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A Conversation with Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
by John Harricharan

Although Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is best known for her seminal work, "On Death and Dying", those closest to her will tell you that her contributions to "life and living" are as much a testament to her greatness. The world is a much better place because Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is one of its inhabitants.

Conversation with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross


Far away in Switzerland in the mid-nineteen twenties, triplets were born to a family that expected only one child. Weighing in at about two pounds, Elisabeth Kubler was not expected to live. But the love and care of her parents coupled with the indomitable spirit of Elisabeth herself gave the world one of its noblest daughters.

Bestselling, inspirational and motivational author, (she has written over twenty books), lecturer, teacher, physician and philosopher, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is perhaps the world's foremost authority on death and dying -- yet there is nothing somber about Elisabeth. Her very presence exudes inspiration and peace.

Every time you meet her you are struck by the beauty in her eyes. Not the color so much, mind you, as the light that seems to emanate from them. Someone once said that the eyes are the windows of the soul. If this is true, then one sees the rare beauty of a true child of the universe when looking at Elisabeth. A unique combination of the inspirational Mother Theresa and a dedicated Father Bruce, she has the qualities of saint and warrior, shaman and sage, child and centenarian.

At an early age, Elisabeth left a very comfortable life and started on a quest to help the less fortunate members of the human race. As Hitler's armies marched across the map, she worked as a volunteer, with singleness of purpose, helping to save lives in war-torn Europe. Her experiences and contributions to humanity would fill volumes.

Though no one article could ever begin to do justice to this remarkable woman, I will share some portions of conversations we've had over the years.

Yes! I've known Elisabeth for many years. I was vice-president of the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Center at the Healing Waters Farm in Virginia until, because of Elisabeth's health, the center was closed. We've traveled and lectured together, received awards together and laughed and cried together as we sought to bring sanity into, a sometimes, insane world.

In the years I've known Elisabeth, I've grown to marvel at her dedication to humanity, her uncompromising stance against hypocrisy, her endless store of wisdom and her great spirit of compassion and inspiration, which I've witnessed countless times.

We do not see each other as often as we used to. Time and distance combined with the after-effects of a stroke make it difficult for Elisabeth to travel. Elisabeth now lives approximately an hour out of Phoenix, Arizona. I live about half an hour out of Atlanta, Georgia. But we do keep in touch.

We still get together every once in a while like the time Muhammad Ali (The Champ) and his wife Lonnie Ali and I drove the hour or so from Phoenix to Elizabeth's home in Scottsdale. We still have fun as we used to many years ago. To sit with Elisabeth and watch Muhammad perform some magic tricks for us (he's an amateur magician, I think) was a delightful experience. To see Elisabeth's eyes light up with child-like wonder was precious indeed.

Then there was the time when I introduced Deepak Chopra to Elisabeth. And another time when, Foster Hibbard, associate of the late Dr. Napoleon Hill (of Think and Grow Rich fame) joined Elisabeth and me for breakfast. Those were fun times.

In the presence of greatness, one tends to be drawn toward greatness. And so, in the presence of Elisabeth, we dream greater dreams, we long for far horizons, we stretch ourselves to become more than we seem to be. The limitations disappear.It is and inspirational, motivational moment filled with peace, joy and wonder.

I could go on for hours stories about Elisabeth and the adventures we've shared. But, instead, I will share with you, parts of a conversation I had with the great doctor when she still lived in Virginia at the Healing Waters Farm.

John Harricharan: Elisabeth, would you tell us what led you to your work in healing? Why did you become a doctor?

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: At the age of 15 I left home to find myself. World War II was raging and the Nazis were leaving millions of people dead or dying in their wake. Cities were being destroyed, people were starving, children separated from their parents--an unimaginable horror of man's inhumanity to man. I wanted to help, to heal, feed and clothe the less fortunate. So, with others, I did what I could, I was led from those experiences to what I am doing today.

John Harricharan: Did you find yourself wondering what you were doing in the middle of a war helping others when you were only a young girl?

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: I think I was born with a great desire to help. I did not think of myself, only of what I could do for the people -- particularly the little children. I was never as happy as when I was helping others. All I had was my backpack and a few personal possessions. Even though I was born relatively well-off and had a very comfortable life, I gave it all up for the sake of being with those who needed help. We had many interesting experiences.

John Harricharan: Could you tell us about some of those experiences? Were there any in particular that influenced the direction of your life?

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: Remember, I was still a young girl when all this happened. I saw refugees from Germany trying to get over to Switzerland mowed down by machine guns. Traveling through Europe, I did all I could to help feed people. I love relief work! I helped rebuild villages in France, moved on to Belgium and hitchhiked to Poland.

I was at home everywhere. Relief work was my only kind of work. In my travels in Europe I had my backpack and my faith. I always slept in cemeteries. I knew people were afraid of cemeteries so I felt safe sleeping there. I was never scared. I was born with very few fears.

John Harricharan: What happened in Poland?

