new people. They begin to converse with God, or the Source, or whatever you want to call it, and a new kind of existence begins for them. We have seen this in countless cases. These patients often become poets; they become creative beyond any expectations, far beyond what their educational backgrounds had prepared them for.

This process is exemplified in Beth by some of the thoughts that demonstrate the kind of person she became.

It is so nice to go out and walk in the sunshine, it just feels good to be alive and aware.
I have an appointment with my hairdresser and a cancer specialist. I know that my hairdresser will make me feel better. I am not so sure about the cancer specialist.
If my life is a gift, why can't I spend it as I please?
Death is staring too long into the burning sun and the relief of entering a cool, dark room.

She expressed belief that only real feelings can be shared and not words alone when she wrote:

Some people read what I write, they think they know me. Some people feel what I write, they do.

The reason for all this emerging creativity in patients like Beth is the fact that we all have many hidden gifts within our own being, and they are all too frequently drowned in the negative and materialistic struggles on which we spend so much of our precious energy. Once we are able to get rid of our fears, once we have the courage to change from negative rebellion to positive nonconformism, once we have the faith in our own abilities to rise above fear, shame, guilt and negativity -- we emerge as much more creative and much freer souls.

When Beth's abdomen blew up and she looked like a pregnant woman, she did not brood about never having had a child. She picked a loose and colorful dress, put her hair up in a big knot over her head, added cosmetics to enhance her features. She looked pretty to the last day of her life. She always remained immaculate, contradicting the popular belief that all cancer patients have to look and smell bad. She was not too proud to admit that there were a few pleasures in life she was not able to give up -- like smoking a cigarette. She never had to pretend to be other than she was. She never hid her true feelings about anything. She never had to be ashamed or guilty that she had played a game at the end of her life to conform to the needs of other people rather than to her own.

The kind of person Beth was is perhaps best illustrated in her own world of dreams and longing for a love that is rarely found.

You put your arms around me, held me tight and close to you and said, "If it be true you don't have long to live then every moment of every hour let's live them together. I love you and wanted to spend my growing old years with you but if you must leave me I shall remember you as something special I had for a little while."

That's the way it could have been.

When it was time for me to come home from the hospital you were so eager you were much too early. You waited with your arms full of lilacs, gave me your special smile and said, "I've come to take you home, my darling, now my life can begin anew."

That's the way it could have been.

We used to go out together every night but now I get tired so easily and would waken early to enjoy the long, beautiful summer mornings. You said, "Going out is empty to me without you by my side." So we would lie in bed side-by-side, holding hands, not saying much but sharing.

That's the way it could have been.

I remember those long early morning walks we took together. We were both filled with a new awareness. We gloried in the smell of grass newly mown. We laughed to think that we had never really listened to the birds singing. Nothing and no one was ugly to us because this was life, and whatever came later, we had realized that what we had together was special and it could never be taken from us.

That's the way it could have been.

As the cancer grew within me, my body became misshapen and ugly, but it didn't make any difference to you. You said, "I love what you are and that makes you always beautiful to me." Then I realized how foolish I was and fell asleep with a smile on my face because your love did not waver.

That's the way it could have been.

Now when we would walk together my legs would weaken but I knew I would never fall because you were there to hold me. When I would waken in the night screaming with pain you were always there and you would say, "Hold on a moment longer, my love, just a moment longer."

That's the way it could have been.

Sometimes I would say to you, "Why don't you go out by yourself or some of your friends?" And you would say, "Now that would be silly for me to do when I've got you to enjoy. I'm afraid life will seem very empty to me when you're gone so I want to fill myself with you now; that way you'll forever live on within me."

That's the way it could have been.

Once I was even foolish enough to suggest to you that you should find another woman. You got so angry, you nearly frightened me,but secretly I was pleased too when you said, "You are all I want or need, no other woman no matter how young or how beautiful could give me what just one tender kiss from your lips can give me."

That's the way it could have been.

Then came the momentous day, when we learned there was real hope for me. It's funny that's the first time I saw tears in your eyes, but your voice sang when you said to me, "Deep inside I knew you wouldn't be taken from me and it made me strong for you, now my strength will know no bounds, we will fight this battle together my precious one and we will win. Some day we will look back on these nightmare days, your hair will be gray and mine will probably all be gone, but our love will burn as strongly as ever and we will know those times of pain and sorrow were all worthwhile and we still have each other."

That's the way it could have been.

It is not important to know what the reality of Beth's life was in terms of the love she had. Most people are unable to understand the true essence of love. Love is not conditional; it has no strings attached to it, no expectations. This is the love that Beth, and those like her, was dreaming of.

Too few patients experience this kind of love in their lifetime and this is the hardest and yet most important lesson all of us have to learn. Those like Beth help us to get a glimpse of what it could be if we really understood the gift of LOVE.

Beth believed, no, she knew about the existence of life after death. She talked about her out-of-body experiences and said that death would be the one trip from which she would not return. She talked to her father while close to death herself.

She also wrote a little personal note to her father shortly before she died:

Hi, Pop, you have been dead for some time now.
Supposedly
I guess I know better -- huh?
How much longer will you
make me wait?

The last page in her book of poems ends with:

What can I do with the rest of my life?
LIVE ALL OF IT!!

Yes, Beth, you lived all of it and you have been an example to many of us. We thank you for being, we have been blessed by your existence, and we will remember your last handwritten words which say good-bye to us:

Voices whispering, Beth, Beth
You can no longer stay
Hands reaching out to grasp
Helping me on my way.

I'll no longer ache with sorrow
No longer feel this pain
So adieu and fare thee well now
I shan't see thee again.

[Editor's Note: These poems are from the diaries which Beth kept during the last months of her illness.]

I used to have
Strange visitors
In the night
They no longer
Come to me.
I miss them.

LOVE
IS
Honeycolored laughter
Ambercolored laughter
Scarlet swings against a backdrop
Of freshly fallen snow.

It does
Strange
Things
Like
Dying.

If I could remember What I forgot
And forget what I remember
(with exceptions -- of course)
I think
It would be better for me
But, I'm not sure
What to remember...
Or forget...

Humiliation lies in the hands
Of a beloved,
Of a
False friend
Better to have the Pride
Of aloneness,
A defiant end.

I used to wish for death
A lot of the time.
Then I died
For a little time.
Now I wish to die
Some of the time.
But, now I know
It will be
For all the time.

There is a sadness growing Within me
I do not want it so, but I know
I cry with bitterness Filling me.
It does not hurt the way
It did
Yesterday
There is only room for Just so much sorrow.
What will I put in Its place
Tomorrow?

Copyright © 1978 by Ross Medical Associates, S.C., and Mal Warshaw

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Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
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ISBN 10: 0139229558 ISBN 13: 9780139229558
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Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
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