Elisabeth: That is where I had an experience which made me go into the study of medicine. I was extremely happy doing my relief work. I was working many hours a day helping to rebuild homes. It was hard manual labor and so, naturally, all of us were tired. We didn't have tents so we slept on blankets in the open air.

Many a night my sleep was disturbed by someone seeking help. One night I decided that no matter what happened, I would sleep until morning. It must have been very late when I heard the cry of a child in my sleep. I decided not to open my eyes but the crying continued. Finally I could stand it no more and got up. There, next to me, was a woman with a small bundle from which the sound was coming. All she said to me was, " I have walked three days to find you. My child is sick. You must save him." I took them to the small house which served as a clinic and I examined the child. He had typhoid in its advanced stages.

There was nothing I could do. We had no antibiotics, no medicine, no anything. I told the woman it was hopeless and that her child would die. She pleaded with me saying, "This is the last of my 13 children. You must save him!" "It is easy to say that," I replied, "but there is very little I can do. What happened to the others?" With a quivering voice she told me how all her other children, her brothers and sisters, father, mother and grandparents were wiped out in a concentration camp. She ended by saying, "So you see, Mrs. Doctor, (that's what they called me), you must save this last one."

What I did next was crazy. The nearest town was a good night's walk away. I told her that we could go there and, if all three of us lived through the journey, we might find help. We walked all night taking turns carrying the child. He could not have been more that three years old.

Finally we arrived at the hospital in the town only to find that they would not admit the child. I pleaded, got angry, threatened to publish it all over Europe, and finally an exception was made. The doctor told us that he would keep the child and that we were to return in three weeks. By then the child would either be dead or well enough to go home. We were not permitted to stay because of epidemics and diseases. Without a tear, the woman thanked and blessed the doctor, gave him the child and we left.

This woman returned with me to the camp and became by super-assistant. She helped me with all my work. I shared my blanket with her and was most appreciative for her assistance. Days and nights rushed by and time was but a blur. Most times I couldn't even tell what day it was.

One morning I got up and found the woman was gone. Naturally, I was disappointed but I had work to do so I continued. It must have been about a week or so later that an old woman who helped me with cleaning woke me in the morning saying, "Look what you have next to you!"

As I opened my eyes I noticed a handkerchief with something in it and a piece of paper. Inside was some black soil and a note written in pencil which read, "Mrs. Doctor, this is blessed Polish soil from Mrs. W. whose last of 13 children you saved."

This woman must have walked days to the hospital, found her child alive, walked back to her village for the soil, then to the priest to have him bless it, and finally, back to me at the camp. The whole trip must have taken almost a week of walking, It was the best gift I've ever received in my entire life. I never saw the woman again but that incident is as clear as ever in my mind, and it had a profound effect on my future.

John Harricharan: That is a very moving story, full of love and compassion.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: Later I went to visit the concentration camps. I saw trainloads of children's shoes. They were the shoes of the children who were sent to the gas chambers. I remember standing there wondering how we could kill each other, destroy so much, and still worry about whether our children have chicken pox or a toothache? It was difficult for me to understand. So I asked a woman who was standing next to me and she said, " You too, are capable of doing that." I disagreed vehemently.

Then I started thinking: if the Nazis were raised in Switzerland, they might have been different, and if I had been raised in Germany, I too could have been like them. Who was I to judge anyone? I realized that there is a Hitler in all of us, but if we seek out and find that Hitler and get rid of him, we can become a Mother Theresa.

John Harricharan: That must have been a very special moment.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: Yes. And I wanted to know more about these children. I found messages from them scratched into the walls with their fingernails. Messages to their moms and dads. But they also drew pictures of butterflies. There were no butterflies at Auschwitz and I always wondered what made these children draw butterflies and then fearlessly walk into the gas chambers. The woman I met there taught me forgiveness. Boy, did I learn a lot from her! She had hated the Germans but turned around and forgave them.

John Harricharan: Did you have any close encounters with death? You must have been exposed to all sorts of danger.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: I never gave it much thought but I did have many close calls. At one point I was becoming very sick and wanted to go back to Switzerland. After a harrowing trip from Poland through East Germany I was finally smuggled across the border by a British officer. I was found unconscious in the woods and rushed to a hospital. But I knew I was not going to die.

John Harricharan: How did you know that?

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: Simple. I had the blessed Polish soil the mother of the typhoid child had given me! I went back to Switzerland, studied medicine, married an American and came to the United States. I really wanted to work in India or Africa but that was not to be. I wanted to be in pediatrics but ended up in psychiatry. That was how I started my work in death and dying. At that time there was hardly anything written about the subject. I was not only lecturing to medical students but to ministerial students as well.

John Harricharan: You have been close to death many times. Did you not have any fear of it?

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: Death never frightened me. It is as much a part of living as anything else. I have faced it so many times it is no longer an enemy.

John Harricharan: Do you believe in the continuation of life after death?

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: I not only believe it, I know it. I have always seemed to know it. I also know that life is forever.

John Harricharan: There is and "unreasonableness" to death. It seems to come in the strangest and most unexpected ways. Do you think we choose our time or is it pre-assigned?

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: We have certain tasks that we came to accomplish. These tasks also contain within them much learning for us. We learn from each other and also teach each other. Our time is not pre-assigned. When we finish our tasks, then we go. Children who die young are some of our greatest teachers. We are allowed to die when we have taught what we came to teach and when we have learned what we came to learn.

John Harricharan: Can we communicate with loved ones who have gone on?

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: If you are ready and if you are at a high enough spiritual level. It can be done through dreams and also through other methods. I always tell bereaved parents, after they have given up their heaviness and resentment, to say, "I really need to see you in my dreams. I need to know that you're okay." If there is a lot of sadness and anger, the one who has gone on cannot come through. But if the conditions are right and there is enough faith, the contact will occur in dreams.

John Harricharan: I described an incident in my book, When You Can Walk on Water, Take the Boat, wherein I met my father who had died a year earlier. He said to me, "Son, when you are facing a difficult problem and need my help, go to sleep and we will meet under the tamarind tree in the little village by the river. There we will see what we can do about your problem." For me, it was an extremely moving and comforting experience. How real does that seem to you?

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: Yes, I remember that story in your book! It's a fantastic book and I've given many copies as gifts. The experience with your dad was more real than real! The story was delightful and very moving and will help so many people.

You see, our life on this planet is about ninety percent illusion. We create it the way it appears to be, but there is much more to it than that. You met your dad on a different level of reality, but it was as valid as anything else you do. Keep meeting him; he will help you and continue helping you.

John Harricharan: Sometimes I also feel the presence of my wife around me. She died when she was only in her thirties. There are times when I think I hear her voice. Today, the message was, "Don't worry. It will all turn out better than you can imagine. You must get rid of sadness and bring more joy into your life. Then and only then will you hear me more clearly." Was this just my imagination?

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: Oh no, not at all! It really happened! When you get rid of the heaviness around you, you will begin to have more and better communications. Even now you can have dialogues with her.

They always want us to be happy. She had accomplished her tasks on earth and now she wants to help you accomplish yours. You do not need any special preparation. All you have to do is be yourself as brilliantly as possible and all the other things will follow.

John Harricharan: What do you think about spirit guides? Do you have any?

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: One day a woman in Virginia asked me into her house and wanted to know if I believed in fairies. I told her that I wasn't turned on to fairies but would like to know about my guides. I believed that there were such things as guides, but up to that time I had never seen any.

She handed me a Polaroid camera and asked me to take a picture of any part of her garden. I thought this was a strange request, but I took the shot nevertheless. As the picture developed, imagine my surprise when I saw a fairy right in the middle of it!

John Harricharan: You actually saw it?

ElisabethKubler-Ross : Yes, of course! There it was, pretty as ever, looking at me. So that afternoon I though to myself, if a camera can take pictures of fairies, then it certainly could take pictures of guides! So I took my husband's expensive camera, went up a small hill, looked into the woods and said aloud, "If I have a guide, I'd like to see him or her materialize in a photograph."

I pointed the camera at the trees, took two pictures, went home and forgot about the whole thing. Weeks later when the pictures were developed, there, on one of them, was the figure of a tall American Indian with a hand stretched out towards me. Needless to say I was thrilled! That was my first encounter with one of my guides.

John Harricharan: Didn't these experiences precipitate some bad press?

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: Oh, you wouldn't believe it! There were some people who thought that a physician should not be involved with such things and so, rumors started. They tried to discredit me and to destroy my career.

It was really bad. And then, one day, I said to myself that I must stop their nonsense. I was going to be giving a lecture in New York City to approximately 5000 people, and I knew that more than half the audience would only be there to see who this weird Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was. Before the curtain opened, I sincerely asked my guides to help me. As I started to walk out on the platform, I strongly felt their presence with me. It was one of the best speeches I had ever given. And from that day on, all the controversy died away. My guides had again helped me through a difficult situation.

John Harricharan: Have you had any experiences with out-of-body travel?

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: Yes, I have had spontaneous personal experiences with out-of-body travel. Many of them were so vivid and so beautiful that I became extremely moved. These experiences seem to happen by themselves. All I have to do is trust.

John Harricharan: As a child, did you feel that you had psychic abilities?

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: Such things were never discussed. I always felt different and I always knew I was protected. As a little girl, I had a secret place in the woods where I would go to communicate with the animals, the trees and the shrubs. I even used to do something like a sun dance. I have always been close to Nature and I think there is much we can learn from it.

Note from John Harricharan: We can go on and on with questions and answers but, this writing, which started out to be an article, would end up being a book. So I will stop here. I trust you've had a glimpse of the world of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. I further trust that your journey through this life will be a grand and glorious adventure, full of all good things.

Another Note from John Harricharan: I trust that you, too, will find that death is not final but is just the beginning of other, far more glorious adventures. If you would like to read more about the continuation of life after this earth-plane, see chapter 15 in my book When You Can Walk on Water, Take the Boat.


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